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Object Lessons and Ethnographic Displays: Museum Exhibitions and the Making of American Anthropology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2009

David Jenkins
Affiliation:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Extract

In the early nineteenth century, many private, well-to-do persons collected rocks, minerals, fossils, insects, skeletons, animal skins, Indian artifacts, and so on, for their aesthetic appeal or mystical connotations. Their fragmentary and miscellaneous collections incited wonder and admiration in those privileged to see them while communicating a narrative of the prestige, esoteric knowledge, and adventurous spirit of the collector. Referring to aesthetic and mystical, rather than scientific criteria, collectors juxtaposed a seemingly incongruous hodge-podge of objects in their cabinets—armadillos and ostrich eggs, quartz crystals and rattlesnake rattles, for example. These collectors sought to celebrate the stability of their belief systems through the commonly understood marginality of the strange freaks and curiosities that sparked their imaginations. The rare, abnormal, bizarre, and the old were especially valued.

Type
Exhibitionism
Copyright
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 1994

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References

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29 See the eight volumes of Contributions to North American Ethnology (Washington: Government Printing Office, 18771893), which Powell began prior to the organization of the BAE as a means to systematize and disseminate information about American Indians gathered by the Western surveys.Google Scholar

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32 Judd, , The Bureau of American Ethnology, 1718.Google Scholar Judd gives no source for this observation; however, in a 1883 letter to Powell, Baird connects funding for the Bureau of Ethnology with the continued collection of Indian artifacts: In presenting to Congress, from year to year, the estimate for ethnological research and defending it against proposed reduction, the Secretary has found the Appropriation Committee extremely impatient in regard to expenditures other than those looking towards the actual increase of the ethnological collections in the National Museum. The most potent argument used has been the assertion that unless we occupy the field at once, we shall find ourselves anticipated therein by the emissaries of foreign governments, who coming with ample means at their command, and working with great activity, will sweep the localities before we can take the requisite action. For these reasons the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution has been very much gratified at the work done by the Bureau in making such large collections from the Pueblos and the mounds of New Mexico and Arizona; and it is to be hoped that this work will be continued until the most complete representation possible is obtained.

Quoted in Parezo, Nancy J., “Cushing as Part of the Team: The Collecting Activities of the Smithsonian Institution,” American Ethnologist, 12:4 (11 1985), 769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

33 Powell, J. W., “Report of the Director,” Second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 18801881 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883), xxxvi–xxxvii.Google Scholar See also Stevenson, James, “Illustrated Catalogue of the Collections Obtained from the Indians of New Mexico and Arizona in 1879” and “Illustrated Catalogue of the Collections Obtained from the Indians of New Mexico in 1880,” both in the Second Annual Report. Parezo sets the figure of objects collected during the 1879 expedition at 6,000 (“Cushing as Part of the Team,” 765).Google Scholar

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47 There is continuity between the maps, sketches, diagrams, and so on produced by nineteenth-century geologists and the visual materials produced by twentieth-century geologists. Techniques of fact construction have become more sophisticated, but the scientific usefulness of visual displays remains the same. Anthropology has no similar continuity. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a crisis of representation in contemporary geology similar to the crisis of representation in contemporary anthropology.

48 See Rydell, , All the World's a Fair, chs. 1–2, 1071.Google Scholar On science and race, see Stanton, William, The Leopard's Spots: Scientif?c Attitudes Toward Race in America, 1815–1859 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1960).Google Scholar On race and American Indians, see Drinnon, Richard, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980).Google Scholar For an overview of the history of European conceptions of American Indians, see Berkhofer, Robert F. Jr.,, “White Conceptions of Indians,” Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 4 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1988).Google Scholar

49 I am here borrowing Latour's felicitous phrase, “Visualization And Cognition: Thinking With Eyes And Hands,” 19.Google Scholar

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60 For reviews of the work on the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century organizational impulse, see Galambos, Louis, “The Emerging Organizational Synthesis in Modern American History,” Business History Review, 44:3 (Autumn 1970);CrossRefGoogle ScholarTechnology, Political Economy, and Professionalization: Central Themes of the Organizational Synthesis,” Business History Review, 57:4 (Winter 1983).Google Scholar For an account of the structural shift in governmental organization, see Skowronek, Stephen, Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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Ames, , Museums, The Public and Anthropology, 20.Google Scholar

