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Looking at discipline, looking at labour: photographic representations of Indian boarding schools

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Native American children were subjected to a rigidly enforced regime of acculturation in a federally funded system of Indian boarding schools. This paper explores the peculiar iconography of photographs of these Indian schools, hundreds of which can now be found in Internet archives. The advent of searchable photograph archives on the Internet makes possible new forms of visual ethnography analogous to a kind of archeology. Photographs can be examined and meanings imputed based on documentary evidence and theoretical understandings. First, a brief introduction to Indian schools will be provided. Then I will examine four documentary projects, each of which had its own representational agenda: first, Richard Pratt's use of photographs as a propaganda-of-the-image to garner support for Carlisle and other Indian schools; second, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) documentation efforts that included panorama photographs and a collection of shots from the Pacific Northwest by Ferdinand Brady that emphasize labour; third, Frances Benjamin Johnston's photographs representing Indian schooling as progressive education; and finally a recently discovered album of vernacular photographs from the Sacaton school in Arizona. The goal will be to describe the 'circumstances and milieus' in which the photographs were made. In the conclusion I will turn to issues of sociological theory and meaning.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-04-01

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