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Surviving Dehumanizing Times

Life Journeys across Borderlands of Memory and Deception; Michal Giedroyc and Ryszard Kapuscinski

Ignacy-Marek Kaminski

This article combines an auto-ethnographic approach with literary criticism and applied anthropology. It is about the lives of two men whose journeys through the major events of the twentieth century via different routes and moral choices suggest that literary ends do not always justify the means. Ryszard Kapuscinski (1932-2007), a world-renowned Polish journalist-turned-bestselling author, personally witnessed twenty-seven revolutions and military coups. His travel accounts stretch over five continents and have been widely recognized for their poignant dissection of the human condition. However, recent biographical details and examination of Kapuscinski's reporting methods by social researchers and field anthropologists have raised questions about the credibility and ethics of his works. By comparing his lifework and that of the lesser known Polish cross-cultural traveler exiled to Britain, author Michal Giedroyc (b. 1929), this article contextualizes political and personal dilemmas of both writers. They were born 150 kilometers apart in the multi-ethnic eastern Polish borderlands (now in Lithuania and Belarus). Their childhoods were similarly traumatized by the Nazi-Soviet division of Poland in September 1939. Both of their life journeys brought them into a united Europe in 2005 as Polish and British citizens, respectively.

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Self-Fashioning and Auto-Ethnography

Samuel Baron's Description of Tonqueen (1686)

Anna Winterbottom

Samuel Baron's A Description of the Kingdom of Tonqueen (1686) contains many tropes of the European travel narrative. However, its author was no stranger to the country, but was born to a Vietnamese mother and Dutch father in mid-seventeenth-century Hanoi. Here I discuss how Baron fashioned his identity during his life to attract multiple patrons in the unstable maritime world of Southeast and East Asia. I re-read his Description as an example of “auto-ethnography,” showing how the author shaped his work to achieve certain ends. A comparison with a contemporary Chinese description of northern Vietnam reveals many similarities in tone and approach and helps situate Baron's text within the commercial and diplomatic exchanges of the region.