ARTHEMIS is pleased to present a lecture with
City University of New York (CUNY)
“New Perspectives on the Museum Expedition Film: The Woodcraft League, Peter Pan, and Reclaiming Native Agency.”
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City was an important, if overlooked, sponsor and exhibitor of motion pictures in the first 30 years of the twentieth century. The exhibition of magic lantern slides and motion pictures were de rigeur in large public museums by the mid 1910s, vital forces in the discourse of armchair travel and in establishing museums as dignified and disciplined venues for popular visual culture. One arena of museum work where film was appropriated enthusiastically in the early part of the twentieth century is the museum sponsored expedition film, a genre that has received less attention than commercially produced ethnographic films or even films made by anthropologists. I will concentrate on the 1927 AMNH sponsored expedition to the Southwest led by acclaimed artist, children’s book author, and founder of both the Woodcraft League and the Boy Scouts of America, Ernest Thompson Seton, and AMNH visual instruction curator (and later Chairman of the Hayden Planetarium), Clyde Fisher. My goal is to consider how the surviving 22-minute footage, titled by the AMNH in the 1980s as Camping Among the Indians, bears the marks of its conditions of sponsorship, production, and exhibition as distinct from other types of ethnographic filmmaking from the era. I’m also interested in excavating some of the fantasies at play around this film; especially its relationship to the Woodcraft League, which promoted nature, scouting and survival techniques heavily influenced by Native American culture. A close look at the assembled material and its contexts reveals a great deal about nontheatrical film from the early cinema and silent eras, a subject undergoing a renaissance in film scholarship today.
Alison Griffith is a Professor in the Department of Communications at the City University of New York (CUNY). Her research has appeared in Cinema Journal, Screen, Film History, Wide Angle, Continuum, Visual Anthropology Review, etc. She is the author of the award-winning book Wondrous Difference: Cinema, Anthropology, and Turn of the Century Visual Culture (Columbia University Press, 2002). She recently published Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View (Columbia University Press, 2008). Her new book project is entitled: Cinema Detritus: Film at the Margins which examines films from the silent era made about and exhibited in institutions not primarily recognized for their affiliation to cinema, such as prisons, museums, and hospitals.
(the conference takes place in the course FMST 800)