The Distributed Text: A Critical Digital Edition of Franz Boas’s 1897 Monograph


Under the rubric of a new Franz Boas Critical Edition book series and with initial support from a 2012 NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant, this project will reprint and annotate Boas’s important 1897 monograph The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians in both print and as a multimedia website. Boas’s book was the first systematic attempt to document all aspects of a Native American ceremonial with photographs, museum collections and sound recordings as well as text, but many of the primary records remain in the archive. Framed with scholarly essays and contemporary Kwakwaka’wakw perspectives, the new editions will re-unite the original text with widely distributed archival and museum collections that shed new light on the book. This project will reveal the nature of co-authorship in Boas’s work, use multimedia to return sensory richness to his ethnography, and make this historic research more relevant to contemporary scholars and indigenous communities.

The use of interactive digital technologies to add annotations, interpretation, and multimedia archival content is so far confined to a few humanities texts, mostly literary. This project is unique in the scholarship of Native North America and anthropology as a whole, especially given the sharing of the interpretive role with indigenous partners. This digital book will provide a model for the integration of disparate digital archives, and will develop new software to process a substantial amount of material in Kwak’wala, creating significant tools for preserving this endangered language. Reuniting and making publicly accessible these widely scattered materials will provide a major new resource for scholars in various fields, deepen our understanding of the contexts and methods of creating ethnographic knowledge, and return cultural patrimony to its indigenous inheritors.