Detailed Project Description

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Under the rubric of a new Franz Boas Critical Edition book series (University of Nebraska Press), we plan to reprint and annotate Boas's seminal 1897 monograph, The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians, in both print and on a public multimedia website. Framed with scholarly essays and contemporary Kwakwaka’wakw perspectives, the new editions will re-unite the original text with widely distributed archival and museum collections that shed new light on the book and its wide-ranging legacy. This long-hidden material provides surprising revelations about the fieldwork behind Boas’s foundational volume, the central nature of co-authorship in it, and the degree to which it provided a blueprint for a subsequent four decades of ethnographic research. The project will also sharpen our awareness of the ways that historical contexts shape the creation and illustration of ethnographic knowledge. The critical editions will thus provide a major new resource for both scholars and non-specialist readers, while returning cultural patrimony to its indigenous inheritors. 

Boas’s 1897 monograph was the first systematic attempt, based on fieldwork and participant observation, to document all aspects of a Native American ceremonial with text, photographs, museum collections, and sound recordings. Produced collaboratively with his indigenous collector and translator, George Hunt, the book represented a synthesis of Boas’s first decade of research in British Columbia. It was hugely influential on contemporary and subsequent scholars in anthropology and museums as well as art history, literary studies, religion, musicology, ethnohistory, sociology and Native American studies. Yet many of the primary materials contributing to the volume, as well as later revisions and additions to it by both Boas and Hunt, remain dispersed. Reuniting, annotating, and making publicly accessible these scattered materials will help fulfill the coauthors’ long-deferred vision for their own work while creating an innovative resource for scholars across the humanities to re-evaluate the core research by an originator of the modern concept of “culture.”

The use of experimental typography for print editions, as well as interactive digital technologies to add annotations, interpretation, and multimedia archival content, has been largely confined to literary and historical texts. This project is unique in the scholarship of Native North America and anthropology as a whole, especially given the sharing of the interpretive role with indigenous partners, as befits the collaborative nature of the original text. While the print edition will deliver new scholarly resources in the form of critical essays, annotations, and appendices, the digital edition will additionally provide a model for the integration of disparate digital archives, and will develop new software to process a substantial amount of material in Kwak’wala, creating significant open source tools for preserving this endangered language. Collectively, the critical editions will reveal, for the first time, exactly how Boas and Hunt marshaled ethnographic data and representational media to both record Kwakwaka’wakw culture in particular, and to construct our very understanding of culture itself.


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