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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Birthday Frederick Douglass!: A Commemorative Blog from the National Museum of African Art


*Update: ABC Channel 7 aired a segment on March 14, 2018 featuring the history of Frederick Douglass and the National Museum of African Art and the silk screen prints by Ben Shahn that are discussed in this blog.  Archivists Eden Orelove and Amy Staples, and Museum Director Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford were interviewed for the story. 



In recognition of the 200th anniversary of abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ birth date (b. February 14, 1818), the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, would like to share our significant collections and history related to this distinguished African American civil rights leader.

Founded by Warren Robbins in 1964, the Museum of African Art (now the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art) was originally located in the Frederick Douglass House at A Street NE on Capitol Hill.  

Frederick Douglass and family in front of Capitol Hill residence, circa 1870s. 
Copy print from Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

In February 1966, the Museum established the Frederick Douglass Institute of Negro Arts and History to sponsor exhibits and lectures reflecting the contributions of African and African American people to the history and culture of the United States.    


Pamphlet explaining the origins and purpose of the Frederick Douglass Institute of Negro Arts and History, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.



Frederick Douglass Institute of Negro Arts & History Dedication, September 21, 1966. Left-Right: Frances Humphrey Howard (seated), Founding Board Member and sister of Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey; Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court; Harry McPherson, Special Counsel to President Lyndon B. Johnson; Commissioner John B. Duncan; Ambassador Edward S. Peal of Liberia, and Joseph Palmer II, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Accession 11-001. 

One year before the founding of the Frederick Douglass Institute of Negro Arts and History, Robbins asked American artist Ben Shahn (1898-1969) to create a print of Douglass to be used for fund-raising purposes.  On October 21, 1964, Robbins wrote to Shahn, expressing his exuberance for the project:


“It is really marvelous that you are willing to do a sketch of Douglass, who to my mind was one of the great men of the world in the 19th century and one of the giants in American history.  The Museum is in the position to make him a great deal better known to people who ordinarily wouldn’t know very much about him.”  (Image 19 on page 2, Ben Shahn papers, Archives of American Art). 


Robbins sent Shahn 12 pictures of Douglass, but rather than producing one print, as Robbins had requested, Shahn created four!  The prints were unveiled at the Museum of African Art on February 10, in connection with National African American History Week and were sold for $50 a piece or $500 for the set.   


















Ben Shahn,  Frederick Douglass, silk screen, 1965.  Marshall Janoff collection, EEPA 2017-004-0099 to 0102, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

With a limited 250-print run, the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives’ holdings of the silk screen prints are one of the few remaining complete sets.  The White House was gifted a set during Obama’s presidency, and the Supreme Court was also provided a set.  Chief Justice Warren E. Berger sent a note of thanks to Robbins on March 27, 1974. (Image 65 on page 5, Ben Shahn papers, Archives of American Art). 


Warren Robbins (left) displaying Shahn's silk screen prints to D.C. Mayor Walter Washington, circa 1973. Smithsonian Institution Archives.  Accession 11-0001.













Pamphlet depicting the four Shahn prints for sale at the Frederick Douglass Institute of Negro Arts and History, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

















Robbins, who founded the Museum to encourage cross-cultural communication, found a like-mind in Shahn, whom he described in a 1986 piece entitled “Ben Shahn on Human Rights” (August Savage Memorial Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, September 16, 1986).

“He had a strong interest
in cross-cultural communication
in bringing people together
in bridging the gap between groups of people
in reminding people
            of their commonality as human beings
            of the common destiny of black and white
                        in this country
                        and indeed in the world."

(Warren M. Robbins, Speaking of Introductions: Vignettes of a Cultural Pioneer. Compiled and edited by Roulhac Toledano, Robbins Center for Cross Cultural Communication: Washington, D.C., 2005: p. 53-54).

Robbins also saw these ideals in the writings and orations of Douglass, and continued to promote Douglass' vision of peace even after the opening of the Frederick Douglass Institute of Negro Arts and History.  In 1967, he helped produce a stamp (now held by the Smithsonian National Postal Museum) commemorating the 150th anniversary of Douglass’ birth.  Working with Congressman Frank Horton and the U.S. Postal Department, Robbins ensured that the stamp was released on time.  Robbins originally proposed that a design by Shahn be used; instead, the stamp was designed by Walter DuBois Richards and depicts an engraving by Arthur W. Dintaman that is based on a photograph of Douglass.






