Left: Chief making a speech at a potlatch, Fort Rupert, BC, 1894 (detail). Photograph by Oregon C. Hastings, courtesy American Museum of Natural History Library, 336116. Middle: Franz Boas posing as a Hamat’sa dancer, United States National Museum, Washington, DC, 1895 (detail). Courtesy National Anthropological Archives/Smithsonian Institution, 8300. Right: Xwani performing a dance at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL, 1893 (detail). Photograph by John H. Grabill, courtesy Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 93-1-10 100266.1.37.

This symposium marks the opening of The Story Box, a BGC Focus Exhibition that examines the hidden histories and complex legacies of one of the most influential books in the field of anthropology: Franz Boas’s The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians (1897). The collaborative product of Boas’s own observations and extensive materials authored by his long-time Indigenous co-worker George Hunt, the text was the first systematic attempt to document all sociocultural, spiritual, and aesthetic aspects of a spectacular Native North American ceremonial structure. A pioneering achievement on many levels—not least in its use of “new” media for ethnographic representation—it was the immediate inspiration for subsequent books, images, and museum displays, and has been the subject of an ever-lengthening list of secondary literature.

Yet few readers realize the conditions under which the book was produced, which include the scramble for Northwest Coast collections, the Canadian prohibition of the potlatch, and the participation of Kwakwaka’wakw in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. This exhibit and symposium contribute to a collaborative project to reassemble globally distributed collections and fragmented archives, illuminate the book’s history, and return long-dormant knowledge to the Indigenous families whose patrimony is represented in it. Speakers include project team members who will discuss the primary media utilized by Boas and Hunt (museum objects, texts, photographs, and wax cylinder recordings), the main sites for their ethnographic recording (fieldwork in British Columbia, the Chicago World’s Fair, and museums in North America and Europe), and the legacy of the book in Kwakwaka’wakw communities.

Speakers include:
Aaron Glass, Bard Graduate Center
Judith Berman, University of Victoria
Ira Jacknis, Hearst Museum, University of California Berkeley
Rainer Hatoum, Goethe University
Andy Everson, Artist and Community Researcher, Comox, BC
Corrine Hunt, Artist and Guest Exhibit Designer, Vancouver, BC
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Keynote Discussant