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.
2 Sheets-Pyenson, Susan, “Civilizing by Nature's Example: The Development of Colonial Museums of Natural History, 1850–1900,” in Scientifc Colonialism: A Cross-Cultural Comparison, Reingold, Nathan and Rothenberg, Marc, eds. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 198), 352.Google Scholar See also Murray, David, Museums: Their History and Their Use (Glasgow: J. MacLehose and Sons, 1904).Google Scholar
3 Sheets-Pyenson, , “Civilizing by Nature's Example,” 351.Google Scholar See also Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory, “Curiosities and Cabinets: Natural History Museums and Education on the Antebellum Campus,” Isis, 79:298 (09 1988), 405–26;CrossRefGoogle ScholarBedini, Silvio A.. “The Evolution of Science Museums,” Technology and Culture, 6:1 (Winter 1965), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
5 See, for example, Mitchell, Timothy, Colonizing Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991);Google ScholarHaraway, Donna, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 1989);Google ScholarStocking, George W., Jr., ed., Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985);Google ScholarBronner, Simon J., ed., Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1888–1920 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989);Google ScholarRydell, Robert W., All The World's A Fair: Visions of Empire at American International; Expositions, 1876–1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984);Google ScholarKarp, Ivan and Lavine, Steven D., eds., Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Displays (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991);Google ScholarBann, Stephen. “‘Views of the Past’—Reflections on the Treatment of Historical Objects and Museums of History (1750–1850),” in Picturing Power: Visual Depiction and Social Relations, 39–64, Fyfe, Gordon and Law, John, eds. (London: Routledge, 1988);Google ScholarBreckenridge, Carol A., “The Aesthetics and Politics of Colonial Collecting: India at World Fairs,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 31:2 (04 1989), 195–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
6 For an elaboration of the notion of “inscriptions of paper,” see Latour, Bruno, “Visualization and Cognition: Thinking with Eyes and Hands,” Knowledge and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present, no. 6 (1986), 1–40;Google ScholarLatour, Bruno and Woolgar, Steve, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
8 Meyer, A. B., Studies of the Museums and Kindred Institutions of New York City, Albany, Buffalo, and Chicago, with Notes on Some European Institutions (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1905), 324;Google ScholarSheets-Pyenson, , “Civilizing by Nature's Example,” 352, 358.Google Scholar The range and diversity of objects collected by these museums is indeed astonishing. By the early 1980s, for example, the Smithsonian Institution alone had amassed more than 60 million specimens, including four million plant specimens, 26 million insects, 34,146 nests and eggs, several tons of meteorite fragments, over 20,000 human skulls, numerous ethnological items, 14 million postage stamps, and even, so it has been said, the ashes of a deceased staff member and his first wife and the pickled brains of two former curators.
Ames, , Museums, The Public And Anthropology, 13.Google Scholar
11 Goode, G. Brown, “The Relationships and Responsibilities of Museums,” Science (N.S.), 11:34 (08 1895), 200.Google Scholar O. T. Mason similarly recognized the democratic nature of the museum: It seems that there is something for everybody on earth to do, and I attribute the phenomenally rapid growth, at little cost, of the national museum, to the great variety of minds that catch its spirit and are glad to work for it in their several spheres.