Frederick Douglass commemorative stamp, printed on February 14, 1967.  Designed by Walter DuBois Richards.  Vignette engraved by Arthur W. Dintaman and lettering engraved by Kenneth C. Wilram.  Object number 1980.2493.14020, National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Poet Langston Hughes wrote to Robbins, suggesting that rather than giving a statement about Douglass, he should share Hughes’ poem (Image 32 on page 3, Ben Shahn papers, Archives of American Art), “Frederick Douglas”, at the celebration of the stamp’s release on February 14, 1967.  Ultimately, Robbins gave his own speech, and Congressman Horton quoted Robbins’ statements at the event, which the Frederick Douglass Institute had coordinated at the church on Capitol Hill near the Museum of African Art.  He described Douglass’ life as “a great epic poem in the pages of American historical literature” and called him “the original ‘freedom rider’ and ‘sit-inner,” noting that:

"He [Douglass] always held himself proud; he would not be subservient to any man.  He advocated agitation when agitation was necessary, but behind it there was a clear sense of conviction and direction; a depth of historical understanding; compassion for the unwise and short-sighted; and ultimately, a deep desire for peace and social harmony among all Americans.”  (Warren M. Robbins, Man for all Reasons: Letters of a Visionary, "Frederick Douglass Anniversary," compiled by Roulhac Toledono, Washington, D.C.: Robbins Center for Cross Cultural Communication, 2014: p. 80-81). 

Today, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art continues to promote the goals and messages of cross-cultural understanding and communication among people that Frederick Douglass inspired in all of us. 

Additional links:

The Ben Shahn papers, held at the Archives of American Art, include more correspondence between Shahn and Robbins.   

The Smithsonian Institution Archives holds the Warren M. Robbins Papers.

To read more about the Frederick Douglass commemorative stamp released in 1967, see this description, written by Roger S. Brody, National Museum of Postal History, Smithsonian Institution.

By Eden Orelove, Photo Archivist, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of  African Art, Smithsonian Institution

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Jazz Life, Interrupted

A recently acquired National Museum of American History Archives Center collection, the Maceo Jefferson Papers, 1898-1974, relates to a little-known but extremely interesting jazz musician and composer named Maceo Jefferson (1898-1974). Though possessing an impressive resume that included associations with such notables as Duke Ellington, W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, The Blackbirds, and others, he never attained fame for himself. He was a prolific composer and arranger, and lived an extremely interesting and eventful life. The rich archival collection donated by his great-nephew to the Archives Center gives us glimpses into the very earliest years of jazz and life for jazz musicians in the years between the world wars, and it opens up opportunities for researchers and scholars of this era. Only a few of our jazz collections document this formative era. Jefferson’s correspondence (he saved carbon copies of letters he sent--a luxury for a researcher) documents his efforts to have his music recorded and heard by the public. Reading Jefferson’s letters, one gets the sense of a likable, generous man with an ebullient personality and a wry wit, one who made the best of things when his career and life were derailed by circumstances beyond his control.

Jefferson’s early jazz life was probably typical of many musicians in the 1920s and 1930s, as he went from band to band, nightclub to nightclub. Many of these bands and clubs are documented in photographs in the collection. Born in 1898 in Beaufort, South Carolina, Jefferson, who came from musical parents, showed early aptitude for both banjo and guitar. In a document, he described lying awake nights listening to music from a dance hall down the street. He attended the Avery Institute in Charleston for two years, but the deaths of his parents ended his chance for further education. He served with the Coast Guard on a cutter, and with the Navy in World War I, and in a letter he stated that he “saw death staring me in the face dozens of times.” After his military service, he went back to music. He played in a nightclub in Norfolk, Virginia, for two years. He then spent another two years in a nightclub in Washington, where he met Duke Ellington and was one of the original members of his band, the Washingtonians. According to Jefferson’s nephew, he was the original arranger for this act, but Jefferson and Ellington had a falling out. He moved on to New York and worked in a succession of clubs there. He described the transformative experience of seeing and hearing Fats Waller play the piano in the Gaiety Theater. He joined Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds orchestra in 1926 and went on a European tour with them throughout 1927, and another with Leon Abbey’s band in 1928, eventually relocating to Paris. He lived in France for several years, married a Parisian costume designer, Yvonne Runtz, in 1937, and worked with several jazz bands and musicians including Louis Armstrong’s Plantation Orchestra, and then returned to New York. He played in Willie “The Lion” Smith’s band and later toured with blues composer W.C. Handy.

