Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues

Adam Johnson — Information Control and Indigenous Politics of Documentation in the American Southwest

In this episode of Perspectives, we speak with Adam Johnson, Consortium NEH Fellow.


Adam introduces us to his book project, which examines the shifting relationships between white ethnographic fieldworkers and Pueblo and Navajo communities in the American Southwest around the documentation of sensitive information. By contrasting Anglo universalist conceptions of knowledge with Pueblo and Navajo epistemic systems, which both have restrictions on the free flow of information (though in quite different ways), he shows that Indigenous practices of information control constrained ethnographic fieldwork methods. In response, Southwesternists regularly dropped the emerging gold-standard of participant observation to pursue Indigenous knowledge that was purposefully withheld from them, adopting tactics that isolated and coerced individual informants. The consequences of ethnographic extraction were complicated: for many communities, not only was sacred knowledge profaned when outsiders learned of it, but the publication of such information risked that even unsanctioned members of their own communities might learn things about which they were supposed to be ignorant.


Closed-captioning available on YouTube.


To cite this podcast, please use footnote: Adam Johnson interview, Perspectives, Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, May 25, 2023, https://www.chstm.org/video/161

Insights from the Collections
The Consortium's collections provide many opportunities to learn more about the history of anthropology and ethnography. See the Consortium search hub to find more.
Materials related to this topic include
A. I. Hallowell Papers, American Philosophical Society
Elsie Clews Parsons Papers, American Philosophical Society
Franz Boas Personal and Professional papers, American Philosophical Society
Indian Language Field Recordings, American Philosophical Society
Pliny Earle Goddard American Indian notebooks, 1901-1929, Columbia University
Elsie Worthington Clews Parsons papers, 1883-1894, Columbia University
Alfonso Ortiz Papers 1926-1993, Princeton University
Ben Wittick Photographs of Hopi Villages, 1880-1903, Princeton University
Navajo Mission Collection, Princeton University
Daniel Garrison Brinton papers, University of Pennsylvania
Adee Dodge Papers, Yale University
Geoffrey O’Hara Cylinder Records, Yale University
Join a related Working Group’s monthly discussion
History of Anthropology