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Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field

Mick Gidley

Publication Year: 2003

In Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field, Mick Gidley provides an intimate and informative glimpse of Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952) and his associates as they undertook their work in the early decades of the twentieth century. Photographer Curtis embarked on an epic quest to document through word and picture the traditional cultures of Native Americans in the western United States—cultures that he believed were inevitably doomed. Curtis’s project became the largest anthropological enterprise undertaken in this country and yielded the monumental work The North American Indian (1907–30). Its publication was a watershed in the anthropological study of Native Americans and inspired the first full-length documentary film, popular magazine articles, books for young readers, lectures, and photography exhibitions. Housing a wealth of ethnographic information yet steeped in nostalgia and predicated upon the assumption that Native Americans were a “vanishing race,” Curtis’s work has been both influential and controversial, and its vision of Native Americans must still be reckoned with today.
Gidley draws on a wide array of unpublished or uncollected reminiscences, reports, letters, field notes, and magazine and newspaper articles. The reports and reflections by Curtis and the project’s ethnological assistants, memoirs by Curtis family members, and eyewitness accounts by newspaper reporters afford an unprecedented look at the process of anthropological fieldwork as it was commonly practiced during this period. This book also sheds light on the views of Curtis and his contemporaries concerning their enterprise and the Native peoples they worked with and provides a clearer sense of how both Native Americans and the mainstream American public perceived their efforts.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii


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pp. viii

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pp. ix

The book The North American Indian (1907–1930), credited to Edward S. Curtis, is becoming ever better known. In recent years, for example, almost all of its photographic images have been reproduced in one (admittedly very thick) paperbound volume...

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pp. xi

This book comes out of a long personal engagement with Curtis’s expansive project, an engagement that resulted in the publication of the anthology referred to in the preface, a number of essays, and Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated (1998).2 I would like to acknowledge the considerable help I have...

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Explanatory Notes

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pp. xiii

In the headings for the writings reproduced here, the first date given is the year of composition; any uncertainty about the date is signaled by c. for circa. When a second date appears in parentheses it indicates the year in which the events described took place; again, any uncertainty is signaled by c. for circa. The headnote usually...

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-29

Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian (published from 1907 to 1930) is a monumental set of 20 volumes of illustrated written text and a parallel set of 20 portfolios of large-size photogravures. Perhaps more famous than read— owing to its huge scale—it is devoted to more than 80 different Native...

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Chapter 2: In the Southwest

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pp. 30-56

I had had many delightful but tantalizingly short weeks with Father in his camps with the Indians, and now I was to be really one of the party and live in camp month after month, winter and summer. That would be real life. My questions as to when we were to start and where we were to go were many...

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Chapter 3: On the Plains

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pp. 57-81

There is just one feat more difficult than introducing an Indian to the bathtub, and that is, to make him face a camera. E. S. Curtis is probably the only “paleface” who is past grand master of the art of photographing Indians. The famous Curtis collection of Indian pictures now on exhibition at the art store of William Morris...

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Chapter 4: In the Northwest

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pp. 82-107

Believing that you will be interested in knowing how work on “The North American Indian” is progressing, I will briefly review the activities of the past season. Detailed work connected with the publication of Volumes III, IV and V was closed in March. Mr.Myers, who had spent the fall and winter months in Cambridge...

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Chapter 5: Up and Down theWest Coast

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pp. 108-130

I believe you will be interested in a few details of my summers [sic] work among the California tribes. As you know the principal work of this season’s trip is the making of the pictures for Volumes XIII and XIV. As a popular title for the trip it might be called “Gathering...

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Chapter 6: Generally Speaking

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pp. 131-148

I have been working on this series of volumes for eight years, and carried it on as rapidly and thoroughly as money will permit. The plans are that the final publication will consist of approximately 3,000 large pictures in twenty portfolios. Twenty volumes of tens [sic] will be bound separately and will contain, as additional...


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pp. 149-162

References Cited

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pp. 163-169


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pp. 171-178

E-ISBN-13: 9780803203488
E-ISBN-10: 0803203489

Publication Year: 2003