 Photographer unidentified. Jefferson (front row, wearing arm band) with Louis Armstrong (top row, far left) and his orchestra. Maceo Jefferson Papers, No. 1370-0000005.

Photographer unidentified. Jefferson (at left, seated, having his shoes shined) with the Leon Abbey Band. Maceo Jefferson Papers, No. 1370-0000004.

Photographer unidentified. Jefferson (holding banjo) with the Four Harmony Kings.
Maceo Jefferson Papers, No. 1370-0000006.

The late 1930s found him back in Paris. Soon afterward, Jefferson’s life took a radical detour. The Germans invaded Paris in 1940. After the closing of the Moulin Rouge left Jefferson without work, he worked with the Red Cross delivering U.S.-donated food and medicine to civilians and prison camps. In a 1967 letter, he said that “the Germans considered most of us working with the American Red Cross a bunch of spies.”


Photographer unidentified. Photographs taken of Jefferson while he was working for the Red Cross. Maceo Jefferson Papers. Top, No. 1370-0000008. Bottom, No. 1370-0000010.

The Nazis arrested Jefferson three days after Germany’s declaration of war on the U.S. (December 11, 1941), and he spent the next 27 months in an internment camp in Compiegne, France. Compiegne held political prisoners, French Jews, employees of the French government, and resistance fighters to the Vichy government. While imprisoned, Jefferson led an orchestra in the camp. According to his nephew, this may have saved his life. A concert program, hand-made, survives in the collection. The musical pieces played at this concert are an eclectic mix of fox trots, waltzes, hymns, solos, and just one composition by Jefferson.


 Program from a February, 1942 concert held inside the Frontstalag 122, Compiegne, France, led by Maceo Jefferson. Maceo Jefferson Papers.  Top: Cover, No. 1370-0000001-01.
Bottom: Inside text, No. 1370-0000001-02.

Jefferson’s wife Yvonne came regularly to see him in the camp, and bring him food. In a letter he wrote late in life, at a time when he had to make many sacrifices to take care of his wife, he said “she came 72 times to see me…walking from home to the station and after arriving at Compiegne she had three miles to walk to the camp, and that back… she has shown me her courage now it’s my time.”

In a 1967 letter, Jefferson describes his wife Yvonne’s heroic efforts to sustain him during his imprisonment by the Nazis. Maceo Jefferson Papers, No. 1370-0000002.
He was released in 1944 in a prisoner exchange, and returned to the United States in diminished health. At this point he resumed club work and songwriting, and in fact, in his later years he concentrated on composing, on developing new arrangements for old songs, and on getting his music performed and recorded. Letters in the collection document Jefferson’s contacts with performers such as Liberace, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Peggy Lee, and others, offering his compositions for their use. Guitarist Ray Rivera and blues singer Alberta Hunter did accept his offers.

A letter from Tennessee Ernie Ford declining Jefferson’s offer of musical compositions, 1956.
Maceo Jefferson Papers, No. 1370-0000003.
Maceo Jefferson died in 1974, leaving behind a sizable but largely unknown musical legacy. The above-described archival materials comprise just 1/8 of the collection. The other 7/8 contains a couple of recordings, one of which is a very early wire recording, and hundreds of Jefferson’s compositions.


