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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Accessing the Bonaparte Collection at the National Anthropological Archives, Part One

This post is the fifth in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology. Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology. These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

Photo Lot 80-52 in the National Anthropological Archives has a name that betrays its colonial origins: the Prince Roland Bonaparte Photograph Collection of Omaha, Kalmouk, Hindu, Khoikhoi, Somali, and Surinamese peoples, circa 1883-1884. The collection has 215 photographs (64 color prints, 138 albumin prints, and 13 collotypes) organized into seven series that divide the subjects of the photographs by their ‘racial’ and ‘cultural’ type, and to an extent, preserve the ‘colonial order of things.’

A 20 year-old woman of the Kalmouk tribe
displayed at the Jardin d’Acclimation de Paris exposition,
Box 3, Series 3, Photo Lot 80-52,
 National Anthropological Archives.
At the NAA, the six boxes that house Photo Lot 80-52 were delivered to me on a two-tier trolley. Along with these boxes came a 16-page document on the history of this collection. Roland Bonaparte, I learned, was the grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Lucien. After a French law was passed to prevent members of the royal family from joining military services, Bonaparte married Marie-FĂ©lix Blanc, the heir to the Monte Carlo casino fortune (Akou 2006) and spent his personal funds on ethnographic trips across Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Lapland. Starting from 1882,  he amassed 7000 negatives (Akou 2006) and related documents, including anthropometric analyses (Bonaparte 1886), ethnographic details, paintings, and maps (see Akou 2006, Orelove 2016) to create the ‘Collection Anthropologique du Prince Roland Bonaparte.’ He exhibited his collection at the Colonial Expositions in Amsterdam in 1884 and at the World Fair in Paris in 1889; and then donated prints of these pictures to anthropological institutes in Europe, UK, and the US. Today his photographs reside at the archives at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, UK (where it is categorized as ‘racial photography’ [see Akou 2006]); the National Library of Australia; the Museum of Natural History and the National Library in France; and the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) in the United States, as well as in private museums and galleries like the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles,  the Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs Collection (online),  and Gallery Flak in Paris.

Painting of a crown worn by
the Kalina tribe in Surinam,
Box 6, Series 7,  Photo Lot 80-52,
 National Anthropological Archives
As I gazed at the six boxes before me, I was plagued by a single question: was it possible to look at these photographs and see in them something beyond a colonial project to study racial difference? If, as Sekula (1986:6) notes criminal photography allowed a ‘criminal body’ to materialize, and a “more extensive ‘social body’” to be invented in 19th century Europe, then is it not possible to infer that racial photography allowed the bodies of the colonized—the subjects of imperial power—to materialize via the discourse of race, and expand the ‘social body’ in the colonies. Evoking Stoler's (1995) reading of Foucault, one could claim that these two types of photography—criminal and racial—had dialogic relations during the 19th century: the discourse on criminality, which led to the marginalization of people at ‘home’ in Europe, was influenced by colonial projects to segregate people in the colonies by their races.

To hear the rest of the story of these photographs, check back for part two on Friday! 

Shweta Krishnan, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University

Akou, Marie. 2006. “Documenting the Origins of Somali Folk Dress: Evidence from the Bonaparte Collection.” The Journal of the Costume Society of America. 33(1): 7-19.

Bonaparte, Roland H. H. 1886. “Note on the Lapps of Finmark (in Norway), Illustrated by Photographs.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 15(2016): 210-213

Buckeley, Liam. 2005. “Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive.” Cultural Anthropology. 20(2): 249-270.

Dirks, Nicholas. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Orelove, Eden. 2016.  Photo Lot 80-52, Prince Roland Bonaparte Photograph Collection of Omaha, Kalmouk, Hindu, Khoikhoi, Somali and Surinamese Peoples, circa 1883-1884. National Anthropological Archives.

Edwards, Elizabeth and Janice Hart. 2004. “Mixed Box: The Cultural Biography of a Box of 'Ethnographic' Photographs.” In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart eds. Photographic Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images, 47-61. London: Routledge.

Scherer, Joanna C. 1992. "The Photographic Document: Photographs as Primary Data in Anthropological Inquiry," In Elizabeth Edwards, ed. Anthropology and Photography, 32-41. New Haven: Yale University.

Sekula, Allan. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39 (Winter):3-64.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 1995. Race and the Education of Desire. Durham: Duke University Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2009. Along the Archival Grain. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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