As a contribution to the “Field Notes” section of the relaunched History of Anthropology Newsletter, I offer the following as a brief report of my recent research in the history of anthropology and its connections to art history and the history of museums. Historians of anthropology tend to work in a range of institutional and disciplinary locations, and I have done much of my “fieldwork” in museum collections and libraries. I would like to dedicate this essay to both former editors-in-chief of HAN: my mentor George Stocking, and my friend and colleague Riki Kuklick, for both of whom the many different meanings and values attached to “fieldwork” was a lasting topic of reflection.

My roots in the history of anthropology go back to my undergraduate days: I was a double major in anthropology and the history of art. Another early inspiration came from my 1972 internship with Smithsonian curator William C. Sturtevant, who had strong interests in the history of anthropology.

Entering the anthropology program at the University of Chicago in the fall of 1974, I worked with Nancy Munn, Raymond Fogelson, as well as George Stocking—who published two of my essays in his Wisconsin series on the history of anthropology (1985, 1996). While I was certainly inspired by Stocking’s work, especially on Boas, as a result of my visual and artifactual background, I chose to focus on topics and genres he had neglected.

Taking Boas as my root, my 1989 dissertation (published in 2002) combined ethnography, art history, and the history of anthropology in exploring the relationship between Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka’wakw) art, anthropologists, and museums. Without fully realizing it at the time, I was doing a kind of visual anthropology with historical materials, or alternatively, a kind of visual history of anthropology.

I have gone on to follow in Sturtevant’s footsteps as a curator of anthropology, currently based in Berkeley’s Hearst Museum of Anthropology. I have substantial research interests in the history of anthropology, particularly of museum anthropology. At the core of my research has been the intersection of anthropology and the art world in western culture (the art-culture system, according to James Clifford, 1998: 223). I have paid particular attention to how these enterprises took Native artifacts as their subject and institutionalized them in museums, first as collections and then as exhibitions. As I began to write up my dissertation, I was able to explore these themes first-hand while employed at the Brooklyn Museum, whose Native American collection was originally amassed by Stewart Culin as ethnology, only to have it reclassified as “primitive art” after his death in 1929 when the museum became an explicit art museum.

Apache life group diorama, Southwest Indian Hall, American Museum of Natural History, 1917; neg. no. 36554.

Apache life group diorama, Southwest Indian Hall, American Museum of Natural History, 1917; neg. no. 36554.

Much of my current work has developed from my first two articles, both on Franz Boas, first on his photography (1984) and then on his museum exhibits (1985). One path led to a series of articles on the use of photography and film by American anthropologists: including Barrett, Boas, Kroeber, Mead, Mooney, and others. Although the vast majority of pictures of American Indians and other Native peoples were not taken by anthropologists, I wanted to see what was distinctly unique to that professional perspective. And while almost all scholarship on these ethnographers dealt with their writings, I wanted to explore their visual engagements with Native cultures.

These visual interests also found expression in a parallel series of essays on museum exhibits, moving from the field to representations in urban institutions. Here I looked at Boas at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), Culin at the Brooklyn Museum, the Northwest Coast Hall and the Southwest Hall at the American Museum of Natural History, and, returning partly to my first article, the anthropological displays at the 1893 Chicago fair. I build on this work in my current research on displays of Native American art at the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) in San Francisco in 1939–40. While there is a mountain of scholarship on the 1893 fair and much on the Saint Louis expo of 1904, there is hardly any on the GGIE, even though it was the last comprehensive (and quite influential) display of American Indian art and culture at an American fair.

Currently, I am working on three books. The first deals with the miniature dioramas at Harvard’s Peabody Museum. The Peabody has arguably the finest collection of miniature models in an American anthropology museum, most made between 1906 and 1932 by Charles C. Willoughby and Samuel Guernsey, two artists turned anthropologists. These fascinating objects, criticized by some as biased and inaccurate, have drawn little scholarly attention, especially when compared to the full-size life group dioramas. However, they have been critically important to American museum anthropology since their introduction at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, and they raise many important issues regarding poetic and political issues of ethnographic and archaeological representation. Creatively combining artifactual and photographic sources, they were one of the dominant contemporary modes of scientific popularization.