By Cathy Keen, Archivist
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Collection in Process: A Poem from the Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers


Archaeological sites are not often fodder for poetic musings, but such musing may at times be revealed by other kinds of “excavations.” In this case, the processing of the Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers at the National Anthropological Archives has unearthed just one such creative inspiration, suggesting that poetry can come from unexpected sources.  Written in 1963 by Rex Barritt, a New York University student of Jacques Bordaz who himself was a former student of Ralph Solecki, the poem highlights a potential outlet for the pre-exam jitters of an Old World Prehistory course [1, 2]. 


“Z.C. Shanidar” by Rex Barritt, 1963. Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

The muses for Barritt’s poem are the northern Iraqi archaeological sites of  Zawi Chemi, or “Z.C.”, Shanidar village and Shanidar Cave, which were excavated by Ralph and Rose Solecki throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s [2, 3]. Their archaeological work famously uncovered that remains of 10 Neanderthal individuals [2, 4]. The poem references the unhappy fate of some of the Shanidar Neanderthals due to a rock fall in the cave:


In level D it was,
Believe me he’s no classic
That big rock did it,
Popped him right on his [ehassic] [1, 5].

Shanidar Cave is not exclusively a Neanderthal site. The later layers of the site contained a cemetery of twenty six human burials dated to the 9th millennium BCE, just before the emergence of agriculture in the Near East [2, 3]. 

Photograph of  Ralph and Rose Solecki, 1957. Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

While much of the Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers consist of field notebooks, data sheets, archaeological maps, and photographs, this poem provides a unique glimpse into the variety of interpretations of the Soleckis’ work at the Shanidar sites [2]. Processing of the Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers was made possible by a grant from the Smithsonian Institution’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund, and they will soon be open for research. The National Anthropological Archives wishes to thank Drs. Ralph, Rose, John, and William Solecki and Dr. Melinda Zeder, curator of Old World Archaeology in the NMNH Department of Anthropology, for their diligent work and assistance in bringing this important collection to the NAA. The staff of the NAA also send their warm and belated wishes to Dr. Ralph Solecki for a most happy 100th birthday.

Molly Kamph, Project Archivist

Sources
[1] Rex Barritt, “Z.C. Shanidar,” 1963, The Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[2] The Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[3] Ralph S. Solecki, Rose L. Solecki, and Anagnostis P. Agelarakis, The Proto- Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2004).
[4] Libby W. Cowgill, Erik Trinkaus, Melinda A. Zeder, “Shanidar 10: A Middle Paleolithic immature distal lower limb from Shanidar Cave, Iraqi Kurdistan,” 2006, Journal of Human Evolution (53): 213-223.
[5] Author is uncertain of word’s intended spelling from Barritt’s poem.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

What Would Frank Espada Do?

As I walk through the streets of the nation’s capital, there is never any shortage of interesting sights. But it is not the monuments nor the plethora of restaurant chains that catch my attention. Instead, I am fascinated by the social ills of society that are so often deemed invisible by our very own conscious effort to look the other way. The homelessness, protests, and social inequality I have witnessed are nothing new, but the way in which I now view these things is.


Man participating in a school boycott in New York, 1964. Frank Espada Photographs, ca. 1970-2000, 
Archives Center, National Museum of American History. AC1395-0000004. 
For over a month now, I have made the trip from downtown Silver Spring to Washington D.C. My destination: the National Museum of American History. As an intern in the Archives Center, my main task has been to process the Frank Espada Photographs Collection. The collection consists of several thousand black-and-white photographs and what seems to me an endless amount of negatives. Apart from processing the collection, it is also my responsibility to understand who Frank Espada was. At first, the answer was simple: a Puerto Rican photographer who documented the Puerto Rican diaspora and later published a book with some of his most famous photographs. But as archival work would soon teach me, the answer is never that easy.

School children in Puerto Rico. Undated. Frank Espada Photographs, ca. 1970-2000,
Archives Center, National Museum of American History. AC1395-0000002.

Walter, a migrant worker and union organizer, in his home located in Glassboro, New Jersey. 1981. Frank Espada Photographs, ca. 1970-2000, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. AC1395-0000003.
As I sift through the countless photographs, I am mesmerized by the stories that each one tells. Espada traveled to various cities in the United States and Puerto Rico and had a talent for capturing scenes and activities. One minute I could find myself in the bustling streets of East Harlem and the next in the San Juan Festival at Cabrillo Beach, California. More importantly, Espada specialized in capturing the raw emotions that are displayed by our countless facial expressions. In the collection, I have encountered photographs of individuals filled with extreme joy and happiness, and by complete contrast, photographs of individuals filled with grief and emotional pain. It’s these photographs that capture the eye of an observer. As I dug deeper into the collection, I realized that Frank Espada was more than just a talented photographer.