“The Occurrence of Similar Inventions in Areas Widely Apart,” Science, 9 (05 1887), 534.Google Scholar
12 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).Google Scholar For a similar point of view concerning the British Museum, see Read, C. H., “A Museum of Anthropology,” in Anthropological Essays, Rivers, W. H. R., Marett, R. R. and Thomas, Northcote W., eds. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907).Google Scholar
13 Stewart Culin, however, who was instrumental in developing a variety of museum and exhibition displays in the late nineteenth century, recognized the limitations to a purely visual arrangement of ethnographic artifacts. See Bronner, Simon J., “Object Lessons: The Work of Ethnological Museums and Collections,” in Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1880–1920, Bronner, Simon J., ed. (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1989), 232.Google Scholar
14 Stan, Frederick, “Anthropology At The World's Fair,” Popular Science Monthly, 43 (05 to 10 1893), 615–6. The use of the present tense to describe static models and, by implication, the putatively timeless and characteristic activities of Indians is consonant with the so-called “ethnographic present” which informed later anthropological discourse.Google Scholar
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
19 Hinsley, Curtis M., Jr.,Savages and Scientists: The Smithsonian Institution and the Development of American Anthropology, 1846–1910 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981), 84.Google Scholar
20 Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report of the Board of Regents for 1852,Google Scholar quoted in Washburn, Wilcomb E., “Joseph Henry's Conception of the Purpose of the Smithsonian Institution,” in A Cabinet of Curiosities: Five Episodes in the Evolution of American Museums (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1967), 133.Google Scholar
21 See Daniels, George H., American Science in the Age of Jackson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), for an account of how new systems of scientific classification similarly generated new knowledge and new experts in the early nineteenth century.Google Scholar
24 For geology, “by combining and coordinating… local sequences” of geological strata, “the broad outlines of a global history could be discerned with ever increasing clarity.” To this end, “maps, traverse sections, and columnar sections were the indispensable ‘visual language’ of a cognitive project that was profoundly visual from beginning to end.” Rudwick, Martin J. S., The Great Devonian Controversy: The Shaping of Scientific Knowledge among Gentlemanly Specialists (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 4, 48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
26 For an analysis of the importance of visual materials in geology, see Rudwick, Martin, “The Emergence of a Visual Language for Geological Science: 1760–1840,” History of Science, 14:25 (1976), 149–95;CrossRefGoogle Scholar for archaeology, see Moser, Stephanie, “The Visual Language of Archaeology: A Case Study of the Neanderthals,” Antiquity, 66:253 (1992), 831–44;CrossRefGoogle Scholar for anthropology, see Jenkins, David, “The Visual Domination of the American Indian: Photography, Anthropology and Popular Culture in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Museum Anthropology, 17:1 (02 1993), 9–21;CrossRefGoogle Scholar for paleontology, see Gould, Stephen Jay, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989);Google Scholar see also Elkins, James, “On Visual Desperation and the Bodies of Protozoa,” Representations, 40 (Fall 1992), 33–56;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Daston, Lorraine and Gallson, Peter, ‘The Image of Objectivity,” Representations, 40 (Fall 1992), 81–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
27 For these surveys, see Bartlett, Richard A., Great Surveys of the American West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962);Google ScholarGoetzmann, William H., Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978);Google ScholarStegner, Wallace, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982).Google Scholar
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
29 See the eight volumes of Contributions to North American Ethnology (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1877–1893), 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
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
37 Stegneger, Leonhard, “Directions for Collecting Reptiles and Batrachians,” United States National Museum, Bulletin, no. 39: Part E (1891), 6.Google Scholar These collecting instructions, as Parts A—Q of the Bulletin, were published between 1891 and 1902. See especially Part J, “Directions for Collecting Specimens and Information Illustrating the Aboriginal Use of Plants,” Coville, Frederick V. (1895);Google Scholar Part P, “Directions for Collectors of American Basketry,” Mason, O. T. (1902);Google Scholar and Part Q, “Instructions to Collectors of Historical and Anthropological Specimens, Especially Designed for Collectors in Insular Possessions of the United States,” Holmes, William H. and Mason, O. T., (1902).Google Scholar
38 This is sintilar, however, to the more general problem of ethnographic writing. See Marcus, George E. and Fisher, Michael M. J., Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986);Google ScholarClifford, James and Marcus, George E., eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986);Google ScholarClifford, James, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988);Google ScholarFabian, Johannes, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
41 Dorsey, George A., “Notes on the Anthropological Museums of Central Europe,” American Anthropologist (n.s.), vol. 1 (1899), 473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar This kind of systematization was practiced at many other museums. Between 1867 and 1884, Edward Foreman made 45,000 entries in the Smithsonian ethnological accession catalogues, including more than 5,000 sketches. See Hinsley, , Savages and Scientists, 71–75.Google Scholar
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
51 Norton, Frank H., Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876, and of the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1878 (New York: American News Company, 1879), 100–10.Google Scholar
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
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 Scholar“Technology, 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
63 Frese, H. H., Anthropology and the Public: The Role of Museums (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), 8.Google Scholar See also Jacknis, Ira, “Franz Boas and Exhibits,”Google Scholar and Curtis Hinsley, M., “From Shell-Heaps to Stelae: Early Anthropology at the Peabody Museum,” both in Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture, Stocking, George W., Jr., ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).Google Scholar By the 1980s, the professionalization of museums began to pose problems for some curators. Museum exhibits could be exciting work … but they are not because they are collective endeavors performed within an hierarchical organization that operates according to established standards and schedules. The intellectual freedom the individual scholarly entrepreneur has been taught to expect as a natural right does not prepare such a person for the kind of team work and public responsibility required in museums today.
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), 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.
“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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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