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Taxidermic Signs

Taxidermic Signs: Reconstructing Aboriginality

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Taxidermic Signs
    Book Description:

    Pauline Wakeham decodes the practice of taxidermy as it was performed in North America from the late nineteenth century to the present, revealing its connection to ecological and racial discourses integral to the maintenance of colonial power. Moving beyond the literal practice of stuffing skins, Wakeham theorizes taxidermy as a sign system that conflates “animality” and “aboriginality” within colonial narratives of extinction.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5661-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Introduction: Tracking the Taxidermic
    (pp. 1-40)

    In the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, a small exhibition space located in the Rocky Mountain tourist town of Banff, Alberta, a ubiquitous fantasy of aboriginal authenticity is materialized once again in the form of the dioramic mise-en-scène. A series of tableaux utilize plastic mannequins of natives perpetually posed in the acts of tanning hides, preparing pemmican, and gathering around a tipi in order to stage an idealized scene of Plains aboriginal culture frozen in a state of imagined purity. Despite its reiteration of well-worn museological motifs, what renders this installation striking is its emplacement of plastic mannequins in conjunction with...

  5. 1. READING THE BANFF PARK MUSEUM Time, Affect, and the Production of Frontier Nostalgia
    (pp. 41-86)

    If this chapter constitutes a starting point from which to initiate an investigation of the semiotics of taxidermy, it is a provisional site of departure, not a definitive beginning or origin. As the introduction has already indicated, taxidermy “began,” or rather it emerged, across time and space, as part of the culture of travel at the crux of the imperial enterprise, spurred by the “discovery” of foreign lands and exotic species. Thus, the materialization of taxidermy as a concept and practice was underway long before the early twentieth-century context explored in this first case study. Ironically, however, it is the...

  6. 2. CELLULOID SALVAGE Edward S. Curtis’s Experiments with Photography and Film
    (pp. 87-128)

    In many early twentieth-century examples of anthropology’s quest to capture and preserve aboriginality on celluloid, the semiotics of taxidermy are transferred from the animal corpse to a new form of “specimen”: the racialized body of the native other. Effecting a shift from the “ethnographic animal” to the “ethnographic Indian,” these photographic and filmic texts amplify the colonialist and racist investments of taxidermic representational practices. The prolific image-corpus of Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868–1952) constitutes an exemplary, if also notorious, archive for investigating the translation of taxidermy’s sign system onto native bodies. As a contemporary of Banff’s patriarch Norman Sanson, a...

  7. 3. SALVAGING SOUND AT LAST SIGHT Marius Barbeau and the Anthropological Rescue of Nass River Indians
    (pp. 129-164)

    While the previous chapter investigated the relation between photography and film in the salvaging corpus of Edward Curtis, this chapter extends and complicates a study of early twentieth-century culture collecting by adding yet another so-called technology of preservation to the mix: namely, phonography. Over the last several decades, postcolonial critiques of anthropology as a discipline intimately bound up with the imperial project have often focused upon the visual culture of ethnographic photography and film. Anthropology’s production of phonographic records of aboriginal folklore and songs during the early twentieth century, however, has received less attention, despite the fact that many fieldworkers,...

  8. 4. REPATRIATION’S REMAINDERS Kennewick Man, Kwädāy Dän Ts’ínchi, and the Reinvention of “Race”
    (pp. 165-202)

    While chapter 3’s critique ofNass River Indiansdemonstrates how recent practices of archival reconstruction have been utilized to reinforce a problematic teleology of postcolonial progress, the following case study identifies another domain in which thisgrand récithas been inscribed. Specifically, this chapter investigates how the repatriation of Aboriginal cultural belongings and ancestral remains have been framed by hegemonic discourses as evidence of postcolonial reconciliation, or proof of dominant institutions’ efforts to right the wrongs of the so-called colonial past. Indigenous communities’ hard-fought repatriation claims have achieved important results over the past few decades, including the Skidegate Repatriation and...

  9. Postscript
    (pp. 203-210)

    Taxidermic Signshas elucidated how colonial power manipulates the tropes of life and death, loss and recovery, and extinction and resurrection in order to seize control of temporality and history in the service of constructing master narratives regarding Western society’s evolutionary destiny. In the process, I have demonstrated that colonial power structures and their legitimating discourses are very much still alive. Moreover, colonial discourse’s propensity for reincarnation—its malleability and capacity to reinvent itself over time—has been vital to its hegemonic longevity. Appropriating taxidermy as an unconventional heuristic, this book has sought to defamiliarize key forms of time-warping, time-lagging,...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 211-246)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 247-256)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)