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Reassembling The Social Organization

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

Aaron Glass, Judith Berman and Rainer Hatoum

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museum collections from around the world, but the two men also left behind a vast and now widely distributed archive of unpublished materials relevant to the creation and afterlife of this seminal text.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 Kwakwaka’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.