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Department of Anthropology

Portrait of Gegwejiwebinung

Gegwejiwebinung or Gaygwachewaybinanung (Trying to Throw) or Gayshiqonnayyash (Swift Feather), called Red Blanket, 1858. Gelatin glass negative. Photo by De Lancey W. Gill, Minnesota Leech Lake Reservation, 1899.

The inherent instability of photographic materials and their high usage has caused widespread preservation problems. Chemical degradation of emulsions and film stock must be arrested before these images are irreparably damaged. Brittle prints are at risk of being cracked or torn whenever they are handled, and breakage of fragile glass plates (such as the example above) is a constant danger.


Still from A Kalahar Family

A Kalahari Family
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On the Home Page
Korean official and servant. One of a series of 18 watercolor paintings on mulberry paper collected by William Woodville Rockhill, secretary of the U.S. Legation to China (1884-88). Ms. 7339.


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Anthropolometric photo of Papuan man

Anthropometric photograph of Papuan man, Upper Rouffaer River, Irian Jaya, West Papua New Guinea, c. 1926. Photo by Matthew Stirling.




Paula Fleming

Paula Fleming worked in the NAA longer than any individual since the Bureau of American Ethnology library (the predecessor of the NAA) was established 125 years ago. Photo by D.E. Hurlbert.



Still from Leahy expedition film

Papua New Guinea men and children stand in front of an airplane in recently discovered film shot during the Leahy Expedition to the Wahgi Valley of Papua New Guinea in 1933. The final sequence of the film remains unidentified but appears to be ceremonial dances on the coastal area of Papua New Guinea.


More New Acquisitions
NAA and HSFA collections received between 1997 and 2003 are listed here.



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NAA Receives "Save America's Treasures" Award

The National Anthropological Archives is pleased to announce its receipt of a Save America's Treasures award to support the conservation of the Bureau of American Ethnology photographic collection, an unparalleled visual record of historic Native Americans that includes more than 135,000 items, most of which were created between 1841 and 1940. This is the second Save America's Treasures award for the archives; an earlier award supported the conservation of anthropological art.

The BAE photographic collection includes images from the great Western Surveys that documented the lands and peoples of the West; images from research expeditions depicting Native life in the 19th century; archeological discoveries from the earliest scientific explorations to more systematic excavations; and portraits of famous personalities. The photographs, supported by extensive documentation, are the foundation for our visual knowledge of the American Indian past. Widely published, they were critical in shaping perceptions of Native Americans in the last quarter of the 19th century and thereafter.

This grant and matching funds will support the preparation of deteriorating film for cold storage; conservation treatment and stabilization of glass negatives and selected high value prints and albums; extensive preparation of the print collection; and the creation of digital reference images.

Documentary Filmmaker John Marshall Returns to Archival Footage to Produce “A Kalahari Family”

A Kalahari Family, the new documentary series by filmmaker John Marshall, is making the circuit of film festivals this year and earning numerous awards and praise. To create the film, the culmination of his 50 years of work documenting the lives of the Ju/’hoansi (!Kung people) in the Kalahari region of Namibia, the filmmaker worked with the nearly one-half million feet of original film in the Human Studies Film Archives, which Marshall shot during seven research trips to the Kalahari between 1950 to 1978.

Marshall deposited his !Kung film projects in the newly formed Human Studies Film Archives in 1983. The filmmaker has produced numerous edited films from this research film footage, including such well-known titles as The Hunters and N!AI, The Story of a !Kung Woman. The latest film, edited entirely in video and digital media formats, required the return of original film negatives, audio field recordings, and hundreds of rolls of reference film copies to Marshall's film production and distribution company, Documentary Educational Resources, in Watertown, MA. According to DER production coordinator Karma Foley, the color quality of the archival footage maintained in the film archive's cold storage vault since 1985 was far superior to the master materials for the edited films that were retained by the distributors. The last shipment of original film and audio rolls arrived back at the HSFA in late August, bringing the nearly eight year process to a close.

Along with other notable HSFA collections such as Timothy Asch's Yanomamo Film Projects (1968 and 1971), the Marshall !Kung collection is significant not only as primary source material documenting a specific cultural group but also for its documentation of the practice of anthropology. As such, these film projects form the basis for a critical history of the discipline. The representations of both the !Kung and the Yanomamo cultures within anthropology have served as focal points within recent years for published studies critical of the practices of anthropologists; studies made possible by the preservation and accessibility of these records within public archives. Visit A Kalahari Family web site.

Expeditionary Film Featured at Department Talk

HSFA fellow Amy Staples gave a presentation entitled "Why Look at Film? Museum Collections and the Expeditionary Genre" at a recent Anthropology Seminar Series. Drawing upon Matthew Stirling's collections housed in the National Museum of Natural History, Staples outlined prominent features of the scientific expeditionary genre and explored the relationships between the films, photographs and object collected on the Stirling New Guinea Expedition, 1926-1927. After situating expeditionary filmmaking practices within the visual culture of museums, anthropology and early ethnographic film, Staples presented three modes of filmmaking evident in the genre: demonstrative, performative and reflexive. In various clips showing processes of making material culture, cultural performances, and trading practices, she argued that filmmaking became an integral part of the collection activities on museum-sponsored expeditions during the early 20th century. Staples concluded that expeditionary filmmaking was a form of encounter that is often mediated through exchange relations and transcultural objects in the collection.