Navajo miniature village diorama, close-up; made by Charles C. Willoughby and Samuel J. Guernsey, 1915. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, no. 15-21-10/86068.

Navajo miniature village diorama, close-up; made by Charles C. Willoughby and Samuel J. Guernsey, 1915. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, no. 15-21-10/86068.

A second book project explores the relations between art and anthropology museums as collectors of American Indian art and artifacts, especially Navajo textiles, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Contrary to popular notions which associate the appearance of “primitive art” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Nelson Rockefeller’s massive donation in 1969, I discovered that the museum had collected Native American art almost from its founding in 1870. The museum had accumulated quite a lot of this material by 1910, when Margaret Olivia (Mrs. Russell) Sage donated an important collection of Navajo textiles that she had purchased from Pasadena photographer Adam Clark Vroman.

Navajo blanket, collected by Adam Clark Vroman, donated by Margaret Olivia (Mrs. Russell) Sage, 1910. Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 10.107.3.

A third project is a monograph, co-authored with Erin Hasinoff, on Mary Lois Kissell (1874–1944), a pioneering scholar of American Indian baskets and textiles. Virtually unknown today, Mary Kissell was the first American scholar to try to create an anthropology of basketry and textiles. Trained in art education in Chicago and Columbia University, she moved into anthropology, working as a basketry specialist under Clark Wissler at the AMNH (1907–11). After early fieldwork on Pima-Papago baskets, she focused on Northwest Coast textiles, for a monograph originally to be co-written with regional specialists Charles F. Newcombe and James Teit. In the 1920s she undertook the entire project on her own, commissioned by the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE). Unfortunately, just on the eve of the Depression, the Smithsonian returned the manuscript to her for cutting and editing, and she never resubmitted it. At her death, with no heirs, all of her personal possessions seem to have been tossed out, including her BAE manuscript.

Kissell’s life appeals to me since she was a kind of Zelig figure, at the center (or, sometimes, fringes) of almost all of museum anthropology during her lifetime. Her story also unites the worlds of art and anthropology that I have been exploring for so long. As a historian, I have relished the difficult detective work in ferreting out obscure sources for someone without an obituary or a discrete body of papers. Everything about Kissell must then be distributed and relational: all of her extant correspondence is in the collections of those to whom she wrote. The sheer marginality of Kissell has been a pleasant challenge after dealing for so long with canonical figures such as Boas and Kroeber, who left ample evidence of their careers. At least in his earlier career, George Stocking had little patience for such “excluded ancestors” (cf. Handler 2000). Partly due to Kissell’s obscurity and multiple fields of activity, in our book we are rejecting a linear biographical narrative for a “non-realistic” collage, combining reprints of her writings with multiple historical contextualizations.

Woman spinning yarn at Coast Salish village of Musqueam, Vancouver, British Columbia. Photograph by Charles F. Newcombe on a field trip with Mary Lois Kissell, 5 December 1915. Royal British Columbia Museum; PN 83.

Woman spinning yarn at Coast Salish village of Musqueam, Vancouver, British Columbia. Photograph by Charles F. Newcombe on a field trip with Mary Lois Kissell, 5 December 1915. Royal British Columbia Museum; PN 83.

Yet another project that has occupied me for the past several years has been a comparative history of museum anthropology, ca. 1880–1945, directed by cultural sociologist Tony Bennett. In this extended research I follow up on my curiousity about Boas’s curatorial successor, Clark Wissler, and his museum practice. Beyond Wissler, I have focused on the Huntington Expedition to the Southwest (1909-21), including Kroeber’s Zuni collections, some of which wound up in Berkeley. An essay on regionalism in the AMNH’s anthropological collections revealed that while Wissler’s department (in a spirit of Boasian cultural relativism) did focus on the Americas, the colonialist interests of the central administration largely drove the museum’s important acquisitions in Old World cultures (such as Africa, Asia, and the Philippines). In the course of this research, I was also surprised to find ample evidence of Wissler’s own racism and eugenic interests, which are more often attributed to the museum’s president, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and one of its trustees, Madison Grant. I soon discovered that Stocking and other scholars had been aware of this side of Wissler, but that it had been greatly obscured by the common perception of Wissler as a “Boasian.” My chapter on Wissler and the culture concept will be published in early 2017 in a collaboratively-written volume, but like many fieldworkers, I still have much research material that is yet to be published.

