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
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.