How Can You Capture a Snake Dance?: Senses and the Documentary Impulse in Southwesternist Ethnography, 1870-1900

Adam Fulton Johnson, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, University of Michigan, and SAR Summer Fellow

Colloquium, SAR Boardroom

Wednesday, July 22, 2015, 12:00–1:00 pm, Free

Adam JohnsonAdam Johnson2015 William Y. and Nettie K. Adams fellow.  Photograph courtesy of Adam Johnson.

Late nineteenth-century anthropologists in the Southwestern United States at times witnessed events in the field that would have been considered racy to a vast majority of their Gilded Age counterparts. While they often represented “savage” or “repulsive” cultural practices to other scholars and curious readers in order to contrast with and highlight American “civilization,” anthropologists’ field diaries portray a complex cultural negotiation at play, in which Anglo assumptions about what could and should be known about various people were altered by what events and practices could actually be accessed. Through an examination of anthropological journal and field notes, Johnson will compare strategies of note-taking in various ritual and everyday contexts, paying close attention to how Southwestern Indian communities reacted to documentation at select times. By looking at what could be seen, what could be written about, and when and where a pencil or sketchbook could be taken out—as well as what was not accessible (a “known unknown” from the perspective of the anthropologist, to use an infamous contemporary term)— Johnson reflects on how divergent cultures looked at privacy and propriety in the late nineteenth-century American West.

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