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The Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA) is devoted to preserving, documenting, and providing access to anthropological moving image materials.  The Archives officially began its mission in 1975 when, as the National Anthropological Film Center, it initiated a program that both created and collected films of anthropological research interest. The archives promote the importance of moving image materials as an integral part of the anthropological record related to documentation and research.  HSFA Collections and resources support research on specific cultures, the development of ethnographic film, and the broad study of visual culture.

Acquisition and Preservation

hsfaMotion picture ephemera, 2003, photograph by Donald E. Hurlbert, HSFA, sihsfa_filmequipcol.

The HSFA, in conjunction with the National Anthropological Archives, provides a unique anthropological repository for audio-visual,  paper, and photographic records. The HSFA works actively with other Smithsonian staff, members of the Society for Visual Anthropology, the Association of Moving Image Archivists and the Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records to identify and rescue endangered film resources and to promote their research value as an integral part of anthropological records. To enhance the value of such records, the HSFA encourages anthropologists, ethnographic filmmakers, and others who hold films of anthropological interest to donate their audiovisual materials along with  supplementary documentation. When possible the HSFA works with filmmakers or subject matter experts to produce recorded sound annotations that further document and enhance the research value of its acquisitions. Collections are organized and described according to archival principles and original materials are safeguarded in a state-of-the-art environmentally controlled storage facility.

The HSFA is dedicated to preserving these critical materials and to educating members of the anthropological community and others on the importance of doing so.

To Learn more about personal and professional archives and preservation see Preserving the Record and the Resources Page of HSFA's online exhibition on the John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection.

Research and Outreach

balinese daceBalinese dancer, ca. 1972, Photograph by Halla Linker, Linker collection, HSFA, sihsfa_2002_16_op_04_Linker_04.

The HSFA provides access to a diverse community of researchers including anthropologists, historians, independent filmmakers, and members of native or indigenous communities. Over the years the HSFA has supported the visual anthropology community by preserving and providing access to footage shot by independent filmmakers for research, new productions and museum exhibitions. More recently, many of the audio-visual records held within our collections have become increasingly important to indigenous communities addressing concerns of language endangerment and loss of indigenous knowledge. Working with our colleagues in the Department of Anthropology’s Recovering Voices Program, the HSFA staff has worked to identify these kinds of materials and to make them available to the members of interested source communities.

Scope of the Collections

The HSFA collections comprise more than eight million feet of film (3,000 hours) and one thousand hours of video recordings. These visual research resources, along with related documentary materials, encompass a broad range of documentary, travelogue, ethnographic and amateur genres that span most of the 20th century.

Associated collections include more than 250,000 photographs, fieldnotes and shot logs, audio field recordings, and a series of “video dialogues” with well-known anthropologists.

Among the highlights of the HSFA collections are film projects that form the foundation of ethnographic filmmaking including:

boliviaBolivian Andes, 1973, AUFS Faces of Change Collection, HSFA.
  • John Marshall’s footage of the Ju/hoansi (Bushmen) of the Kalahari (1950-2000)
  • Jorge Preloran oeuvre spanning Argentina to the United States (1954-1994)
  • Napoleon Chagnon and Timothy Asch’s footage of the Yanomamo of Venezuela (1968 and 1971)
  • David and Judith MacDougall’s footage of the Turkana of East Africa (1974)

Of historical interest are extensive collections of expeditionary, anthropological and amateur travel films dating from the first decades of the 20th century. Of note are

  • Joseph Dixon’s footage of Crow Agency (Montana, 1908)
  • Father Bernard Hubbard’s film footage of the Inupiat of King Island, Alaska (1937)
  • Benjamin Brodsky’s travel film, Beautiful Japan (1918)
  • Matthew Stirling’s By Aeroplane to Pygmyland (New Guinea, 1927)
  • Melville Herskovits’ footage of native life in West Africa and Haiti (1931 and 1934)
  • Robert Zingg’s ethnographic study of the Huichol and Tarahumara (northern Mexico, 1933)
  • Department of Agriculture’s Sugar Plant Hunting by Airplane (New Guinea, 1929)   

Web Links

Articles and additional information

Online Exhibitions

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