Reassembling The Social Organization

Collaboration and Digital Media in (Re)making Boas’s 1897 Book

in Museum Worlds
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ABSTRACT

Franz Boas’s 1897 monograph The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians was a landmark in anthropology for its integrative approach to ethnography, the use of multiple media, and the collaborative role of Boas’s Indigenous partner, George Hunt. Not only did the volume draw on existing museum collections from around the world, but the two men also left behind a vast and now widely distributed archive of unpublished materials relevant to the creation and afterlife of this seminal text. This article discusses an international and intercultural project to create a new, annotated critical edition of the book that reassembles the dispersed materials and reembeds them within Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw ontologies of both persons and things. The project mobilizes digital media to link together disparate collections, scholars, and Indigenous communities in order to recuperate long-dormant ethnographic records for use in current and future cultural revitalization.

Contributor Notes

AARON GLASS is Associate Professor at Bard Graduate Center in New York City. His research focuses on First Nations art, media, and performance on the Northwest Coast, as well as the history of anthropology and museums. Glass’s books include The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History (2010, coauthored with Aldona Jonaitis), Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast (2011), and Return to the Land of the Head Hunters: Edward S. Curtis, the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw, and the Making of Modern Cinema (2013, coedited with Brad Evans). E-mail: glass@bgc.bard.edu

JUDITH BERMAN is Research Associate in the School of Environmental Studies and Adjunct Assistant Professor in Department of Anthropology, both at the University of Victoria. Her Northwest Coast research includes many years’ exploration of the work of Indigenous ethnographers George Hunt and Louis Shotridge, of the ethnohistory of the early contact period, and of the translation and ethnopoetics of traditional narrative. E-mail: jberman@uvic.ca

RAINER HATOUM is Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. Since 1990, he has pursued multiple research interests in Native North America. These include traditional song and dance and, since 2005, collaborative research projects in which he explored the potential for building lasting partnerships with Native communities on the basis of digitized museum collections. This focus also reflects in his Northwest Coast research and his Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft-funded research project on Franz Boas’s shorthand field notes. E-mail: rainerhatoum@yahoo.com

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