Who's "Vanishing"? - Curtis' Ideas on Race and his Work
Ulia Gosart, Independent scholar
"Vanishing Race" is the first image in the first portfolio of photogravure images (as opposed to the illustrations) that are the heart of the 20 volume The North American Indian. The image graphically expresses a popular belief, referred to as the "vanishing race" metaphor, that American Indians were destined to disappear due to the progressive laws of historical development, and as such, must be preserved and protected as artifacts of history. The vanishing metaphor also captures the sad reality of the rapid decline of Indian population as the result of military conquest, removal, and systematic oppression. At the turn of the century 20th, the American Indian population reached its lowest number of 237,000, with the estimated population decline from the end of the 15th century to 1900 being close to 85 percent.1
We invite you to explore the following short essays to learn more of the idea of the Vanishing Race that conclude with the thematic quotes of some of the contemporaries of Curtis, a bibliography of key works on race, and of thematic contemporary works and a gallery.