Summer Update

The CCDH team (Jacque Wernimont, Allegra Swift, Sam Kome, our graduate fellows David Kim, Ulia Gosart, and Heather Blackmore, and undergraduate researchers, Amy Borsuk and Bea Schuster) – has undertaken a summer pilot project arising from the Honnold-Mudd special collection holdings of Edward S. Curtis’ photography.


Original advertising postcard for an Edward S. Curtis lecture billed “A Picture Talk, with Stereopticon,” Seattle, n.d. Courtesy The Seattle Public Library, Edward S. Curtis scrapbook

Curtis (1868-1952) was a renowned and prolific photographer most known for his photographs of what he considered to be the  “vanishing race” of Native Americans in the western United States. Such influential men as Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, and J.P. Morgan funded his life’s work, a 22-volume set entitled The North American Indian. The set was issued in a limited edition from 1907-1930. Although many might not recognize his name, many of his images have become iconic. His work continues to circulate through varied media, from scholarly archives to tourist postcards.

Unlike more text-based projects such as Counting the Dead, this project allows us to explore digital humanities tools for working with images. The product of this pilot project will be a Scalar book, incorporating text, image, audio recordings, and video. A new interface for Scalar, which enables better viewing of a large number of images, will be launched with our project.

The book will explore issues of intellectual property around Native American representation, modern appropriations of and reactions to Curtis’ photographs, histories of race and technology, and endeavors to offer a nuanced perspective on Curtis’ work. Part of this effort includes a network visualization project – a network map of Curtis’ relationships with funders, family, friends, subjects, and tribes, which we hope will give a clearer picture of the many dependencies of Curtis’ self-styled “solitary” effort.

In addition to the work that the grant team is doing, several Claremont College faculty are contributing pieces for the Scalar book. These pieces explore Curtis’ work in the context of a history of portraiture, histories of music/sound recording, and in the context of Hollywood film-making.

As with most digital humanities projects, many of our challenges have been around scope. Curtis’ photography has had such a profound impact on Native American representation in American culture over the past century that there are many topics to discuss. A study of Curtis also opens up many possibilities for interdisciplinary scholarship, and we have been exploring topics from ranging legal issues to fan studies. We hope that the Scalar book will be a good research resource for undergraduate and graduate students, and that they can continue the project through producing their own work.

– Beatrice Schuster


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