Goddard, Pliny Earle (1869-1928)

Pliny Earle Goddard, August 1928. Photograph by H.S. Rice, AMNH.

As an anthropologist, Pliny Goddard was highly regarded in his life-time for his pioneering contribution to the study of Native American languages. On his premature death, this was acknowledged in the extended obituaries written by the leading figures of US anthropology of the day, including Franz Boas and Alfred Kroeber.

After he was appointed to a curatorship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1909, Goddard also made a modest contribution to early ethnographic film-making.

This included his support of film-making by the artist and museum diorama-maker, Howard McCormick, among the Hopi in 1912, including a film of the Snake Dance at Supawlavi. Two years later, Goddard went with McCormick on a filming expedition to the Apache reservation in Arizona, during which Goddard shot at least some of the films himself.

In the summer of 1922, Goddard went to the Kwakwaka’wakw village at Fort Rupert (Tsaxis), on Vancouver Island, Canada, and made a series of films of George Hunt, the leading informant of Franz Boas, and Hunt’s wife Francine (Tsukwani) demonstrating the use of tools and craft techniques. Unfortunately, these films do not appear to have survived.

Goddard with George Hunt filming Francine (Tuskwani) Hunt cooking clams, Fort Rupert (Tsaxis), Vancouver Island, June 1922. Goddard appears to be operating the same 35mm Ensign camera that he took to Arizona to film the Apache. Photograph by ethnographer  and botanist Charles Newcombe (1851-1924). Royal British Columbia Museum, PN 869. As reproduced in Jacknis 2000, p. 102.

In 1924, Goddard returned again to the Southwest, making films among the Hopi and the Navajo, though whether he was accompanied by McCormick on this occasion is not clear. The only material that is known to have survived from this expedition is contained in Hopi Indians of the Southwest.

It was also in 1924 that Goddard acquired for the AMNH a copy of the negative and the master positive of In the Land of the Head Hunters from Edward S. Curtis, the director and producer. At the time, Curtis was in a state of financial embarrassment and was obliged to sell everything that he had of the film for a very reduced sum.

Unfortunately, the AMNH does not appear to have done anything with these materials and there is no record of what happened to them. 

Text: Jacknis 2000: 102, Griffiths 2002: 287-299, 404-406, Evans and Glass 2014:26.

© 2018 Paul Henley