Performing Archive

Edward Curtis' Social Network

David J. Kim, UCLA

“The plan in mind is to make a complete publication, showing pictures and including text of every phase of Indian life of all tribes yet in in a primitive condition, taking up the type, male and female, child and adult, their home structure, their environment, their handicraft, games, ceremonies, etc….. It is presumed that I and my field assistant will collect and compile the text [which] will later be turned over to men in the scientific field, recognized as authorities, to edit, thus affording unquestionable authority….Illustrations, both large and small, to be of the best photogravure work, and both pictures and text on the best paper. Binding and paper to be such that it will be as lasting as paper can be made….It has been estimated by publishers that a work of this nature would have to sell at five thousand dollars a set, and that one hundred sets could be disposed of in this country and abroad….To finish the field work will require five more years at an approximate annual expensive of $15,000 for the five years'--$75,000.”

-Outline of the North American Indian Project, by Edward S. Curtis, presented to J.P. Morgan on January 24, 1906. (emphasis added)15

[Visualization 5: Network of Edward Curtis' Biography, based on Mick Gidley, Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated (Cambridge, 1996), in Google Network Graphics]

Switching to another aspect of the project, apart from the data that we have compiled from the selected volumes of The North American Indian, we have also created a dataset of Edward Curtis' social network.  As underscored elsewhere in this project and in other discussions of the historical context of Curtis' work, such ambitious undertaking was not a product of the vision and effort of a singular man. As we turned to various primary sources on Curtis' biography, we were interested in the network of Curtis' social connections comprised of prominent benefactors, supporting institutions, influential subscribers and collectors, notable collaborators and other relevant "nodes" that collectively provide a broader picture of the context that made his project not only possible but also enduring into the present day.

Visualizing The North American Indian's context through Curtis' social network brings attention to this archive's condition of production and circulation, its historical specificity as well as of its "writerly form" alongside of its status as evidential source. As Ann Laura Stoler argues in her analysis of the archives of Dutch colonial state in the nineteenth century, reading "along the archival grain" brings attention to "archiving-as-process rather than archives-as-things."16 As a process, The North American Indian is an archive of not only Curtis' professed benevolence towards the subjects he documented, but also of the broader ethos around photographic evidence, the discourse around race and national identity, the conversations he engaged in with cultural anthropologists about the methodology of ethnography, his financial stakes, the institutional commitments and the connections to state officials who were directly involved in shaping the policy regarding Native Americans. While other parts of this project do engage with the status of Curtis' work as "skewed and biased sources," whose legacy continues to support various racial stereotypes of Native Americans, the premise of this network representation is to visualize Curtis' various connections, or the "archival grain," that partially comprise, not determine, any meaning to be gathered from his work.17

This data was first compiled by Heather Blackmore, then the relationships in the dataset was edited and classified by David Kim, along various categories that include "researchers," "institutions," "government," "activists," etc....  As scholars in both the social sciences and the humanities can appreciate, the concept of "context" is infinite.  As such, the source of our data is based on, and perhaps necessarily limited to, Mick Gidley's Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated, itself a work of arduous archival research more invested in tracing the archival grain than in correcting misrepresentations or factual errors apparent in Curtis' work.  We began as we did for the image network representation, using Google Fusion Tables and the network graph to visualize Curtis' social network in rough sketch, which gave us some general sense of the scale of the connections mentioned by Gidley (see "visualization 1" above).  However, as this data is much more complex than the previous, containing various types of nodes beyond just "image title" and "image description," and edges beyond "represented as" and "depicted in," we chose to experiment with a more advanced network analysis tool to visualize the data with more graphical nuance and with some basic level data analysis.  These visualizations were created by using Cytoscape, and they collectively represent a prototype of a network visualization that a non-expert may generate, from the primary source research to 'data-ization' and knowledge representation.    

