March 18, 2015
4 p.m.
Pryzbyla Center 321-323
Speaker: Gwyneira Isaac
With the support from the Regina F. Herzfeld Memorial Fund
Reception to Follow


From the start of anthropology as a professional endeavor in the 19th century, a handful of women undertook intensive fieldwork to provide a detailed record of Native American ways of life. Few received recognition during their lifetime, yet their work resulted in a vast collection of photographs and sound recordings, which provide opportunity to rethink both their contributions to the discipline and Native American studies. Here, I look at Matilda Coxe Stevenson, who was the first woman to work for the Bureau of American Ethnology and to conduct fieldwork in the Southwest region of the United States. Her legacy of close to a thousand photographs, now housed at the National Anthropological Archives, provides a rare glimpse into life in the Pueblos in the late 19th century, as well as experimental approaches to the camera. I also discuss current collaborative work on the Southwest ethnographic collections at the National Museum of Natural History through partnership with women potters from Hopi, which redresses the historic focus on men’s knowledge and religious societies and enables women to become active partners in the research and presentation of their cultures.

Dr. Isaac (D.Phil. Oxford) is Curator of North American Ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution). Her specialties are knowledge systems and the relationships societies develop with their past, especially as expressed through material culture and museums. She has done fieldwork on the development of a tribal museum in the Pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico, where she examined the difficulties faced by Zunis operating between Zuni and Euro-American epistemologies both within their own constituencies and cross-culturally (Mediating Knowledges: Origins of a Museum for the Zuni People, 2007). She has also explored reproductions of knowledge in replicas and models ('Whose Idea Was This? Replicas, Museums and the Reproduction of Knowledge' in Current Anthropology, 2011) and, at the Smithsonian, is a collaborator on the Recovering Voices initiative, developing methods for applied synthesis of research to understand and integrate the production of new knowledge within interdisciplinary research on endangered languages. She is also working on building a collaborative with communities, scholars and institutions in the Southwest with interests in exploring knowledge and language sustainability.

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