Finally, a parallel to my interest in visual ethnographic representation is the aural sphere of music and sound recording. Both are essentially non-verbal and both have included a prominent role for recording machines, at least since the late nineteenth century. After publishing essays on the musical and recording work of Franz Boas, Alfred Kroeber, and Edward Curtis, I am currently contributing liner notes for a CD anthology of the field recordings of the acoustic period (before the introduction of microphones in 1925), drawing from the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. My work here grows out of on-going research on Boston philanthropist Mary Hemenway, who was the prime patron in the beginnings of ethnographic sound recording in America (ca. 1890–95). She supported, for example, Jesse Walter Fewkes in Maine and the Southwest, Benjamin Ives Gilman at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and John G. Bourke in Texas. These collections, which were donated to Harvard after her death, are now in the Library of Congress.

And coming full circle, at least for the moment, I am helping prepare a critical edition—first in print and then digitally—of Boas’s classic 1897 monograph on Kwakiutl social organization and secret societies, which included much of his early photography and musical notations. This project is led by Aaron Glass and Judith Berman.

Looking back after several decades doing the history of anthropology, I can now perceive a kind of “involution,” to use one of Clifford Geertz’s concepts, itself borrowed from Alexander Goldenweiser (1936). I had begun my scholarly career with some general passions, but it has taken me years to see, retrospectively, how they all fit together, and to see how so much of my current work, still in process and unpublished, has grown out of earlier seeds, or, perhaps, roots. And in writing this short note, I am reminded of George Stocking’s last work, looking into his own black box. While I think our two attempts are radically different in many ways, I think historians are naturally tempted to place their scholarly work in a historical perspective. Wherever it has gone, my own work has been driven by pure pleasure, coming from a desire to find answers, to discover things that neither I nor anyone else knew, but which I hope may be important and of interest to others.



Clifford, James. 1998. “On Collecting Art and Culture.” In The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art, 212–51. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Goldenweiser, Alexander A. 1936. “Loose Ends of Theory on the Individual, Pattern, and Involution in Primitive Society.” In Essays in Anthropology Presented to A. L. Kroeber in Celebration of His Sixtieth Birthday, June 11, 1936, ed. Robert H. Lowie, 99–104. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Handler, Richard, ed. 2000. Excluded Ancestors, Invented Traditions: Essays toward a More Inclusive History of Anthropology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Kuklick, Henrika. 2015. “Science as Adventure.” In The Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, Afterlives, eds. Joshua A. Bell and Erin L. Hasinoff, 33–57. New York: Bard Graduate Center; distributed by University of Chicago Press.

Stocking, George W., Jr., ed. 1983. Observers Observed: Essays on Ethnographic Fieldwork. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

———, ed. 2010. Glimpses into My Own Black Box: An Exercise in Self-Deconstruction. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Jacknis, Ira. 1984. “Franz Boas and Photography.” Studies in Visual Communication 10, no. 1: 2–60.

———. 1985. “Franz Boas and Exhibits: On the Limitations of the Museum Method of Anthropology.” In Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture, ed. George W. Stocking, 75–111. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

———. 1988. “Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson in Bali: Their Use of Photography and Film”. Cultural Anthropology 3 no. 2: 160–77.

———. 1990. “James Mooney as an Ethnographic Photographer.” Visual Anthropology 3, no. 2/3: 179–212.

———. 1991. “The Road to Beauty: Stewart Culin’s American Indian Exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum.” In Objects of Myth and Memory: American Indian Art at The Brooklyn Museum. With Diana Fane and Lise M. Breen, 29–43. Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum; Seattle: University of Washington Press.

