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Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian - Northwestern University

Grades
9 to 12
1 Favorites 0  Comments
Between 1909 and 1930, photographer Edward Curtis set out to document the life and culture of the North American Indians, and this site shares his work. Like so many of ...more
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Between 1909 and 1930, photographer Edward Curtis set out to document the life and culture of the North American Indians, and this site shares his work. Like so many of his time, he viewed Native Americans as a "primitive" race of people whose customs were a source of curiosity. As westward expansion began to destroy the culture of indigenous people, Curtis wanted to record, through photographs and narratives, what he believed was a savage and mysterious world before it disappeared. While Curtis' work represented the popular viewpoint of his time, today we recognize that it is, at best, the impressions of someone who neither understood nor particularly valued what he was recording. This digital reproduction of the entire project needs to be carefully previewed and introduced so that we don't perpetuate this way of viewing Native American life. In fact, some of the images of the ceremonial life were never intended to be seen by "outsiders," and their use today is controversial. The site does a good job of setting the context for the use of Curtis's work and helps establish respectful boundaries.

tag(s): difficult conversations (54), native americans (85)

In the Classroom

We have come a long way from the study of Native Americans as a single generic group. Careful use of the images and narratives from Curtis' work can help illustrate that outdated mindset and provide a contrast to today's understanding of the contributions indigenous Americans have made to US history and culture. Share these images on your interactive whiteboard or projector as part of a guided discussion.

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