Ordering Space, Spatializing Order: Land and Race in Edward Curtis’ photography of the 1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition

Fall 2016
  • Graduate
Jen Smith
Ethnic Studies
Ordering Space, Spatializing Order: Land and Race in Edward Curtis’ photography of the 1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition

In 1899, the Harriman Alaska Expedition (HAE) traveled around the coast of Alaska and carried some of the nation’s most illustrious academics on board, including Edward Curtis and John Muir. The HAE team produced 12 volumes of data, discovered 13 genera and nearly 600 species, named and mapped several glaciers, and captured over 5,000 photographs. Edward Curtis was the official photographer for the journey. However, unlike his better-known work, photographs from the HAE are mostly of Alaska Native cultural belongings, and landscapes in the form of glaciers, mountain ranges, and rivers. When contextualized within Curtis’ larger portfolio, a genealogy of early anthropological thought, and the legal moment of the imperially acquired space of Alaska, the photographs of the HAE demonstrate an entanglement of legal, scientific, and imaginative processes of creating order. In this way, my research project traces the ordering of human difference as it is made through the ordering of Indigenous spaces, and Indigenous material objects, both of which were, and continue to be, readily appropriated under regimes of (ongoing) settler colonialism. This analysis is one thread of a larger dissertation project that centers questions of land dispossession and land claims in an Indigenous North.