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  • Collaborative and Non-Collaborative ExhibitsJames Mooney and Displaying Kiowa Culture
  • Nancy J. Parezo (bio)

American anthropology was grounded in museums. This fact makes museums productive sites for examining disciplinary history and its changing practices, including collaborative endeavors with indigenous people. With world’s fairs, museums provided venues in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where foundational anthropologists invited visitors to think about native peoples as the primitive before of humanity’s collective past compared to their own enlightened civilization and future. Museologists generally used this evolutionary dichotomy without consulting the peoples being depicted because individual cultures did not particularly matter in this framework. A racialized sociocultural classification combined with a developmental-cultural-technological typology that supposedly explained regimented evolutionary processes was critical. Collaborations were irrelevant, for indigenous perspectives would muddy the simplicity of the theoretical narrative.

Some anthropologists thought individual cultures and what indigenous peoples had to say mattered, however. They used exhibition venues to challenge the evolutionary model by displaying the stories (not the universalized abstract narrative) of North American peoples, thereby conveying a differentiated understanding of particular cultures or tribes, social groups that today are called Native or First Nations. This shift would eventually replace the homogeneous representation of “the primitive before” with ethnographic displays of distinctive indigenous people as unique parts of humanity’s present, not simply as survivals of humankind’s past. Moving toward more culturally specific [End Page 72]

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Table 1.

Model of exhibit types in late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century ethnology

approaches, curators eliminated the superficial functional analogies at the core of developmental stages and substituted a depiction of regional difference based on variables such as environment, natural resources, climate, language, and cultural adaptation or choice (culture areas). Emphasis on regional distinctiveness added place as an explanation for variation. But displays were still comparative, based on categorization strategies the curator conceptualized, providing little information based on indigenous perspectives. Soon an interest in variation within the culture area and in cultural particularism for its own sake led to ethnographic exhibits based on a melding of indigenous knowledge with anthropological theories and description conventions. This [End Page 73] approach could be a historical, depicting the cultural present, the actual present, or a particular time. Ethnohistory and inclusion of indigenous memory culture added the dimension of time. Table 1 reflects my model of exhibit types during this period.

While comparative displays could be undertaken without indigenous approval, negotiation, or involvement (except for ensuring that an object came from or was used by a specific culture), the quest for scientific accuracy and truthfulness meant that ethnographic approaches required collaboration with the source community during the exhibition preparation process and ideally through all stages of implementation. This did not often happen. When contextualizing history was added to the variables displayed, collaboration with the source community became essential but was rarely talked about in exhibition labels. There was no way for visitors to recognize collaborative efforts (Krmpotich and Anderson 2005).

One individual who utilized community collaboration, consultation with the proper keepers of pertinent knowledge, and followed culturally appropriate information-seeking protocols was James Mooney (1861–1921), an ethnologist with the Bureau of American Ethnology from 1885 to 1921.1 During his career Mooney used a mixed methodology in extensive multi-year fieldwork settings to produce ethnographies, specialized topical reports on a wide range of subjects, and documentary and indigenous histories. He studied the historical events and developments that had affected colonized societies, both for those forced onto reservations (Kiowa) and those who refused deportation (Eastern Cherokee). During his productive career Mooney pioneered many methodologies that are considered essential for ethical ethno-graphic and ethnohistorical research today (see Moses 1984). In addition, a desire for justice in colonial situations undergirded his political activism (fights for religious freedom and federal recognition). A proponent of an engaged anthropology that helped communities and individuals, Mooney tried to explain Indian worldviews and behaviors to Congress, Indian Service personnel, and the American people. His most famous works were the Ghost Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (1896), Myths of the Cherokee (1900), and Calendar History of the Kiowa (1898), “an autobiographic history of an...


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