Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field

Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field

Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field

Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field

Synopsis

In Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field, Mick Gidley provides an intimate and informative glimpse of Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952) and his associates as they undertook their work in the early decades of the twentieth century. Photographer Curtis embarked on an epic quest to document through word and picture the traditional cultures of Native Americans in the western United States- cultures that he believed were inevitably doomed. Curtis's project became the largest anthropological enterprise undertaken in this country and yielded the monumental work The North American Indian (1907–30). Its publication was a watershed in the anthropological study of Native Americans and inspired the first full-length documentary film, popular magazine articles, books for young readers, lectures, and photography exhibitions. Housing a wealth of ethnographic information yet steeped in nostalgia and predicated upon the assumption that Native Americans were a "vanishing race," Curtis's work has been both influential and controversial, and its vision of Native Americans must still be reckoned with today. nbsp; Gidley draws on a wide array of unpublished or uncollected reminiscences, reports, letters, field notes, and magazine and newspaper articles. The reports and reflections by Curtis and the project's ethnological assistants, memoirs by Curtis family members, and eyewitness accounts by newspaper reporters afford an unprecedented look at the process of anthropological fieldwork as it was commonly practiced during this period. This book also sheds light on the views of Curtis and his contemporaries concerning their enterprise and the Native peoples they worked with and provides a clearer sense of how both Native Americans and the mainstream American public perceived their efforts.

Excerpt

The book The North American Indian (1907–1930), credited to Edward S. Curtis, is becoming ever better known. In recent years, for example, almost all of its photographic images have been reproduced in one (admittedly very thick) paperbound volume, and Anne Makepeace’s documentary film Coming to Light (2000), which celebrates Curtis’s achievements, has been widely screened. In addition, the photogravures from The North American Indian have been made freely available in digitized form on the World Wide Web, and there are plans to do the same with the extensive written material to be found in the original volumes (hitherto only accessible either in a reprint edition that is no longer available or in an abbreviated form between the covers of anthologies, such as my own The Vanishing Race [1976]). The present book is an effort to make available materials that are not yet in the public domain. Publications have appeared that purport to be collections of unpublished data. The most significant is Prayer to the Great Mystery: The Uncollected Writings and Photography of Edward S. Curtis (1995), edited by Gerald Hausman and Bob Kapoun, a book that does indeed include among its illustrations many previously unpublished photographs. All of the verbal text in Hausman and Kapoun’s book, however, is taken from the published volumes of The North American Indian. By contrast, the emphasis of Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field is on written documents, most of which have never been published—or, if they had been previously published they languished uncollected in journals and the like for some ninety years. (I give information in headnotes and endnotes on the few cases where they have been reprinted—usually only in part—more recently.) In addition,almost all the images in the present book were not reproduced or exhibited during Curtis’s lifetime and have not been published since. The introduction explains the rationale of my selections. I hope you will enjoy reading the encounters presented here.

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