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Ishi, Briet’s Antelope, and the Documentality of Human Documents
  • Martin I Nord, Western University
Ishi, the “last wild Indian in North America,” was “discovered” in 1911 and spent the last years of his life living in an anthropology museum. There he was studied by anthropologists and viewed by the public as a living exhibit. In this paper, I take some initial steps in arguing that Ishi, the person, became a document to most people. The similarities between Ishi and Suzanne Briet’s hypothetical antelope, newly discovered and placed in a zoo, are eerie. Ishi, like the antelope, is brought into public knowledge as both an initial document and a wide variety of secondary documents derived from the original. Ishi, however, is also not a document, making the comparison to the antelope eerie. Bernd Frohmann’s concept of “documentality” helps us make sense of this fluctuation in Ishi’s status as a document. Ishi’s story, in turn, sheds light on the ethical implications of documentality for all humans.
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Citation Information
Martin I Nord. "Ishi, Briet’s Antelope, and the Documentality of Human Documents" (2020)
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