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Travels with Frances Densmore

Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies

Joan M. Jensen

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 06/2015
Pages: 496
Subject: Biography and Autobiography
eBook ISBN: 9780803274945


Over the first half of the twentieth century, scientist and scholar Frances Densmore (1867–1957) visited thirty-five Native American tribes, recorded more than twenty-five hundred songs, amassed hundreds of artifacts and Native-crafted objects, and transcribed information about Native cultures. Her visits to indigenous groups included meetings with the Ojibwes, Lakotas, Dakotas, Northern Utes, Ho-chunks, Seminoles, and Makahs. A "New Woman" and a self-trained anthropologist, she not only influenced government attitudes toward indigenous cultures but also helped mold the field of anthropology.    Densmore remains an intriguing historical figure. Although researchers use her vast collections at the Smithsonian and Minnesota Historical Society, as well as her many publications, some scholars critique her methods of "salvage anthropology" and concepts of the "vanishing" Native American. Travels with Frances Densmore is the first detailed study of her life and work. Through narrative descriptions of her life paired with critical essays about her work, this book is an essential guide for understanding how Densmore formed her collections and the lasting importance they have had for researchers in a variety of fields.


Joan M. Jensen is a professor emerita of history at New Mexico State University. She is the author of several books, including Calling This Place Home: Women on the Wisconsin Frontier, 1850-1925. Michelle Wick Patterson is an associate professor of history at Mount St. Mary's University. She is the author of Natalie Curtis Burlin: A Life in Native and African American Music (Nebraska, 2010).    


“Frances Densmore’s archive of Native American music, photographs, and material culture is indispensable to scholars. Yet she remains an elusive figure. Travels with Frances Densmore takes us into her world. It is a moving, engrossing record of a woman’s self-professionalization and devotion to science at the turn of the twentieth century.”—Sally Cole, professor of anthropology at Concordia University and author of Ruth Landes: A Life in Anthropology