Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"The Secret Museum of Mankind"

This post comes from Ian.Macky.net via boingboing.net via Photoethnography.com - a post of a post of a post... Certainly an exercise in sharing and spreading the knowledge. This is really an interesting and important resource to share and announce, especially at this point in the semester when we take up "what to do with the person" in visual representation.

The caption reads:

Nowadays the domestic life of the Japanese married woman seems happy enough since the position of her sex is one of decreasing inferiority; and although marriage arrangements are still theoretically left to the parents, the young man and girl have a decided say in the matter. Formerly, at the marriage ceremony, which was purely a civil function, the young wife is often beheld by her husband for the first time, and besides bearing the brunt of all the housekeeping in her new home, one of her chief obligations lay in complete submission to her husband's parents

Do Japanese women have it any better in 2008? But I digress....

The above photo and caption come from "The Secret Museum of Mankind," a collection of photographs taken between 1890 and the 1930s.

Published in 1935, the Secret Museum is a mystery book. It has no author or credits, no copyright, no date, no page numbers, no index. Published by "Manhattan House" and sold by "Metro Publications", both of New York, its "Five Volumes in One" was pure hype: it had never been released in any other form.

Presented here is the Secret Museum in its entirety, all 564 pages scanned and transcribed— nothing is omitted or censored. However, I've cleaned up the images somewhat, paginated, added thumbnail galleries, an index, and a copy of a 1942 magazine ad. Treat it as entertainment instead of education (don't take it seriously and don't believe a word it says!), adjust for the blatant racial bias of the time, and enjoy.

The Secret Museum's photos and text are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 license. You may copy, distribute, display, and perform the Secret Museum for non-commercial purposes provided you attribute your work as derived from this source.

Link to The Secret Museum of Mankind

In the section on Asia, there are a few photos of Japan and the Ainu. The Asia section, as well as the other sections, illustrate quite well the early and problematic nature of the displaying and describing of indigenous and/or non-western peoples.

Her disk-sewn neckband and rope of beads are the chief pride of this Ainu maiden whose grotesque tattooed mustache cannot quite destroy her ingenuous youthful charm

This resource is an other excellent example of open access. It is out there on the web for all to view and use academically. Thank you Ian Macky (and everyone involved in spreading the word). You can read some discussion about the content of the "Secret Museum" at boingboing:

Announcement and Discussion at boingboing.net

The representation of the non-western other as illustrated in the "Secret Museum" is one of the issues brought up in the film, Couple in the Cage. Their traveling museum is not so secret, nor are the reactions of those who experience it.

Link to information on the Couple in the Cage from Video Data Bank:

How can these resources assist us in our visual anthropology of Japan and representation of Japanese people and culture? Will anthropologists in 100 years look back at our work with similar discomfort and disdain? Can anthropology escape its colonial past?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This sounds like something that the Institute of Official Cheer would make fun of.