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Aaron Glass
Associate Professor, Bard Graduate Center

“Reassembling The Social Organization: Franz Boas, Indigenous Ontologies, and the Anthropology of Art”

Over the course of his long career, Franz Boas’s writings on Indigenous art comprised one of his major contributions to anthropological theory and museum practice. Boas’s 1897 monograph, The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians, written with his Indigenous consultant George Hunt, featured his most extended treatment of Kwakwaka’wakw art, although it was framed in terms of typological classification rather than aesthetics or the Indigenous genealogical foundation for heritable rights. The book, which illustrates over 200 museum objects, appeared at a crucial moment of Boas’s career as he became a curator at the American Museum of Natural History. This paper situates the 1897 book in terms of his development of a mature anthropology of art. I discuss the early emergence of Boas’s interest in Northwest Coast art; his extensive though inconsistent treatment of museum collections in the 1897 book; and Indigenous conceptions of the artwork. I close with a discussion of how Hunt’s extensive post-publication notes on the 1897 book provide the foundation for my collaborative Critical Edition project to reactivate its ceremonial art according to Kwakwaka’wakw cultural ontologies and genealogical connections.

Tuesday, November 24, 12:15 pm

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A Zoom link will be circulated the morning of the talk.