Included in the collection are black-and-white photographs taken by Frank Espada during the Civil Rights Era. It’s here that it became clear to me how much his life revolved around community activism. He was driven by a sense of social justice and worked to improve his community and counter the racism and discrimination of the 60s and early 70s. In two photographs, he appears standing next to a sign that reads, “East New York Action”. Espada founded East New York Action, a community organization created for the sole purpose of addressing issues in the community. East New York Action organized rent strikes, educated people on welfare rights, and registered voters. There are photographs of the Puerto Rican Community Development Project, an organization that Espada worked for as a community organizer. Additionally, he had strong ties with the United Bronx Parents and the Young Lords, among others. Frank Espada was a determined leader with an ability to connect with others and a dedication to his community that was hard to match.

I think of Frank Espada and his work, both as a photographer and as a community leader, and comprehend his vision of the world. He saw beauty in every photograph, but understood that the most important thing he could do was help others through their struggles and listen to their stories when the world surrounding them chose to turn a blind eye. It is this part of the collection that impacts me the most. As I continue my walk through D.C., I ask myself, “What would Frank Espada do if he witnessed everything I see on my walks to work?”

I think back to the 30 cassettes in the collection that I spent two weeks digitizing. Each cassette had full-length interviews conducted by Frank Espada of community leaders such as Jack Agüeros, Willy Vasquez, and Juan Gonzalez, among others. Personally, it was my favorite part of the collection, as I was able to place a voice on several of the faces I saw in photographs. It was here that I realized what Espada was doing: he was giving a voice to the community. While his photographs did the work of establishing a national presence of Puerto Rican culture and identity, these interviews showcase the collective work that was being done across the country to improve the lives of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos living in the United States. They were a clear reminder that we must give a voice to the communities that are often silenced by the social barriers of inequality.
Self-portrait of Frank Espada standing in front of East New York Action. Undated.
AC1395-0000001.
So what would Frank Espada do? He would remind us that we must take the time to listen to each other’s stories and to speak up for ourselves and for others. He would remind us that if we do not take the time to do these things, we are incapable of seeing the world through more than one lens, oblivious of the things happening around us. And of course, he would do all of this with a camera in hand, ready to capture us in our most intimate moments. This is what Frank Espada would do.

Edwin Rodriguez, Intern
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Friday, December 8, 2017

Accessing the Bonaparte Collection at the National Anthropological Archives, Part Two

This post is the sixth and final post in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology. Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology. These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

For part one of this blog post, please click here.

Box 4, Series 4: Hindus, Colonial Exposition, Amsterdam 1883,  Photo Lot 80-52: Prince Roland Bonaparte photograph collection of Mongolian, African, Chinese, Indian, and American Indian Peoples, National Anthropological Archives
It is because the questions discussed in part one were uppermost in my mind that I decided to narrow the scope of my research, and concentrate on the box titled, Series 4: Hindus , Colonial Exposition, Amsterdam 1883. If race was the organizing principle of this collection, then this box, which contained the photographs of three men from India—Aroonachelem, Yazambarum and Ramazamy—intrigued me the most. Following this logic, I, like them, was ‘Hindu.’ While I was never subject to the gaze of the colonizer, my subjectivity—particularly my sense of nationality and race—has been produced very much through the devices of British colonialism, and its lingering, ghostly presence in the postcolonial spaces I grew up in. Yet, I found that through the process of archiving—in the ways that these images had been obtained, preserved and now produced for study—the collection had accrued other meanings: race was no more the object of study, the object of study here was the colonial interest in race. An episteme had shifted, and so had the gaze: if these photographs had once helped produce subjects of the colony for scrutiny, now they offered the empire itself for study. And it was in the very materiality of the contents of that box that it became most evident to me that the ‘might’ of the empire had always been fiction. The brittle documents in the series, the wear and tear along the edges of the mount, the fading album covers and other signs of material tiredness were testimony to temporal shifts—to the idea that like the documents it had produced, the empire too was subject to decay.

