Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 June 2009
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.
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15 Lucas, Federic A., “A Note Regarding Human Interest in Museum Exhibits,” The American Museum Journal, 11:6 (10 1911), 188.Google Scholar As with birds, so with non-Western civilizations. Writing of the Egyptian exhibit at the 1867 Paris Exhibition, Timothy Mitchell notes that the remarkable realism of such displays made a strange civilization into an object the visitor could almost touch, yet, to the observing eye, surrounded by the display but excluded from it by the status of visitor, it remained a mere representation, the picture of some further reality. Thus two parallel pairs of distinctions were maintained, between the visitor and the exhibit, and between the exhibit and what it expressed. The representation seemed to be set apart from the political reality it claimed to portray, as the observing mind is set apart from what it observes.
18 Goode, , “The Museums of the Future,” 243.Google Scholar This was a common sentiment. See, for example, Fewkes, Jesse Walter, “Anthropology,” in The Smithsonian Institution, 1846–1896: The History of its First Half Century, Goode, George Brown, ed. (Washington, D.C.: City of Washington, 1897), 771–2;Google ScholarBrush, Edward Hale, “Popularizing Anthropology: What Museums are Doing to Make Science Attractive,” Scientific American Supplement, 84:2191 (12 29, 1917), 408–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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28 Powell seems to have dropped out of the history of anthropology written by some anthropologists. Harris, Marvin, The Rise of Anthropological Theory (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), 255,Google Scholar passes off Powell in half a paragraph, calling him “another influential but distressingly undisciplined dabbler in anthropological evolutionism.” Elman Service's more recent A Century of Controversy: Ethnological Issues from 1860 to 1960 (New York: Academic Press, 1985) mentions Powell only once in passing.Google Scholar
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32 Judd, , The Bureau of American Ethnology, 17–18.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.
33 Powell, J. W., “Report of the Director,” Second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1880–1881 (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, 10–71.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
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59 One failed display of the social promise of native Americans indicates the limits to the realism of the Exposition. In contrast to the keen interest in various ethnographic exhibits, fairgoers showed little enthusiasm for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' display of Indian education, in which, in commissioner Daniel Browning's words, “the new conditions of civilized life and American citizenship” were visibly apparent: “Indian youth actually at the schoolroom desk, the work bench, the kitchen stove, and the sewing machine.” The failure of the Indian education exhibit attests to the interest in the exotic Indian as worthy of inspection, not the Indian in the guise of the civilized white man. See Trennert, Robert A., Jr., “Selling Indian Education At World's Fairs and Expositions, 1893–1904,” American Indian Quarterly, 11:3 (Summer 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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61 Quoted in Washburn, , “Joseph Henry's Conception of the Purpose of the Smithsonian Institution,” 137.Google Scholar
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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), 32–36;Google ScholarHyatt, Marshall, Franz Boas—Social Activist: The Dynamics of Ethnicity (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), 18–21;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
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.
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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.”
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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.
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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), 89–124,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
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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, 48–50.Google Scholar
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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