64 Goode, George Brown, “The Museums of the Future,” Annual Report of the United States National Museum: Year Ending June 30, 1897 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1898), 58.Google Scholar

65 On this debate see Hinsley, , Savages and Scientists, ch. 4;Google ScholarGeorge, Stocking, Jr., “Introduction,” in The Shaping of American Anthropology, 1883–1911 (New York: Basic Books, 1974),Google Scholar and “From Physics to Ethnology,” in Race, Culture, and Evolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982);Google ScholarDarnell, Regena Diebold, The Development of American Anthropology 1879–1920: From the Bureau of American Ethnology to Franz Boas (Ph.D. dissert., University of Pennsylvania, 1969Google Scholar (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms); Mark, Joan, Four Anthropologists: An American Science in its Early Years (New York: Science History Publications, 1980), 3236;Google ScholarHyatt, Marshall, Franz Boas—Social Activist: The Dynamics of Ethnicity (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), 1821;Google ScholarBuettner-Janush, John, “Boas and Mason: Particularism versus Generalization,” American Anthropologist, 59:2 (04 1957).Google Scholar This debate about proper classification was not new or exclusively anthropological. See Daniels, , American Science in the Age of Jackson, 102–3, for an earlier example concerning minerals.Google Scholar

66 Quoted in Boas, Franz, “The Occurrence of Similar Inventions in Areas Widely Apart,” Science, 9 (05 1887), 485.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

67 Claude Lèvi-Strauss nicely characterizes the incoherence of the biological analogy to human inventions.

For even if the concept of species should be discarded once and for all in the development of genetics, what made—and still makes—the concept valid for the natural historian is the fact that a horse indeed begets a horse and that, in the course of a sufficient number of generations, Equus caballus is the true descendant of Hipparion. The historical validity of the naturalist's reconstructions is guaranteed, in the final analysis, by the biological link of reproduction. An ax, on the contrary, does not beget another ax. There will always be a basic difference between two identical tools, or two tools which differ in function but are similar in form, because one does not stem from the other; rather, each of them is the product of a system of representations.

“Introduction: History and Anthropology,” Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1963), 4.Google Scholar

68 Quoted in Boas, , “The Occurrence of Similar Inventions in Areas Widely Apart,” 485.Google Scholar See reply, Mason's, “The Occurrence of Similar Inventions in Areas Widely Apart,” Science, 9 (05 1887), 534–5.Google Scholar See also Mason, O. T., “Migration Of Things And Memories,” Science (n.s.), 6:132 (07 1897), for an explication of the second cause. With regards to the migration of ideas, Mason notes that “all who have studied the arts of primitive races know how quickly their plastic minds respond to a congenial suggestion.”CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

69 See Mason, Otis Tufton, Primitive Travel and Transportation, Report of the United States National Museum for 1894 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896), andGoogle ScholarMason, Otis T., The Origins of Inventions: A Study of Industry Among Primitive Peoples (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899). In the conclusion to this latter work (p. 413)Google Scholar, Mason noted that finally, in contemplating the exalted position to which acquired knowledge and experience have brought the favoured race, we are apt to forget how many have helped to place them there. The many patents and inventions now on the earth are only a “handful to the tribes that slumber in its bosom.”

70 Goode, , United States National Museum, Annual Report (1884);Google Scholar quoted in Hinsley, , Savages and Scientists, 94.Google Scholar

71 Hinsley, , Savages and Scientists, 91.Google Scholar

72 Boas, Franz, “The Occurrence of Similar Inventions in Areas Widely Apart,” 485, 486.Google Scholar

74 Boas, Franz, “Museums of Ethnology and their Classification,” Science, 9 (06 1887), 589.Google Scholar

75 Mason, , “The Occurrence of Similar Inventions in Areas Widely Apart,” 534.Google Scholar Goode offered a variation on this theme: Unable to decide whether the correct classification for cultural material was by function or by cultural association, he arranged such items according to a double classification in the halls of his museum. He carefully equipped his exhibit cases with casters and, in a matter of an hour or two, could have the entire display rearranged by either function or cultural association as the need required. However, the triumph of scientific influence is apparent in the fact that he regarded the functional classification as the “permanent” arrangement, and the cultural one as only temporary.

