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Department of Anthropology

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What sorts of materials does the HSFA accept?

16mm film cans and reels, 2004, photograph by Harold Dougherty, HSFA. 16mm film cans and reels, 2004, photograph by Harold Dougherty, HSFA.

We are interested in moving image materials (film, video and digital files) that anthropologists, amateurs and other professionals create that relate to world cultures.  High priority is given to collections that are unique and accompanied by associated materials that support the understanding of the moving images such as field notes, camera and editing logs, transcriptions, technical information, diaries and journals, correspondence, grant applications, study guides, news clippings and reviews, research materials, and lecture notes.  The HSFA strives to archive (and preserve) as close to the original film, videotape, sound recordings and still photographs as is possible.  Additionally we collect biographical information on creator(s) and recollections on how and where the moving images were screened. 

When possible the HSFA seeks a “synchronous” annotation that is either recorded or written.  Instructions are available.

What Information does the HSFA need to Evaluate a Potential Collection?

  • What do the moving images document? Or, in other words, what is the content?
    • -Geographical area(s)
    • -Culture(s)
    • -Date(s)
    • -Activities recorded
  • What supplementary information is available?  (See above for a listing of the types of materials we collect to support moving image collections.) Additionally:
    • -Reason(s) for creation (ie. Document expedition, associated with field research, document language, Peace Corps work, travels)
    • -How were or are these moving image materials used?
    • -Are these moving images unique or do they exist in whole or in part elsewhere?
  • Technical Information
    • -Nature of moving image material (ie. Edited titles, unedited footage, outtakes, lightly edited footage)
    • -Format(s) (ie. 16mm film, Super 8mm film, VHS videotape, DVCam videotape)
    • -Quantity
    • -For film, is there an odor of vinegar (this indicates acetate deterioration)
    • -Sound and/or silent, color and/or b&w
    • -How were/are moving images stored?  (ie. Found in attic or in closet in summer beach home, kept in office)
    • -Are film cans or video cassettes labeled?  Can you send some photos of labels?
  • Rights
    • -Who owns the physical property and the intellectual property rights?  -Sometimes this can be different people.
    • -If not you, do you know who?
    • -Are there clearances (permissions) from any of the people in the film?
    • -Are there any underlying rights that you may know of?  (Ie. music, -literary, rights of publicity for well known people)
    • -Are there distribution agreements?

What are the HSFA's formalities?

Prospective donations are reviewed internally by curators in the Department of Anthropology.  If your collection is accepted for acquisition, an archivist will make arrangements with you to transfer your materials to the archives.  Agreement will specifically address physical ownership, copyright and associated rights and use issues.   The HSFA uses three standard agreements:

  • deed of gift which transfers ownership of both the physical material and any copyright interests
  • deed of gift with a memorandum of understanding transfers ownership of the physical materials and any copyright interests AND conveys back to the donor a license to the copyright
  • deposit agreement which transfers the physical material with a license for use by the Smithsonian until the ownership of the physical material and any copyright interests are conveyed at the term of agreement

We can consider modifying agreements as needed and agreed upon.

How should I prepare my collection for the HSFA?

35mm slide and negatives, 2013, HSFA.35mm slide and negatives, 2013, HSFA.

First and foremost, think about how future researchers might use your materials.  Label everything you can, since no one will ever know as much about your work as you do. If possible, prepare a basic inventory of what is being sent. Do not remove media from their cans or boxes because frequently there is information important to identifying the content.  DO NOT PROJECT OR PLAYBACK moving images as this might cause irreversible damage or even destroy the media.

What if I’m sending someone else’s collections?

Your work is even easier. Since most collections have an order imposed by their creators, there's no need to alter its arrangement before sending it to the archives. As a general rule, we would prefer to receive a collection with its original arrangement intact — even if that order is not immediately apparent — than to receive an artificially arranged (i.e. neater) collection.

For audiovisual materials do not try to project or playback as this might cause irreversible damage or even destroy the media. Leave materials in original boxes and cans and send all associated supplementary materials such as notes, production logs, sound recordings, transcriptions, correspondence, and photographs.  Provide as much information as you know about the film.

What packing material should I use?

When shipping film, make sure the ends of the film are taped down and that the film roll or reel does not slide around inside the individual can or box and that the cans and boxes are securely packed inside the shipping carton per the below.

Please use new shipping cartons if you can, as secondhand boxes can burst open during shipment.  Fill each carton tightly and completely (unfilled boxes tend to crush and break open).  Seal each carton and wrap strong plastic tape (not masking tape) around its girth.  Finally, mark the total number of boxes shipped on all boxes (for example, “Box 7 of 10).

How should I ship my collection to the archives?

Please use a shipping company that tracks individual boxes in shipments.  You may also contact us before you make arrangements to discuss the feasibility of the archives covering your costs.

How will the archives acknowledge my donation?

Before we can accept your collection we must have a signed agreement.  Once the content of the agreement is agreed upon, sign and return both copies to the HSFA.  We will return a countersigned copy for your files.

By law Smithsonian employees are not allowed to provide monetary appraisals. However, if you do have your collection appraised, IRS form 8283 will be signed by the appropriate Museum representative.

How do other people learn about my collection?

16mm magnetic sound film, 2013, HSFA.16mm magnetic sound film, 2013, HSFA.

An online catalog of our collections is maintained by SIRIS, the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System.  Our Web site features information about new collections and HSFA maintains a YouTube channel of clips from the collections. Occasionally HSFA collections are noted in various Smithsonian publications and social media.


May I make a financial contribution to the archives?

Yes.  Individuals sometimes contribute funds to help the archives process (includes organizing, re-housing), preserve and/or duplicate and catalog their collection.  There is no rule of thumb to follow for the cost of processing a film collection since there are so many variables.  But, for instance, an approximate cost to photochemically preserve a 16mm half hour (1,080 feet) color and sound positive film can run close to $5,000 with an additional cost of $250 for a digital transfer—as long as there are no complications encountered. To photochemially preserve a half hour 16mm color sound negative film is significantly more expensive.  (Digitizing for preservation is rapidly changing preservation standards and although the costs are still in flux, in many instances the actual duplication will be cheaper but there are important considerations for the long-term maintenance of the digital files.)  And this does not include the cost of an archivist’s work!

Where can I learn more about archiving media?

To learn more about personal and professional archives and preservation see Preserving the Record and the Resource page of HSFA’s web exhibit on the John Marshall Ju/’hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection 

Who do I contact to learn more details?

You can contact Pamela Wintle, Senior Film Archivist or by 301.238.1324 or the general HSFA email.




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