“It is good that you should have a box in which your laws and stories are kept.” —Franz Boas, in a letter to Kwagu’ł Chiefs, April 14, 1897

The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology explores 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). Groundbreaking in its holistic detail, this portrait of a Native North American society was the result of Boas’s fieldwork among the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw of British Columbia and a collaboration with his Indigenous research partner, George Hunt. Drawing on a Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw metaphor, Boas imagined his book as a storage box for “laws and stories,” preserving them for science in case the culture vanished under colonial impact.

In fact, the book fails to address three important aspects of its making: Canada’s assimilation policy, which outlawed potlatch ceremonies; the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where Boas and Hunt conducted much of their fieldwork; and Hunt’s status as a full co-author. In the early 1920s, Hunt took it upon himself to correct and expand the book, in part by reconnecting hereditary treasures to the families to whom they belong. Hundreds of pages of unpublished revisions were consigned to archives after Boas’s death, examples of which have been reunited with the book for the first time.

The exhibition—with designs by artist Corrine Hunt, a great-granddaughter of George Hunt—features ceremonial objects as well as rare archival photographs, manuscripts, and drawings that shed new light on the book and advance understanding of the ongoing cultural traditions it documents.

Read about the collaboration between curator Aaron Glass and exhibition artist Corrine Hunt.

A Focus Project curated by Aaron Glass, Associate Professor, Bard Graduate Center. Focus Projects are part of an innovative program organized and led by faculty members or postdoctoral fellows through seminars and workshops that culminate in small-scale, academically rigorous exhibitions.

The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology has been organized by the Bard Graduate Center and the U’mista Cultural Centre, Alert Bay, BC, Canada, with support provided by donors of Bard Graduate Center. Special thanks to the Audain Foundation for the Visual Arts, Donald Ellis, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Artisan Fund, the Government of Canada (Canadian Heritage), and the Rock Foundation for the installation at the U’mista Cultural Centre.

Exhibition Website

This comprehensive website features all exhibition content and media, expanded object and thematic essays, and photographs of the installations at Bard Graduate Center Gallery and U’mista Cultural Centre.

Opening the Story Box

Learn more about George Hunt, his collaboration with anthropologist Franz Boas, and what their 1897 book means to the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw people today in Opening The Story Box: Reflections on George Hunt and Franz Boas, a film by Marina Dodis and Aaron Glass, created for the exhibition.

Ceremonial Blessing of the Exhibition

On the morning before the exhibition opening, the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw delegation from the U’mista Cultural Centre invited Bard Graduate Center staff and students to participate in a ceremonial blessing of the space.

Cultural Presentations at the Exhibition Opening

At the exhibition’s public opening, Lenape elder George Stonefish welcomed the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw delegation from the U’mista Cultural Centre, who then offered a cultural presentation of oratory, song, and dance to celebrate the exhibit and honor the legacy of George Hunt and Franz Boas.