Cooper's essay shows how the photographs taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston at educational institutions such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and Hampton Institute, as well as in the Washington, D.C., public schools, show the influence of social Darwinism on progressive educational ideology. By elucidating how the image of the “Indian” functions as a shifting signifier in these photos, this essay offers insight into how educational institutions for black, white, and native students taught them to acquire different subject positions in the process of adopting U.S. citizenship. Boarding schools for native students encouraged them to adopt detribalized Indian identities while the schools paradoxically taught these students to abandon their native identities in the process of Americanization. At Hampton, symbols of the Indian functioned confusedly, simultaneously encouraging African Americans to feel more assimilated than American Indians and reminding them that the dominant culture considered even the unassimilated Indian to be racially superior to the black man. Finally, Johnston's photos of public schools attended by white children transform images of Indian objects and people into simultaneous embodiments of progress and immobility, bolstering white students' identities as representatives of “civilization.” The essay also examines writing by former American Indian boarding-school students to show how they reimagined the figure of the Indian to critique the falsely democratic rhetoric of citizenship education, even as they praised the schools for making them who they were. Both the visual and verbal accounts Cooper discusses speak to subaltern students' ability to express individuality in the face of an evolutionary framework that sought to systematize their identities based on their race.
Tova Cooper; The Scenes of Seeing: Frances Benjamin Johnston and Visualizations of the “Indian” in Black, White, and Native Educational Contexts. American Literature 1 September 2011; 83 (3): 509–545. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1339854
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