From right to left, V.P Yazambarum,
V.P. Aroonachelem, and Ramazamy,
Box 4, Series 4, Photo Lot 80-52,
 National Anthropological Archives
Even as the photographs of the three men photographed in Madras and Kuttack make it possible to invert the gaze and make the empire an object of study, they also make evident a social network that emerges through the process of archiving and connects Bonaparte, a French anthropologist in the 19th century and his three Indian subjects to an Indian anthropologist in the 21st century. Joanna Scherer (1992) writes that only by studying the “interrelationship” of the photographer, the subject, and the viewer can one study the sociocultural meaning of images. One could add to her list the archivists, who have made ledger entries noting the addition of the photographs to the collection, converted the accession files to microfilm for preserving the data, and those who have preserved and organized the albums, giving the documents its current sense of order.

Frontal, Profile pictures of V.P Aroonachalem,
Box 4, Series 4, Photo Lot 80-52,
National Anthropological Archives
Edwards and Hart (2004) write that objects in an archive accrue new layers of meanings because the discursive practices of the archive—a combination of anthropological, photographic and curative practices (Edwards & Hart 2004: 51)—alter the relations of these objects to each other, and in changing the ‘order’ make it possible to reconfiguration the very meanings of the objects in the archive. Series 4 contains two sets of fading black and white images—two frontal and one profile pictures—of each of the three men. While both sets had been donated in 1888, each of them followed a different route to the archive: Bonaparte donated the first set to the Department of Anthropology, as a record of his study of the races. In 1974, this passed into the NAA. However, accession files show that papers were mislaid in the division and therefore documentation that should have been part of this accession cannot be found. The second set was acquired by the Washington Anthropological Society, and filed as a ‘Rare book’ in the NAA in 1888. The box I examined also contained a frail, yellow document with two pages: the first page was a document signed when Bonaparte donated the first set of photographs, the second page, a list of the ‘biographical’ details of the subjects of Bonaparte’s photographs . It is the social network that emerges through the circulation of these
material objects within the archive that enable the assembly of the box through which the past accrues layers of meanings and materializes as a tangible object of scrutiny for the present.

Seal included throughout collection,
Photo Lot 80-52,
National Anthropological Archives
Buckley (2005) evokes Edwards (2001) to write that “images of colonial life continue to ‘perform’ and ‘provoke’” even after the colonial regime has faded into history. Series 4, along with the other series in the collection, performs the work of the past in the present, and through this performance turn the past into a site for critique. So, while Photo Lot 80-52 might betray a colonial past, it is not determined by it.  Instead it becomes a site, where the viewer can participate in the discursive practices that consistently reconfigure the meaning and social work of images.


Shweta Krishnan, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University








References
Akou, Marie. 2006. “Documenting the Origins of Somali Folk Dress: Evidence from the Bonaparte Collection.” The Journal of the Costume Society of America. 33(1): 7-19.

Bonaparte, Roland H. H. 1886. “Note on the Lapps of Finmark (in Norway), Illustrated by Photographs.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 15(2016): 210-213

Buckeley, Liam. 2005. “Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive.” Cultural Anthropology. 20(2): 249-270.

Dirks, Nicholas. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Orelove, Eden. 2016.  Photo Lot 80-52, Prince Roland Bonaparte Photograph Collection of Omaha, Kalmouk, Hindu, Khoikhoi, Somali and Surinamese Peoples, circa 1883-1884. National Anthropological Archives.

Edwards, Elizabeth and Janice Hart. 2004. “Mixed Box: The Cultural Biography of a Box of 'Ethnographic' Photographs.” In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart eds. Photographic Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images, 47-61. London: Routledge.

Scherer, Joanna C. 1992. "The Photographic Document: Photographs as Primary Data in Anthropological Inquiry," In Elizabeth Edwards, ed. Anthropology and Photography, 32-41. New Haven: Yale University.

