Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Website Search Box

Department of Anthropology

NAA collections


What sorts of material does the archives accept?

In general, we are interested in everything an anthropologist creates, plus items that illuminate his or her public career and private life. We also collect materials that facilitate anthropological research that have been created by other professionals (such as linguists and ethnohistorians). Our collections include fieldnotes, diaries, photographs, sound recordings, film, video, teaching materials, lecture notes, grant applications, manuscript reviews, editorial business, correspondence (both personal and professional), diaries, ephemeral materials, and electronic files. When in doubt about a particular item, please ask. The archives welcomes material in all media, including manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings, film, video and electronic media.

cuna mapPictographic map of San Blas coast prepared by Chief Igwa Nigdibippi for John P. Harrington, 1924-1925. BAE Neg 4304. National Anthropological Archives.

The NAA does not collect books, journals, reprints, offprints or photocopied articles that are easily found in a university library (or online) unless they were written, edited, or annotated by the collection donor. However, the NAA does accept rare publications as well as works inscribed by authors to collection donors ("To Alan, with appreciation for your assistance on the unified field theory. Albert").


Are there any formalities?

Yes. Prospective donations must be reviewed by the Department of Anthropology's Collections Advisory Committee. If your collection is accepted for acquisition, an archivist will make arrangements with you to transfer your materials to the archives. The NAA will ask you to sign a standard Deed of Gift which transfers title to the documents as well as their copyright. The HSFA will negotiate an agreement that addresses copyright and associated rights and use issues.

How should I prepare my collection?

First and foremost, think about how future researchers will use your fieldwork materials. Label everything you can, since no one will ever know as much about your fieldwork materials as you do. Keep film, video and other media in their original cans and boxes (which often include information which helps identify their content). Finally, tell us about yourself. If you have a resume or curriculum vitae, by all means send it.

What if I'm sending someone else's collection?

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.

Leave audiovisual materials in their original boxes and cans and send associated materials (such as notes, productions logs, transcriptions, correspondence and photographs) along with them. Don't attempt to view or listen to audiovisual materials, as this can cause irreversible damage.

How can I preserve the current arrangement of the materials?

The contents of file cabinets should be transferred to cardboard cartons in their original order. Start at the top of the first cabinet and work your way down to the bottom. Place notes inside cartons as you fill them with labels such as "Cabinet 1, Drawer 1" or "Cabinet 1, Drawer 5 (continued) and Drawer 6." Try as you best you can to keep associated materials together, as it will allow us to make greater sense of the collection later.

What about electronic files?

Please print electronic files, then send the hard copy and electronic copy to the archives. Tell us everything you know about the software that was used to create the files, including the operating system (e.g., Windows, Mac), the word-processing program, and if possible, the exact version. Label diskettes with a soft felt-tipped pen (or prepare a label before affixing it to the disk). Remember that diskettes are magnetic media. Keep them away from magnets and easily magnetized items, such as telephones, speakers, paper clips, scissors. If you burn your files to a CD, identify it with a unique "volume name" or simply label the CD sleeve or cover (do not label the CD itself).

What packing material should I use?

Please use new cartons only, as secondhand boxes usually 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"). If you're sending film, make sure that the ends are taped down and that the film roll or reel does not move around inside their cans or boxes.

How should I ship my collection to the archives?

Please use a shipping company that offers online package tracking, such as

boy in basketTwo-Year Old Boy Sitting in Basket 1909, BAE GN 01102B16B 06226600, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

FedEx or UPS. 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?

The archives will prepare a Deed of Gift (NAA) or an Agreement of Transfer (HSFA) for your signature. Sign and return both copies to the archives. We will return a countersigned copy for your files.

How do other people learn about my collection?

An online catalog of our collections is maintained by SIRIS, the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Our Web site features several collection guides as well as finding aids and online exhibits. Finally, the archives publishes an annual notice of its acquisitions in the Anthropology Newsletter (published by the American Anthropological Association), which briefly describes the scope and content of new collections.

I see that some collections are restricted — why?

Occasionally, donors restrict access to their collections to protect the confidentiality or privacy of their informants. The archives respects donors' wishes while striving to make archival material freely and publicly available. To reach this goal, it sometimes temporarily restricts a portion of the collection while allowing fuller access to less-sensitive material. Donors may wish to consult the American Anthropological Association's Statement on the Confidentiality of Field Notes.

Is financial assistance available?

The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research offers Historical Archives Program grants to assist individuals holding significant records and personal papers with the expenses of preparing and transferring them for archival deposit.

May I make a financial contribution to the archives?

Collection donors may contribute funds to help the archive conserve, arrange and catalog their collection. As a rule of thumb, it takes an archivist about one week to arrange and describe one cubic foot of manuscript material. The cost to the archives is about $1,000. For a silent color 1/2-hour film, the cost for an archivist's work, film laboratory preservation and a video reference copy is approximately $1,900. Several anthropologists also make annual, tax-deductable gifts to the archives. We appreciate their generosity.

Where can I learn more?

"Inside the National Anthropological Archives" (Anthropology News, Jan.

collections J. P. Harrington microfilm.

2008) summarizes the NAA's history and mission. Helpful information also appears in Guide to Preserving Anthropological Records (Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records) and Guide to Donating Your Personal or Family Papers to a Repository (Society of American Archivists).

For further information about donating materials, please write to




Follow the NAAs & HSFAs on social media:

facebook youtubeitunesu


[ TOP ]