At the end of the nineteenth century, a rising interest
in Native American customs and an increasing desire to
understand Native American culture prompted ethnologists
to begin recording the life stories of Native Amer-
(5) ican. Ethnologists had a distinct reason for wanting to
hear the stories: they were after linguistic or anthropological
data that would supplement their own field
observations, and they believed that the personal
stories, even of a single individual, could increase their
(10) understanding of the cultures that they had been
observing from without. In addition many ethnologists
at the turn of the century believed that Native American
manners and customs were rapidly disappearing,
and that it was important to preserve for posterity as
(15) much information as could be adequately recorded
before the cultures disappeared forever.
There were, however, arguments against this method
as a way of acquiring accurate and complete information.
Franz Boas, for example, described autobiogra-
(20) phies as being “of limited value, and useful chiefly for
the study of the perversion of truth by memory,” while
Paul Radin contended that investigators rarely spent
enough time with the tribes they were observing, and
inevitably derived results too tinged by the investi-
(25) gator’s own emotional tone to be reliable.
Even more importantly, as these life stories moved
from the traditional oral mode to recorded written
form, much was inevitably lost. Editors often decided
what elements were significant to the field research on a
(30) given tribe. Native Americans recognized that the
essence of their lives could not be communicated in
English and that events that they thought significant
were often deemed unimportant by their interviewers.
Indeed, the very act of telling their stories could force
(35) Native American narrators to distort their cultures, as
taboos had to be broken to speak the names of dead
relatives crucial to their family stories.
Despite all of this, autobiography remains a useful
tool for ethnological research: such personal reminis-
(40) cences and impressions, incomplete as they may be, are
likely to throw more light on the working of the mind
and emotions than any amount of speculation from an
ethnologist or ethnological theorist from another
8. It can be inferred from the passage that the author would
be most likely to agree with which of the following
statements about the usefulness of life stories as a source
of ethnographic information?
(A) They can be a source of information about how
people in a culture view the world.
(B) They are most useful as a source of linguistic
(C) They require editing and interpretation before they
can be useful.
(D) They are most useful as a source of information
(E) They provide incidental information rather than
significant insights into a way of life.
Shake the Pillars of Heaven!!!