COLE, Douglas (1938-1997)




Author Tags: Anthropology, Art, Biography, Essentials 2010, First Nations

"It is said that by 1930 there were more Kwakiutl artifacts in Milwaukee than in Mamalillikulla, more Salish artifacts in Cambridge than in Comox." -- Joan Givner reviewing Douglas Cole's biography of Franz Boas.

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

The name Douglas Cole rings very few bells beyond academic circles, but his writing career was nothing short of exemplary. Cole was born in Mason City, west of Spokane, in 1938. As one of the foremost authorities on relations between First Nations and non-aboriginal cultures, Cole produced two essential volumes, Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts (1985) and An Iron Hand upon the People: The Law Against the Potlatch on the Northwest Coast (1990), with Ira Chaikin. Captured Heritage has been hugely influential in the social movement to regain artifacts that were taken from B.C. As Joan Givner noted in a review of Cole’s work, “It is said that by 1930 there were more Kwakwaka’wakw artifacts in Milwaukee than in Mamalillikulla, more Salish artifacts in Cambridge than in Comox.”

With Bradley Lockner, Cole co-edited The Journals of George M. Dawson 1875–1878 (1989) which shed new light on the explorer. These journals chronicled the survey process and exploration of the Interior of B.C., the Fraser River and the Queen Charlotte Islands. A second set of journals, dated 1879 to 1900, was in the process of being edited and prepared for publication when Cole died in 1997 of a heart attack.

Posthumously, Cole was credited as co-editor of At Home with the Bella Coola Indians: T.F. McIlwraith’s Field Letters, 1922–4 (2003), with John Barker, and, more significantly, Franz Boas: The Early Years, 1858–1906 (1999). “Cole’s account of Boas’ early scientific work is important for anthropologists and the references to Boas’ field work are of special interest to B.C. readers,” wrote Joan Givner. “But this biography also paints a vivid picture of life in the Jewish communities of German provincial towns, it describes Boas’ education at leading German universities and it recounts how and why Boas settled in New York as part of the German expatriate society there. Like all magisterial biographies, Franz Boas: The Early Years successfully depicts one man’s life against the backdrop of his historical period.”

As well, the third Eaton’s B.C. Book Award went to Douglas Cole and Maria Tippett for their critical study of B.C. art, From Desolation to Splendour (1977), a study of changing European attitudes to West Coast landscapes. Prior to the creation of the B.C. Book Prizes in 1985, the Eaton’s Book Award was widely considered to be the province’s top literary prize. Its perennial judges Margaret Prang (UBC), Walter D. Young (UVic) and Gordon Elliott (SFU) maintained unusually high standards. For a complete list of Eaton’s Book Award recipients from 1975 to 1983, search for “Eaton’s” at www.abcbookworld.com.

Douglas Cole, a founding professor at SFU, died at age 58.


FULL ENTRY:

Douglas Cole was one of the foremost authorities on relations between First Nations and non-aboriginal cultures. In particular Cole wrote Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts and he co-wrote Iron Hand Upon the People: The Law Against the Potlatch on the Northwest Coast, two essential text of B.C. ethnology.

Cole was born December 9, 1938 in Mason City, later renamed Coulee Dam, west of Spokane. His family moved to Westland, Washington when he was 15. He attended Whitman College in Walla Walla (B.A. Art History), George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (M.A.) and the University of Washington (Ph.D). He took a teaching post at SFU as a founding professor in 1966 and became president of the faculty association (1986-88) and chair of the history department (1978-80). With his wife Maria Tippett, he co-wrote From Desolation to Splendour (1977), a study of changing European attitudes to West Coast landscapes which received the first Eaton's B.C. Book Award in 1978. [The Eaton's Book Award was one of the top literary prizes in British Columbia prior to the BC Book Prizes in 1985; its perennial judges were professors Margaret Prang (UBC), Walter D. Young (UVic) and Gordon Elliott (SFU)]. Prior to their divorce, Tippett and Cole also co-authored Phillips in Print: The Selected Writings of Walter Phillips on Canadian Nature and Art.

Douglas Cole also won a 1986 Molson Research Prize for his study of the impact of the 1884 federal law banning the potlatch ceremony. Cole co-edited The Journals of George M. Dawson which shed new light on the hunchbacked explorer who surveyed more territory than any other surveyor for the Geological Survey of Canada. These journals chronicled the survey process and exploration of the Interior of B.C., the Fraser River and the Queen Charlottes between the years 1875 and 1878. A second set of journals, dated 1879 to 1900, was in the process of being edited and prepared for publication when Cole died on August 18, 1997 of a heart attack. A memorial gathering was held at SFU's Halpern Centre on October 9th. He was 58. Cole had only recently completed his first volume of a Franz Boas biography [see review below]. He was also involved in the North Lonsdale Historic Area Working Committee to preserve the heritage character of North Vancouver. Posthumously, he co-edited At Home with the Bella Coola Indians: T.F. McIlwraith's Field Letters, 1922-4.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts
To the Charlottes: George Dawson's 1878 Survery of the Queen Charlotte Islands
An Iron Hand upon the People: The Law Against the Potlatch on the Northwest Coast
The Journals of George M. Dawson: British Columbia, 1875-1878
Phillips in Print: The Selected Writings of Walter J. Phillips on Canadian Nature and Art

BOOKS:

From Desolation to Splendour: Changing Perceptions of the B.C. Landscape (Clarke, Irwin, 1977). With Maria Tippett.

Phillips in Print: The Selected Writings of Walter Phillips on Canadian Nature and Art. (Winnipeg: Manitoba Record Society, 1982.) Co-editor with John Barker.

Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts (Douglas & McIntyre, University of Oklahoma Press 1985)

The Journals of George M. Dawson: British Columbia 1875-1878 (UBC Press, 1989). Co-editor with Bradley Lockner. Two Volumes.

Iron Hand Upon the People: The Law Against the Potlatch on the Northwest Coast (D&M, University of Washington Press, 1990), co-authored with Ira Chaikin.

History of the Early Period. Handbook of the North American Indian, Vol. 7 Northwest Coast, Washington (Smithsonian Institution, 1990). With David Darling.

To the Charlottes: George Dawson's 1878 Survey of the Queen Charlotte Islands (UBC Press, 1993), co-edited with Bradley Lockner

Franz Boas: The Early Years, 1858-1906 (D&M 1999 $45)

Barker of At Home with the Bella Coola Indians: T.F. McIlwraith's Field Letters, 1922-4 (UBC Press, 2003). Co-editor with John Barker

[BCBW 2010] "Eaton's"

Franz Boas: The Early Years, 1858-1906 (D&M $45)
Article



‘The father of modern North American anthropology’, Franz Boas was a graverobber who pilfered skeletons and artifacts for profit. SFU’s Douglas Cole spent 17 years working on Franz Boas: The Early Years, 1858-1906 (D&M $45) but he died while making final revisions. Boas has been the subject for two previous studies but Cole’s is the first to draw on the large collection of Boas family letters at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

It was Boas’ meeting with a troupe of nine Bella Coola dancers in Berlin in 1885 that changed the ethnological direction of his work and drew him towards North America. Originally a geographer, Boas had done field work for a year on Baffin Island in 1883 and 1884 but the ‘severe sobriety’ of the Inuit failed to impress him. On the other hand, the artistry and ‘wealth of thought’ contained in the dances and masks of the Bella Coola immediately enchanted him. In Berlin Boas spent all his free time with the ‘dear Indians’ at their lodgings near the Reichstag, recording their songs and studying their language.
Boas was eager to return to America to his fiancée and better career possibilities. The next year he made the long, slow journey to the West Coast, planning to finance his research trip by buying Native artifacts cheaply and selling them at a profit to German and American museums.

When he reached Victoria in 1886, he had two surprises. He found that his own photographs of the troupe were everywhere, having been reproduced by an ‘Indian trader’, and that two members of the Berlin troupe were in Victoria. Boas’ two friends introduced him to other Natives who were impressed that he could already speak some of their language. After three weeks in Victoria, Boas took a steamer north to Alert Bay, returning by way of Quamichan, Comox and Nanaimo. En route, he saw potlatches, gathered stories and witnessed a shaman healing. Boas’ aims were both scholarly and commercial. While he was chiefly concerned with language and myth, he also amassed artifacts in order to pay for his research and educational expenses. He bought masks, commissioned women to weave blankets and baskets, and collected skulls by robbing graveyards.

Boas returned to B.C. eight times in the next 15 years. He realized that the construction of the railway would bring collectors to the area and he hurried to beat out rivals for the riches. It is said that by 1930 there were more Kwakiutl artifacts in Milwaukee than in Mamalillikulla, more Salish artifacts in Cambridge than in Comox.

Boas emerges as a likeable person, loyal to friends and devoted to his family. It is not difficult to muster sympathy for someone so passionate about his work, who suffered endless setbacks in his early years. But however much Cole resists judging 19th century behaviour by late 20th century standards, Boas appears totally unscrupulous in pursuit of his scientific goals. His lapses of sensitivity are not excused by time. One of these lapses provided an incident both comic and sinister. After he realized that his career prospects in Germany were hopeless, Boas moved to America and took a job at Clark University in Massachusetts. There, as part of his research into anthropometrics (the statistics of bodily measurement) he conceived a plan to measure the thighs of Worcester schoolgirls. The public outcry was both loud and nasty. The local paper expressed outrage that someone who had ‘fooled around with the top knots of medicine men and toyed with the warpaint of bloodthirsty Indians’ would be feeling their children’s bodies.

Boas himself became the victim of cross-cultural double-standards when the paper ridiculed the ‘barbaric’ duelling scars on his face, sustained during his student days in Heidelberg. It declared that these ‘would make a jailbird turn green with envy’ and were unknown ‘outside the society of the criminal classes.’ Boas carried out other dubious activities uncensored and unabashed. He apparently had no scruples about deceiving his friends and acquaintances among the First Nations when he was pilfering graveyards. He noted it was ‘repugnant work’, it gave him nightmares, but ‘someone had to do it’.

Besides, the skeletons were worth money.

Perhaps the shabbiest episode involved a group of Greenlanders brought to New York. When one died, Boas was party to staging a mock funeral for the benefit of the young son. The boy learned only years later that his father’s corpse had been whisked away for scientific analysis. Such activities appear all the more reprehensible when compared with Boas’ sacramental attitude to the grave of his own daughter. Her burial site was treated as hallowed ground which he visited regularly.

Cole’s account of Boas’ early scientific work is important for anthropologists and the references to Boas’ field work are of special interest to B.C. readers. But this biography also paints a vivid picture of life in the Jewish communities of German provincial towns, it describes Boas’ education at leading German universities and it recounts how and why Boas settled in New York as part of the German expatriate society there.

Like all magisterial biographies, Franz Boas: The Early Years successfully depicts one man’s life against the backdrop of his historical period. Although it’s regrettable that Cole’s projected second volume on Boas can never appear, this is a satisfying and important follow-up to Cole’s Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts, published in 1985. Douglas Cole’s research is now housed in the Royal British Columbia Museum. 1-55054-746-1

[Joan Givner / BCBW WINTER 1999]