Photo Archivist Paula Fleming Retires

Paula Richardson Fleming retired from the National Anthropological Archives in October following 33 years of outstanding service to the Smithsonian Institution. She began her career as secretary in 1970 and subsequently rose through the ranks to become the NAA's photo archivist. She was highly respected for her detailed knowledge of 19th and early 20th century North American visual materials.

Paula developed a highly credible record of publication on the archives' photographic holdings. Included among her often cited works are The North American Indians in Early Photographs (1986) and Grand Endeavors of American Indian Photography (1993), both coauthored with Judith Luskey. More recently, Paula published Native American Photographs at the Smithsonian: the Shindler Catalogue (2003), a work which extensively documents core NAA holdings which were used in the first photograph exhibit at the Smithsonian. Paula's expertise with historical photography and her encyclopedic knowledge of the NAA photo collections will be sorely missed by our staff and researchers. We wish her well in her ongoing professional endeavors.

Credit Where Film Credits Are Due

The Human Studies Film Archives occasionally receives valuable historical and documentary film whose creator, production company or shooting location is unknown, either because the film came to the archives through a tangled chain of custody or simply because the film's opening credits are missing. Last year, for example, when film archivist Lynanne Rollins discovered a 1937 performance of Laurence Olivier performing Hamlet in a newly acquired collection of amateur film, a little detective work ultimately helped her uncover the play's venue — Kronborg Castle at Elsinore, Denmark. But like Hamlet's ghosts, the identity of some donated films can be difficult to sort out. Happily, two early expeditionary films were identified this month by Smithsonian research fellow Amy Staples.

The first film, Wild Elephant Roundup, was acquired in a collection of American films that were repatriated from the National Archives of Australia in 1996 through the American Film Institute’s National Center for Film and Video Preservation. The intriguing but unidentified 16mm film appeared to be actuality footage of capturing elephants in Africa sometime in the thirties. The "Castle Film" ending credit indicated that it was marketed for home sales to individuals (remember, this was before TV). Many Castle films were alternate versions of films released under other titles. When a French production company expressed interest in using a segment of the film, the archives renewed its efforts to identify it. Fortunately, Amy Staples recognized that the source of the film was Armand Denis’ Dark Rapture (Universal and 20th Century Fox, 1938), which was filmed during the Denis-Roosevelt expedition to the Belgian Congo in 1935-1936. With the help of Zoran Sinobad and Madeline Matz at the Library of Congress, she ultimately located an intact version of the film in LC's Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound Division. This particular sequence begins at an elephant training camp named Gangala-na-bodio (northeast Congo), established by King Leopold II of Belgium in the early 20th century. The film follows an expedition from the camp that successfully captures a juvenile elephant.

The second film was acquired from Fred A. Ware through the Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection of the University of Georgia in 2002. The bulk of Ware's donation consisted of home movies of Georgia taken by his father, but it also included a roll of 16mm film footage of Papua New Guinea that was given to Ware's father in Australia. We knew nothing more about the film until it was screened for Amy Staples, who immediately determined that a significant sequence was taken on the Leahy Expedition to the Wahgi Valley of Papua New Guinea in 1933. The film shows James Taylor, a well-known patrol officer who accompanied the Leahy brothers during their gold prospecting expedition. The HSFA and the National Archives of Australia (now ScreenSound) hold additional amateur footage of the Leahy family in Papua New Guinea.

New Acquisitions

In 2003, the NAA and HSFA acquired a wealth of fieldnotes, manuscripts, photographs, motion picture film and sound recordings documenting anthropological research, exploration and travel on every continent. Together these collections enhance the breadth and scope of our current holdings, which currently consist of more than 650,000 photographs, 2,500 sound recordings, 8 million feet and 1,000 hours of ethnographic moving images (film and video), and more than 8,000 linear feet of fieldnotes, unpublished manuscripts, maps, drawings, and other ethnographic materials. A complete list of new acquisitions is available here.

New Collections of Digital Images

Our digital imaging program continues to create high-resolution digital images of historic ethnographic photographs and works of art. The goal of the program is to reduce handling of fragile originals, increase the availability of difficult-to-handle media (such as glass plates negatives), increase public access to collections and promote their use. The archives also digitizes collections to promote cultural heritage repatriation (see the article on our Navajo imaging project) and to enhance scholarly research, working closely with researchers to prepare grant applications for digitization. Finally, the archives also digitizes collections on demand for a small fee (ordering information is available here).

Since 1996, the archives has digitized 54,000 photographs and works of art in 470 collections. Many of these images are available online through SIRIS, the Smithsonian's online public access catalog, and in our online exhibits. We also maintain a complete list of scanned artwork and photograph collections.

More News ...

Publication date: November 2003

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