representations of Native people provided scientific support
to the racializing discourses of the day—narratives couched
in terms of social evolutionism. At that time, professional
anthropologists adhered strongly to the idea that all societies
evolutionary stages—from “savagery” through “barbarism” to “civilization.” In retrospect, we can see it was a classification scheme that
was open to some criticism (The people who created the racial
classification scheme had, after all, placed themselves at
the top of the hierarchy. Highly suspicious, huh?).
anthropologists during the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries believed that each “stage” was
expressed in types of kinship, technology, religious beliefs, types
of property, and aesthetics, and that these could be classified
Exposition contained both museum exhibits and “outdoor
living exhibits” in which Native people from different
parts of the Americas (as well as native people from throughout
the rest of the world) were displayed to fairgoers as objects
of anthropological inquiry—as living specimens that illustrated
the “stages of the development of mankind” in
the Americas. Patrons at the Fair could tour Indian encampments
of various kinds along the Midway, or they could browse through
the museum displays in the anthropological and government buildings.
Material artifacts and
the results of anthropological research were laid out and presented
to the public in ways that confirmed evolutionary progress and
the superiority of white-skinned people. Reconstructions of Indian
villages contrasted with the towering exposition buildings, demonstrating
in stark terms the lack of development among Native Americans and
allowing fairgoers to imagine what life must have been like when
Europeans discovered Americans.
other words, Native Americans of the late-19th century
were seen as being permanently and forever frozen in time.
People assumed that American Indians had made no “progress” and
had not changed in over 500 years.
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