ARRIVING AT A COMMON GROUND: JOHN REED SWANTON AND AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGY
DeSanti, Brady James
University of Kansas
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This project examines the life of renowned anthropologist John Reed Swanton (1873-1953 ) and his work with indigenous peoples. Combining several methodologies that included archaeology, anthropology, history, and linguistics, Swanton's research methods anticipated ethnohistory. His contributions to Native Southeast studies remain indispensable and his work in the Native Northwest, particularly with Haida and Tlingit communities, continues to serve as an important reference point for many scholars. Reared in the "Boasian" school of thought, John Swanton rejected both evolutionary and racial frameworks in which to evaluate Indian cultures. He remained an exemplary anthropologist from the beginning of his professional career at the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1900 through his retirement in 1944. A key aspect of this study concerns the dynamics of the individual dialogs that took place between Swanton and some of his Indian informants. These interactions provide a window into the ways in which anthropologists and Indians interacted. At times, anthropologists and Indian collaborators grasped the other's intentions. Just as often, however, the two parties held incompatible expectations, and as a result, misunderstand each other. For example, Swanton appreciated the storytelling creativity and individual artistry of his Haida collaborators, but often overlooked the intentions of the southeastern Indians who shared their stories with him. Many of the creation stories southeastern Indians told Swanton referenced the difficult circumstances they were currently facing or had undergone in the recent past, such as attacks on their cultures, removal, and alcoholism. Swanton often disregarded creation stories that included such material, as he felt they indicated cultural loss.
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