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Overview

This classic microfilm collection represents the most extensive body of Tsimshian literature available for linguistic, anthropological, and theological scholarship. It also provides documentation on North American Indian myths and traditions.

The Tsimshian people are native to the territory along the international border between Alaska and British Columbia, and were cultural innovators who originated the totem pole and many other art forms characteristic of the Pacific Northwest coastal region.

The Beynon Manuscript was processed and transcribed by William Beynon, a native speaker of the Tsimshian language. He recorded the history, ethnography, and literature of his people, preserving an important cultural history for the future. Included in the collection are:

 

  • narratives of clan histories and myths
  • descriptions of traditional ceremonies, practices, and beliefs

In the mid-1930s, Beynon worked with the famed ethnologist and philologist Franz Boas, helping with precise translations of Tsimshian tales that Boas had recorded in phonetic orthography several decades earlier. Beynon added significant material and clarified passages that had been previously misinterpreted.

Boas then indexed, abstracted, and arranged into several volumes the more than 10,000 pages of The Beynon Manuscript. He presented the entire collection to Columbia University, where the original manuscript is now preserved in the Rare Book and Manuscript Division of Butler Library.

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