Aaron Glass will give a Work-in-Progress talk on Wednesday, September 13, at 12:15 pm. His talk is entitled “The Distributed Text: Toward a Critical Digital Edition and Exhibition of Franz Boas’s Groundbreaking 1897 Monograph.”

Franz Boas’s 1897 monograph, The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians, was a landmark in anthropology for its integrative approach to museum collections, photographs, and sound recordings as well as text. A result of participant observation and extensive collaboration with Indigenous partners—especially George Hunt—the book set a standard for both ethnography and museum practice. However, both Boas and Hunt remained dissatisfied with the published text, laboring for decades to correct and supplement a volume that would forever mediate global knowledge of the Kwakwaka’wakw. They left behind a vast archive of unpublished materials relevant to the creation and afterlife of this seminal text and its related museum collections. These materials are now widely distributed across institutional, disciplinary, and international borders so that related ethnographic records have become fractured, thereby limiting the documentary potential at each site and the research possibilities for both scholars and Native communities. In this talk, Glass discusses a collaborative NEH-funded project to create an annotated critical edition of the work that unites published and unpublished materials with one another and with current Kwakwaka’wakw knowledge in an interactive, multimedia website, preceded by a 2019 BGC Focus Project Exhibition. Archival revelations about the truly co-authored nature of the original text allow us to better situate the contexts and methods of creating ethnographic knowledge in terms of the Indigenous epistemologies it purports to represent. Moreover, new digital technologies can harness multimedia to return sensory richness to Boas and Hunt’s synthetic text, to reactivate disparate and long dormant museum collections, and to restore cultural patrimony to its Indigenous inheritors.

Aaron Glass is an Associate Professor at Bard Graduate Center. His research focuses on various aspects of First Nations visual art and material culture, media, and performance on the Northwest Coast of North America, both historically and today.