Sekula, Allan. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39 (Winter):3-64.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 1995. Race and the Education of Desire. Durham: Duke University Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2009. Along the Archival Grain. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Accessing the Bonaparte Collection at the National Anthropological Archives, Part One

This post is the fifth in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology. Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology. These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

Photo Lot 80-52 in the National Anthropological Archives has a name that betrays its colonial origins: the Prince Roland Bonaparte Photograph Collection of Omaha, Kalmouk, Hindu, Khoikhoi, Somali, and Surinamese peoples, circa 1883-1884. The collection has 215 photographs (64 color prints, 138 albumin prints, and 13 collotypes) organized into seven series that divide the subjects of the photographs by their ‘racial’ and ‘cultural’ type, and to an extent, preserve the ‘colonial order of things.’



A 20 year-old woman of the Kalmouk tribe
displayed at the Jardin d’Acclimation de Paris exposition,
Box 3, Series 3, Photo Lot 80-52,
 National Anthropological Archives.
At the NAA, the six boxes that house Photo Lot 80-52 were delivered to me on a two-tier trolley. Along with these boxes came a 16-page document on the history of this collection. Roland Bonaparte, I learned, was the grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Lucien. After a French law was passed to prevent members of the royal family from joining military services, Bonaparte married Marie-Félix Blanc, the heir to the Monte Carlo casino fortune (Akou 2006) and spent his personal funds on ethnographic trips across Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Lapland. Starting from 1882,  he amassed 7000 negatives (Akou 2006) and related documents, including anthropometric analyses (Bonaparte 1886), ethnographic details, paintings, and maps (see Akou 2006, Orelove 2016) to create the ‘Collection Anthropologique du Prince Roland Bonaparte.’ He exhibited his collection at the Colonial Expositions in Amsterdam in 1884 and at the World Fair in Paris in 1889; and then donated prints of these pictures to anthropological institutes in Europe, UK, and the US. Today his photographs reside at the archives at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, UK (where it is categorized as ‘racial photography’ [see Akou 2006]); the National Library of Australia; the Museum of Natural History and the National Library in France; and the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) in the United States, as well as in private museums and galleries like the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles,  the Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs Collection (online),  and Gallery Flak in Paris.

Painting of a crown worn by
the Kalina tribe in Surinam,
Box 6, Series 7,  Photo Lot 80-52,
 National Anthropological Archives
As I gazed at the six boxes before me, I was plagued by a single question: was it possible to look at these photographs and see in them something beyond a colonial project to study racial difference? If, as Sekula (1986:6) notes criminal photography allowed a ‘criminal body’ to materialize, and a “more extensive ‘social body’” to be invented in 19th century Europe, then is it not possible to infer that racial photography allowed the bodies of the colonized—the subjects of imperial power—to materialize via the discourse of race, and expand the ‘social body’ in the colonies. Evoking Stoler's (1995) reading of Foucault, one could claim that these two types of photography—criminal and racial—had dialogic relations during the 19th century: the discourse on criminality, which led to the marginalization of people at ‘home’ in Europe, was influenced by colonial projects to segregate people in the colonies by their races.


To hear the rest of the story of these photographs, check back for part two on Friday! 

Shweta Krishnan, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University





References
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Bonaparte, Roland H. H. 1886. “Note on the Lapps of Finmark (in Norway), Illustrated by Photographs.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 15(2016): 210-213

Buckeley, Liam. 2005. “Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive.” Cultural Anthropology. 20(2): 249-270.

Dirks, Nicholas. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Orelove, Eden. 2016.  Photo Lot 80-52, Prince Roland Bonaparte Photograph Collection of Omaha, Kalmouk, Hindu, Khoikhoi, Somali and Surinamese Peoples, circa 1883-1884. National Anthropological Archives.

Edwards, Elizabeth and Janice Hart. 2004. “Mixed Box: The Cultural Biography of a Box of 'Ethnographic' Photographs.” In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart eds. Photographic Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images, 47-61. London: Routledge.

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Sekula, Allan. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39 (Winter):3-64.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 1995. Race and the Education of Desire. Durham: Duke University Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2009. Along the Archival Grain. Princeton: Princeton University Press.