[Visualization 6: Group Attributes Layout by Node Type in Cytoscape]

This visualization groups nodes in the dataset by "node types" that we applied to categorize the persons, collective entities and events.  The distance between the nodes in this visualization does not reflect any analysis of the entity's level of influence or connectedness. The colors of the nodes have been manually selected and they are simply to distinguish different types.  From the size of the circles formed by these groups, however, we can estimate the frequency of the node types mentioned in the dataset.  It also tells us what might be missing from our data collection: perhaps more research into Curtis' patrons or even combine the categories of "patrons" and "entrepreneurs."  For now, the "entrepreneurs" (J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Edward Harriman and Henry Huntington) are somewhat arbitrarily distinguished from the "patrons" by prominence.  

[Visualization 7: Group Attributes + Betweenness Centrality in Cytoscape]

This visualization adds the layer of "betweenness centrality" to the previous visualization. While keeping the groups formed by node types in their places, the varying size of the nodes here is based on Cytoscape's calculation of the "betweenness centrality" from its analysis of the edges formed by the nodes, which "reflects the amount of control that this node exerts over the interactions of other nodes in the network. This measure favors nodes that join communities (dense subnetworks), rather than nodes that lie inside a community."  As expected, the node representing Edward Curtis is bigger than other nodes in this visualization, and the "researchers" (e.g. Franz Boas)  and the "institutions" (e.g. The Smithsonian Institution) contain more nodes with higher level of betweenness centrality than other types.  This finding, however, perhaps is more attributable to either Gidley's or our own bias or emphasis on these types of social connections.   

[Visualization 8: Neighborhood Connectivity in Cytoscape]

Next, we wanted to see connectivity across the groups that we assigned by types.  As one can see from the edges in the previous two visualizations, the nodes forming these groups not only interact within the group but also with the nodes in other groups.  Perhaps there are also groups formed by the edges, not only by the group types that we assigned in our data.  "Neighborhood Connectivity," is a quantitative approach for assessing such connectivity, which in this case replaces the circles initially formed by node types with "neighborhoods."  In this visualization, we see that the "neighborhoods" are made up of many different types of nodes.  

[Visualization 9: Neighborhood Connectivity, Zoom in "Harriman Expedition"]

In this example from the "neighborhood connectivity" visualization, one can see how the Harriman Expedition (1899) brought Edward Curtis in contact with a number prominent figures of his time: John Muir, the famous naturalist; Frederick Coville, the Chief Botanist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Grover Gilbert, a geologist.  Other figures connected to Curtis through the Harriman Expedition, such as Edward Harriman and George Grinnell, who later organized the first Audobon Society and served as the editor of Forest and Stream, played important supportive roles in the development of The North American Indian, both financially and politically.  

While these visualizations do not offer a definitive identification of the entities that can be said to have the most influence within Edward Curtis' social network, they do provide a helpful graphical accompaniment to our basic understanding that The North American Indian was not simply a benevolent, scholarly pursuit of a single photographer.  It was also a business venture and an outlet for the interests of various stakeholders, reflective of the broader socio-political and academic investments in the documentation and the preservation the Native American cultural heritage, a part of the "archiving culture" of the early 20th-century.  It is perhaps difficult to determine such factors of influence or centrality in any analysis of social networks, though there are many measures to approximate them.  For example, the quantitative significance of Theodore Roosevelt, who is directly connected to Edward Curtis in our dataset through correspondence and through the contribution of the foreword to The North American Indian, should perhaps include edges to every single node in our dataset, defined as "[Theodore Roosevelt] ["head of the state for"] [any target]."  However, how would such data-ization of Theodore Roosevelt's connectivity overdetermine the role of the state and of the influence of a single prominent figure?  Even as we offer this experiment with data visualization as a possible pedagogic tool and approach to contextualize Edward Curtis' work, we acknowledge and emphasize the fact of its status as a representation of a particular set of interpretations based on a single primary source.   

15. The text of the full of document can be found in Mick Gidley, Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 44.
16. Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 20.
17. ibid.

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