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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fair games: nineteenth century cultural philanthropy in Chicago and the shaping of American anthropology Ayotte, Todd Robert Jacques


Building on the Anthropological displays of Department M at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago, the Field Columbian Museum began in a particularly advantaged position: through its connection with the fair, the museum amassed a comprehensive collection “representative” of Native American societies, established an affiliation with the anthropological community, and, most importantly, received financial and ideological support from local business and economic leaders. This relationship between the museum anthropologists and their financial backers — forming in effect what I call a “cultural alliance” — is the focus of this paper. Through a chronological exposition of the five year period associated with the project - from Mayor De Witt C. Creiger’s appeal in 1889 to secure the fair in Chicago, to the founding of the Field Columbian Museum in 1894 - this thesis explores the impetus behind this emerging alliance and its subsequent effect on both the anthropological and economic communities. Utilizing a specific model outlined in Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological study Distinction: A Social Criticrne of the Judgement of Taste, the project and its resulting association of financial backers and museum anthropologists is shown as central to the process of cultural “legitimization” — underlining a correlation between economic, educational and social “capital” (Bourdieu 1984:12-13). Although this “alliance” has been recognized for its role in the advancement of American anthropology — a discipline which relied heavily on funding from the private sector — this relationship must also be seen in terms of the status gains it provided for Chicago’s cultural philanthropists. Frederick Ward Putnam, Chief of Department M and promoter of the permanent museum, represented the academic front in this “cultural alliance.” His credentials provided the necessary educational “capital” to validate the project, and his institutional background fostered the development of the museum initiative. In direct contention with the fair’s blanket ideological program - mapping the “progress of civilization” from the time of Columbus’s “discovery” of America — Putnam sought to establish a new model for the display of Native American artifacts, distinct from the assimilationist/evolutionist model supported by the United States government. At the same time, this model helped to construct an autonomous “cultural” position for the philanthropists supporting Putnam. What is revealed is an exchange between the museum anthropologists and their benefactors, designed not only to reflect their wealth and power, but to serve a “legitimizing” function in the assertion of a new and competitive cultural elite.

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