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Department of Anthropology

Museum Support Center

Museum Support Center.
This unique, zigzag-shaped building contains four storage areas, each the size of a football field.




Filmmaker John L. Brom and an assistant

Filmmaker John L. Brom and assistant. Brom filmed in sub-Saharan Africa between 1949 and 1962.






"Sorcerer" from Katchunga.

"Sorcerer" from Katchunga. AFRICA SINGS AND DANCES, directed by John L. Brom, 1965  (98.18.4 OF)







Tutsi dancers, from the film "Africa Sings and Dances"

Tutsi dancers. AFRICA SINGS AND DANCES, directed by John L. Brom, 1965. (98.18.4 OF)

We're Moving!

After more than 30 years at its present location, the National Anthropological Archives is moving to the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, located just six miles southeast of the National Mall. MSC is a state-of-the-art research, conservation and collections-storage facility containing more than one-half million square feet of space on six acres of land – plenty of room for the archives' future growth. We look forward to our move to a spacious, climate-controlled building and to our new neighbors, the Archives of the National Museum of the American Indian, located nearby in NMAI's Cultural Resources Center.

The archives is actually the last of the anthropology department's collections to be relocated to suburban Maryland. The department's ethnology, archaeology and physical anthropology collections began their move to MSC in 1983. The NAA will begin its move later this year, following the remodeling of its new offices, reading room and collections storage area. The archives will be closed to researchers during the move. For the latest move schedule, or to schedule an appointment, please call the archives at 202.357.1986.

Visiting the NAA at its new location will be easy. A shuttle bus stops at the National Museum of Natural History (Constitution Avenue side) at five minutes after the hour and arrives at the Museum Support Center 30 minutes later. The shuttle is available weekdays between 8:05am and 5:05pm. Later this year, visiting researchers will be able to reach the NAA by Metrorail (the Suitland Station on the Metro's Green Line is scheduled to open in the Fall). Free on-site parking is also available.

We're Growing

The archives is delighted to announce the addition of two new staff members. Susan McElrath, a graduate of the College of Library and Information Services at the University of Maryland, was the archivist of the National Archives for Black Women's History at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., before joining our staff in January. Susan is responsible for collection processing and cataloguing. Our other new staff member, Gayle Yiotis, is no stranger to the Smithsonian. She was an archives technician in the National Anthropological Archives for several years before joining the museum's Repatriation Program as a research assistant for ethnology. Gayle returns to the archives on a two-year assignment sponsored by the Smithsonian's Repatriation Review Committee, for which she will provide research and reference services.

New Collections

The Human Studies Film Archives and the National Anthropological Archives recently acquired a series of films and out-take materials documenting African peoples made by filmmaker and photographer-explorer John L. Brom (1908-1969). The Brom collection complements the archives’ significant holdings of 20th Century film on Africa – holdings which span the genres of documentary and ethnographic film, expedition films, travelogue, and record footage. The Brom collection provides unique documentation of several Saharan and Equatorial African cultures and contributes to the history of representations of Africa and Africans.

Ladislav John Brom was born in 1908 in Chocen, an area that was then part of Imperial Austria, now the Czech Republic. A graduate of the Conservatory of Music and Arts in Prague, Brom became involved in filmmaking early on. In addition to working as a sports writer and reporter to pay for his studies, Brom performed in film and theater and assisted movie directors. His interest in filmmaking continued after graduation. Brom would go on to earn a Ph.D. in Dramatic Arts from the University of Prague Philosophy Department in 1939.

In 1937, Brom purchased a failing film company and renamed it Brom-Film. Between 1939 and 1945, Brom produced and distributed more than 20 theatrical films, nine of which he directed. World War II was not a very productive time for Brom as a filmmaker. He was firmly anti-Nazi and his well-known attitude led to his arrest in 1942. Brom was released within several months and he began to prepare to make a film about Africa. Unfortunately for Brom, Brom-Film was nationalized in 1945. Unwilling to join the "new wave of Red movie directors," Brom emigrated to France and made his home in Paris.

Between 1949 and 1962, Brom traveled to Africa many times, often alone with his camera, and developed a deep respect for the people and continent. He recognized the tension between the demands of Western European modernization at the close of the colonial era and the African struggle to retain traditional ways and values. His camera recorded people and traditions since transformed by war, genocide and the lure of urban life. This footage became the basis for several full-length documentary films shown mainly in Germany, France and Canada. Brom also wrote seven books about his travels in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. In 1963, Brom emigrated to the United States. Six years later, in January 1969, Brom died suddenly while working on "The Changing Face of Africa"; the television series was never completed.

The heart of the John L. Brom Collection is "African Odyssey," a five-film television series that aired in Europe and Canada. The films provide glimpses into 19th Century slave trading and exploration and introduce a range of ethnic groups in Equatorial Africa and the Sahara region:

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume. John Brom recreates the journey of New York Herald writer Henry Morton Stanley in his search for the lost Scottish missionary David Livingstone in 1871. The film follows the trail from Zanzibar to Lake Tanganyika, comparing mid 20th century Africa to that of Stanley's time. It follows Livingstone's attempt to find the source of the Nile and his discovery of Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River.

Africa Sings and Dances. This film chronicles several peoples of Equatorial Africa and the role of song and dance in celebrating significant occasions. Birth, initiation, marriage, death and good harvests are just a few of the events that are profiled among the Topoke, Mangbetu, Tutsi, Hutu, Lahou, Pygmy, Kuba, Kikiuj and other ethnic groups.

In The Footsteps of the Slave Traders. This film confronts the problem of freedom for the African and the struggle to overcome the legacy of the slave traffic. Brom recreates images of slave caravans, traces the footsteps of the infamous slave-trader Tippo-Tip and records artifacts and evidence of the human traffic. The film includes Brom's interviews with Tippo-Tip's descendents and one of his former slaves, 105-year-old Agnes Sudi.

Face of the Sahara. This film was originally a two-part film with segments titled "In the Land of Mirages" and "The Sahara Was Green." It follows the journey of three explorers as they attempt to map the only uncharted region of the Sahara (using only a radio and compass) and prove that the Sahara was once lush and green. While interesting in terms of geography, these films are an even more moving testament to the people who inhabit the region and the struggles they have endured to survive in this harsh land. The film profiles the Marabouts, the Toureg Kel Ajjer, the Toubous, the Bilas, and the Toubous Bideyats. (Filmography by Lynanne Rollins for the Human Studies Film Archives. Biographical information courtesy of Olga Brom Spencer.)

The National Anthropological Archives actively acquires ethnographic collections. A list of recent acquisitions (1997-99) and a Guide to the Collections are available online.

The Web Pages Formerly Known as "What's New"

November 1999
June 1999

Publication date: February 2000

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