———. 1992. “George Hunt, Kwakiutl Photographer.” In Anthropology and Photography, 1860–1920, ed. Elizabeth Edwards, 143–51. New Haven: Yale University Press.

———. 1992. “‘The Artist Himself’: The Salish Basketry Monograph and the Beginnings of a Boasian Paradigm.” In The Early Years of Native American Art History: The Politics of Scholarship and Collecting, ed. Janet Catherine Berlo, 134–61. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

———. 1993. “Alfred Kroeber as Museum Anthropologist.” Museum Anthropology 17, no. 2: 27–32.

———. 1996. “The Ethnographic Object and the Object of Ethnology in the Early Career of Franz Boas.” In Volksgeist as Method and Ethic: Essays on Boasian Ethnography and the German Anthropological Tradition, ed. George W. Stocking, 185–214. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

———. 1996. “PrefaceandAlfred Kroeber and the Photographic Representation of California Indians.” In “The Shadow Catcher: The Uses of Native American Photography,” eds. Ira Jacknis and Willow Powers, special issue, American Indian Culture and Research Journal 20, no. 3: 1–14, 15–32.

———. 2000. “Visualizing Kwakwaka’wakw Tradition: The Films of William Heick, 1951–1963.” In “Ethnographic Eyes: In Memory of Douglas L. Cole,” ed. Wendy C. Wickwire, special issue, BC Studies, nos. 125/126: 99–146.

———. 2002. The Storage Box of Tradition: Kwakiutl Art, Anthropologists, and Museums, 1881–1981. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

———. 2002. “The Creation of Anthropological Archives: A California Case Study.” In Anthropology, History, and American Indians: Essays in Honor of William Curtis Sturtevant, eds. William L. Merrill and Ives Goddard, 211–20. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, no. 44. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

———. 2003. “Yahi Culture in the Wax Museum: Ishi’s Sound Recordings.” In Ishi In Three Centuries, eds. Karl Kroeber and Clifton B. Kroeber, 235–74. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

———. 2003. “Franz Boas and the Music of the Northwest Coast Indians.” In Constructing Cultures Then and Now: Celebrating Franz Boas and the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, eds. Laurel Kendall and Igor Krupnik, 105–22. Contributions to Circumpolar Anthropology, no. 4. Washington, D.C.: Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution.

———. 2004. “’A Magic Place’: The Northwest Coast Indian Hall at the American Museum of Natural History.” In Coming Ashore: Northwest Coast Ethnology, Past and Present, eds. Marie Mauzé, Michael E. Harkin, and Sergei Kan, 221–50. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

———. 2014. “A Chamber of Echoing Songs: Edward Curtis as a Musical Ethnographer.” In Return to the Land of the Head Hunters: Edward S. Curtis, the Kwakwaka’wakw, and the Making of Modern Cinema, eds. Brad Evans and Aaron Glass, 99–127. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

———. 2014. “More than a Footnote or Bibliographic Entry: Mary Lois Kissell as an Innovator of Textile Study.” With Erin L. Hasinoff. Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014.

———. 2015. “’America Is Our Field’: Anthropological Regionalism at the American Museum of Natural History, 1895–1945.” Museums and Society 13, no. 1: 52–71.

———. 2015. “In the Field / En Plein Air: The Art of Anthropological Display at the American Museum of Natural History, 1905–30.” In The Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, Afterlives, eds. Joshua A. Bell and Erin L. Hasinoff, 119–73. New York: Bard Graduate Center; distributed by the University of Chicago Press.

———. 2016. “Refracting Images: Anthropological Display at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893.” In Coming of Age in Chicago: The 1893 World’s Fair and the Coalescence of American Anthropology, eds. Curtis M. Hinsley and David R. Wilcox, 261-336. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

———. 2017. Collecting, Ordering, Governing: Anthropology, Museums, and Liberal Government. With Tony Bennett, Fiona Cameron, Nelia Dias, Ben Dibley, Rodney Harrison, and Conal McCarthy. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ira Jacknis: contributions /