Savage Preservation

Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology

Brian Hochman
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt1287nkf
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Savage Preservation
    Book Description:

    During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, writers and anthropologists believed that the world's primitive races were on the brink of extinction. They also believed that films, photographs, and phonographic recordings-modern media in their technological infancy-could capture lasting relics of primitive life before it vanished into obscurity. For many Americans, the promise of media and the problem of race were inextricably linked. While professional ethnologists tried out early recording machines to preserve the sounds of authentic indigenous cultures, photographers and filmmakers hauled newfangled equipment into remote corners of the globe to document rituals and scenes that seemed destined to vanish forever.

    InSavage Preservation, Brian Hochman shows how widespread interest in recording vanishing races and disappearing cultures influenced audiovisual innovation, experimentation, and use in the United States. Drawing extensively on seldom-seen archival sources-from phonetic alphabets and sign language drawings to wax cylinder recordings and early color photographs-Hochman uncovers the parallel histories of ethnography and technology in the turn-of-the-century period. While conventional wisdom suggests that media technologies work mostly to produce ideas about race,Savage Preservationreveals that the reverse has also been true. During this period, popular conceptions of race constructed the authority of new media technologies as reliable archives of the real. Brimming with nuanced critical insights and unexpected historical connections,Savage Preservationoffers a new model for thinking about race and media in the American context-and a fresh take on a period of accelerated technological change that closely resembles our own.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-1099-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION: The Passamaquoddy Experiment
    (pp. ix-xxviii)

    In March 1890, an ethnologist at Harvard University named Jesse Walter Fewkes left his home in Boston for a four-day research expedition to Calais, Maine, one of the easternmost points in the continental United States. The purpose of the trip was to document the language and music of the Passamaquoddy tribe, who had for centuries called the region surrounding Calais home. According to Fewkes, the Passamaquoddy were the “purest-blooded race of Indians . . . in New England,” a marooned nation within a nation.¹ Yet their way of life appeared to have reached a dire crossroads as the century drew...

  4. 1 Media Evolution: Indians, Alphabets, and the Technological Measures of Man
    (pp. 1-34)

    On the evening of February 3, 1885, almost twenty-three years after losing his right arm in the Battle of Shiloh, the American ethnologist John Wesley Powell opened his annual address to the Anthropological Society of Washington by acknowledging the inevitability, and the price, of human progress. “It is a long way from savagery to civilization,” Powell began, alluding to the narratives of cultural development that European and American intellectuals had popularized in the decades prior. “In the attempt to delineate the progress of mankind through this long way, it would be a convenience if it could be divided into clearly...

  5. 2 Representing Plains Indian Sign Language
    (pp. 35-72)

    For Garrick Mallery, one of the most prolific researchers in the burgeoning field of anthropology in the late 1800s, the story of human evolution could only be told as a tale of communications technologies. “Anthropology tells the march of mankind out of savagery,” wrote Mallery in 1881, using metaphors drawn from his early career in military service.

    Some peoples have led with the fleet course of videttes or the sturdy stride of pioneers, some have only plodded on the roads opened by the vanguard, while others still lag in the unordered rear, mere dragweights to the column. All commenced their...

  6. 3 Originals and Aboriginals: Race and Writing in the Age of the Phonograph
    (pp. 73-114)

    More than a third of the way throughThe Grandissimes(1880), his classic novel of racial politics in nineteenth-century New Orleans, George Washington Cable interrupts his narrative to address his readers directly, lamenting his inability to reproduce the sounds of the Louisiana Creole dialect in writing. “Alas,” he exclaims at the beginning of chapter 25,

    the phonograph was invented three-quarters of a century too late. If type could entrap one-half the pretty oddities of Aurora’s speech,—the arch, the pathetic, the grave, the earnest, the matter-of-fact, the ecstatic tones of her voice,—nay, could it but reproduce the movement of...

  7. 4 Race, Empire, and the Skin of the Ethnographic Image
    (pp. 115-142)

    In August 1925, a twenty-four-year-old Columbia University student named Margaret Mead set sail for a small chain of islands off the eastern coast of American Samoa. Inspired by the theories of Franz Boas, her academic mentor, Mead was primarily interested in traveling to the South Seas to discover whether the emotional turmoil of human adolescence was the product of nature or nurture, biology or culture. Seventy-five hundred miles from her Philadelphia home, moreover, the Samoan Islands also promised solutions to a far more urgent problem. “Even in remote parts of the world, ways of life about which nothing was known...

  8. 5 Local Colors: The Work of the Autochrome
    (pp. 143-176)

    In May 1923, just as Robert and Frances Flaherty arrived in Samoa to begin shootingMoana,the American author and landscape painter Frederick S. Dellenbaugh sent an angry letter to the editors ofNational Geographic Magazine,already one of the most widely read periodicals in the United States. After thumbing through his copy of the journal’s April issue, Dellenbaugh wanted to express his concerns about “Western Views in the Land of the Best,” an insert of sixteen photographs depicting the scenery of the American West in brilliant natural color.¹ Amid the magazine’s customary assortment of the spectacular and the exotic,...

  9. POSTSCRIPT: Fictions of Permanence
    (pp. 177-188)

    This book began with the image of Jesse Walter Fewkes recording the dying sounds of the Passamaquoddy tribe in March 1890. Go forward in time 120 years, and Fewkes’s recordings live on. So do the Passamaquoddy.

    Consider Language Keepers, an ongoing digital media project that uses documentary film and descriptive linguistics to restore many of the Passamaquoddy traditions that interested Fewkes in the early years of the phonograph. Established by Ben Levine and Robert M. Leavitt, a filmmaker and a linguist, respectively, who have worked under the guidance of Passamaquoddy tribal representatives for well over a decade, Language Keepers aims...

  10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 189-192)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 193-236)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 237-264)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 265-284)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-285)
  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)