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I would like my last blog post to show some of the trove of photographs from the Boas collection for which I had created a finding aid which demonstrate his interest in Africa. Two photographs taken by Jesse Tarbox Beals at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair show two African boys next to a frame structure with a monkey. My mind fills with questions about how the children were brought here, what their experience was and what they thought of it all. I am sobered by the content of some of these materials and hope to see how they will be given context by researchers now that they are accessible.
I have learned so much in my stay here from the staff who have helped me, my fellow interns and the materials themselves.

I am working on a finding aid for an anonymous group of photographs from Africa. Because it has no provenance it has posed some challenges in terms of providing context but has a wealth of interesting images. Grouped with a set of printed postcards from Dakar is a lone snapshot of a young woman with a moving note on the back saying, “She is a ‘Hunter Tribe’ woman. My small house boy’s sister – her new baby was 2 days old. She walked 6 miles to show me.” There is no way to know when it was taken but it immediately brings to mind the many personal interactions that must have been part of these museum expeditions, and highlights how the visitors to Africa must have provided their own exotic experience to the people they visited.

I got the chance to do some exciting detective work for my finding aid of African photographs. I had a picture of sculpture that looked very much like a Benin bronze but we had no definitive proof. Barbara suggested I look for it in the Hall of African Peoples and after a quick pass I found it on view, and was surprised to find it was one of a pair used as bases for huge elephant tusks. Because it has the same visible number painted on the side we are able to say it is the same artifact. Later I realized I could have found a picture of the bronze ‘in situ’ with the ‘on view’ filter of the anthropology database, a great source for tracking down mysterious objects.

Today I had the chance to look over a collection of anonymous stereographs from a wide-ranging African expedition, 1906-1911, with the goal of writing a finding aid. I am eager to find out, if possible, who wrote the very consistent captions on these photos, most of which are of locations and local people. My only clues are: some of the captions are initialed: VSK, 1911; the person misspelled the word “ant” to read “aunt,” and I wonder if s/he is not a native English speaker; and most importantly there is a photo of Carl Akeley posing with a giraffe head, leading me to wonder if this collection is documentation of his African expedition. Diane led me to a book entitled African Obsession: The life and legacy of Carl Akeley, by Penelope Bodry-Sanders. Skimming the book, I was able to find quite a number of the locations cited in the stereographs, but not a name to match my initials. I am happy to have found a possible link, if not to the collector, then to Akeley’s expedition. It is a great luxury to be able to spend some time in this kind of research.

In addition, there is one photo captioned Duke Abruzzi’s caravan. I found that The Duke d’Abruzzi was a known mountaineer around the turn of the 20th century. One gets a sense of these expeditions linking up or crossing paths as they moved through the continent.

However, the most heart-rending find of the day was a group of images from the Kisubi Mission Station in Uganda devoted to the care of people in the final stages of “sleeping sickness.” One is captioned “a man gone dangerous “ whose “foot is put through a log” presumably to hinder his movements should he become violent. The photo shows that his foot is padded from the roughness of the log, and he has ropes to help him lift it to get around. I am struck by the combined brutality of the shackling and the consideration of protecting his foot from damage and maintaining his mobility.