The Distributed Text: An Annotated Digital Edition of Franz Boas's Pioneering Ethnography

Project Abstract
In 1897, anthropologist Franz Boas published his major monograph, The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians, a synthesis of his first decade of research on the Northwest Coast and one of the first holistic ethnographies based on field work. The text brought together data on Kwakwaka’wakw social structure with art and material culture, detailed narratives in the Kwak’wala language, photographs taken in situ in British Columbia and at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, transcribed songs, eye-witness description of ceremonial performances, and extensive contributions from Boas’s indigenous collaborator George Hunt. Yet the report remained incomplete and fractured, and archival materials relevant to its origins and afterlives are scattered all over the world. This material includes original field notes by Boas and Hunt, museum collections records, original photographic negatives, and wax cylinder recordings of music. The goal of this collaborative project is to produce an annotated, critical digital edition that will reunite the archival material with the original text and with the indigenous families whose cultural heritage is represented. This will be an unprecedented effort within anthropology and the humanities, promising new ways of using digital media to link together disparate archives, museums, textual repositories, and contemporary Native communities in order to produce a critical historiography of the book as well as to recuperate long dormant ethnographic records.

Click here for a Detailed Project Description.


Project Team


Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center)
Judith Berman (University of Victoria)

Additional Core Research Team
Rainer Hatoum (Independent Scholar, Berlin, Germany)
Ira Jacknis (Hearst Museum, University of California Berkeley)
Marianne Nicolson (Kwakwaka’wakw; University of Victoria)
Ryan Nicolson (Kwakwaka’wakw; University of Victoria)
Barbara Taranto (Independent Technical Architect, New York/Tel Aviv)

Advisory Board
Matthew Bokovoy (University of Nebraska Press)
Stan Hunt (Hunt family representative, Alert Bay, BC)
Dean Irvine (Dalhousie University)
Peter Jacobs (University of Victoria)
David Jaffee (Bard Graduate Center)
Kimon Keramidas (Bard Graduate Center)
Adam Werle (University of Victoria)


Project Prototype

View an interactive prototype of the final digital edition website. This is a working mock-up based on known research materials, provisional annotations, and planned functionality at this stage (prior to the extensive Native community consultations that will be a main component of the project). Only some features of the final digital edition are dynamically represented here (interactive functions are indicated by a *), but it provides a model for the further development of the research project and the design of the final product.
(NOTE: This prototype is optimized for viewing in Google Chrome) 

See Prototype Media Credits


Aaron Glass and Judith Berman “The Distributed Text: An Annotated Digital Edition of Franz Boas's Pioneering Ethnography.” Culture Vol. 6(1):18. 2012.

Judith Berman and Aaron Glass “About the Back Cover.” Manoa Vol. 25(1), 2013. Special Issue: “Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World.


Conference Presentations
Aaron Glass and Judith Berman “The Distributed Text: Uniting Museums, Archives, and Indigenous Knowledge around Franz Boas’s 1897 Monograph.” (Presented at the session "Transcending Shifts and Frictions in the Museum 'Apparatus,'" American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA: Nov. 14-18, 2012).  

Aaron Glass “The Distributed Text: A Critical Digital Edition of Franz Boas’s 1897 Monograph.” (Presented at After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC: Jan. 18-21, 2012)

Judith Berman and Aaron Glass “Recuperating the Boasian Archive: A Collaborative Effort to Reunite Objects, Records, and Indigenous Knowledge.” (Presented at the invited session "Unsettling Records: Images and Objects," Canadian Anthropology Society-La Société Canadienne d'Anthropologie Conference, Victoria, BC: May 8-11, 2013).


History of Grants
2014 NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant
2012 NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant

Rainer Hatoum (Independent Scholar and BGC Fellow) received a 2013 Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society to conduct research on the Franz Boas Papers at the APS.


Cooperating Institutions
American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
American Museum of Natural History
American Philosophical Society
Archive of Traditional Music, University of Indiana at Bloomington
Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv
Columbia University Libraries
Ethnologisches Museum Berlin
The Field Museum
National Anthropological Archive, Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
U'mista Cultural Centre
University of Nebraska Press


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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