Lindsay, G. Carroll, “George Brown Goode,” in Keepers of the Past, Lord, Clifford L., ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965), 138.Google Scholar

76 See Wolf, Eric, Europe and the People Without History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982);Google ScholarWhite, Richard, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).CrossRefGoogle Scholar Unlike, however, these modern orientations, Powell maintained an evolutionary perspective that relied on Morgan, Lewis Henry, Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress From Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization (New York: Henry Holt, 1877).Google Scholar

77 Powell, John Wesley, “Museums of Ethnology and Their Classification,” Science, 9 (06 1887), 612–4.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

81 Boas, , “Museums of Ethnology and their Classification,” 614.Google Scholar The emphasis upon the singular in nature of course predates Boas. See Stafford, Barbara Maria, “Toward Romantic Landscape Perception: Illustrated Travels and the Rise of ‘Singularity’ as an Aesthetic Category,” Art Quarterly (n.s.), 1 (Autumn 1977), 89124,Google Scholar and Voyage Into Substance: Art, Science, Nature, and the Illustrated Travel Account, 1740–1860 (Cambridge: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1984).Google Scholar

82 American Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology, quoted in Jacknis, Ira, “Franz Boas and Exhibits: On the Limitations of the Museum Method of Anthropology,” in Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture, Stocking, George, Jr., ed. (Madison, 1985), 100.Google Scholar

83 Boas, Franz, Ethnological Collections from the North Pacific Coast of America: Being a Guide of Hall 105,Google Scholar quoted in Jacknis, , “Franz Boas and Exhibits,” 100.Google Scholar

84 Frederic Ward Putnam Papers (Correspondence. Harvard University Archives), quoted in Jacknis, , “Franz Boas and Exhibits,” 101.Google Scholar

85 Jacknis, , “Franz Boas and Exhibits”.Google Scholar

86 Franz Boas, Frederic Ward Putnam Papers, quoted in Jacknis, , “Franz Boas and Exhibits,” 104.Google Scholar

87 Breckenridge, Carol A., “The Aesthetics and Politics of Colonial Collecting: India at World Fairs,” 212.Google Scholar

88 For example, Boas, Franz, “Some Principles of Museum Administration,” Science n.s., 25:650 (06 14, 1907), 924.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

89 Jacknis, , “Franz Boas and Exhibits,” 105.Google Scholar

90 Indeed, displays based on Boas's principles were as much typifications and idealizations as displays based on evolutionary principles. On this point, see Dorsey's, letter to the editor, Science, 641 (April 12, 1907)Google Scholar and Boas's, reply, “Some Principles of Museum Administration,” Science, 650 (06 14, 1907).Google Scholar See also Mark, , Four Anthropologists, 4850.Google Scholar

91 Donato, Eugenio, “The Museum's Furnace: Notes toward a Contextual Reading of Bouvard and Pecuchet,” in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structural Criticism, Harari, Josue V., ed. (New York: Cornell University Press, 1984), 233.Google Scholar

92 Jacknis, , “Franz Boas and Exhibits.”Google Scholar

93 Stewart, Susan, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 153.Google Scholar

94 Rydell, , All the World's a Fair, 165.Google Scholar

95 Such a reverence for organization is apparent in other nineteenth-century collections, such as fairs and department stores. See Harris, Neil, “Museums, Merchandising, and Popular Taste: The Struggle for Influence,” in Material Culture and the Study of American Life, Quimby, Ian M. G., ed. (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1978).Google Scholar

96 Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), 132.Google Scholar

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Object Lessons and Ethnographic Displays: Museum Exhibitions and the Making of American Anthropology
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Object Lessons and Ethnographic Displays: Museum Exhibitions and the Making of American Anthropology
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Object Lessons and Ethnographic Displays: Museum Exhibitions and the Making of American Anthropology
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