The 1600-1800 period was an era of global travel and encounters. Yet this “early modern globalization” was highly unstable, characterized by miscommunications and doubts regarding the credibility of both individual witnesses and the facts they adduced. The Formosan hoax of George Psalmanazar (1679?-1763) offers a unique perspective on these themes. Although Psalmanazar was a fraud, his inventions about the island of Formosa circulated widely in different languages, nations, and inscriptive contexts. The divergence between Psalmanazar’s personal credibility and the longevity of his invented facts sheds light on the nature of evidence and information networks in early modern globalization. This episode highlights the imperfect and contested nature of early modern communication networks.
Simon Schaffer, “Newton on the Beach: The Information Order of Principia Mathematica,”History of Science47 (2009): 243-276. Schaffer briefly discusses Psalmanazar in this article, noting that his “tales of papist cannibalism in Formosa chimed nicely with Protestant horrors of the eucharist and Swift’s ferociously plausible jokes about Anglo-Irish anthropophagy.”