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Department of Anthropology

The NAA is a host site for the Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages, which helps Native Americans involved in language revitalization learn about language documentation and connect with language resources in archives. Some 50 to 70 participants will be able to choose from over 5,000 language manuscripts in the NAA documenting hundreds of Native American languages.

The Origin of White Corn

The NAA Digitization Lab is digitizing some 6,000 pages of Iroquoian language materials for the Six Nations of Canada. This material was collected by J.N.B. Hewitt, a Smithsonian anthropologist and himself a Tuscarora.

Above and below, MS 1625, "The Origin of White Corn," in both English and Iroquois.

The Origin of White Corn


Web exhibition on the Jorge Preloran Collection.

The Jorge Preloran Collection

Prelorán was a preeminent Argentine filmmaker whose life's work includes more than fifty films, hundreds of audio recordings, extensive production and correspondence files, and thirty-six digital books on subjects including religion, folklife, art, culture change, and natural history of Argentina and Latin America.  The web exhibit will introduce Prelorán's career and philosophy, provide access to further research in the collection, and offer complete films for viewing on a rotating basis.

Smithsonian Collections Blog

To learn what’s new in the NAA, as well as the wider Smithsonian archival community, check out the Smithsonian Collections Blog.

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... at the National Anthropological Archives

After 14 years of service to the National Anthropological Archives, most recently as Director, Robert Leopold has departed the NAA for a position in the Smithsonian Castle. In July 2010 he accepted a position as director of the Smithsonian's Consortium for World Cultures, a new interdisciplinary program promoting cross-cultural scholarship, exhibitions, and programming. He will also serve as Senior Program Officer in the Office of the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture. Dr. Leopold brought a unique combination of intellectual breadth, organizational ability, and entrepreneurial acumen to his position with the NAA; we are confident that these abilities will serve the Institution well in his role in the Office of the Under Secretary.

Accessing Anthropology: The Collections and Archives Program at the Department of Anthropology

Navigating the records of the Department of Anthropology’s three collecting units - the National Anthropological Archives, the Human Studies Film Archives, and the museum collections - can be confusing. The Accessing Anthropology Web Portal can help researchers discover new materials and new relationships among collection items. Visit; explore; enjoy.

Papers of Brent and Elois Ann Berlin

The National Anthropological Archives is pleased to announce an agreement to accept the papers of Brent Berlin and Elois Ann Berlin. B. Berlin, a seminal figure in the development of cognitive anthropology, and E.A. Berlin, a medical anthropologist, collaborated on many ethnobotanical projects, principally among Mayan-speaking people of Highland Chiapas. Their extensive papers, including photographic and sound materials, will join the 25,000 botanical voucher specimens already donated to the Smithsonian’s Department of Botany. Together, the Berlins’ material is an important record of endangered indigenous language and knowledge.

Papers of Marvin Harris

The papers of Marvin Harris are now available to researchers at the National Anthropological Archives. Harris (1927 – 2001) was influential in developing cultural materialism, a scientific research strategy used to explain sociocultural phenomena. He authored several books, including Patterns of Race in the Americas (1964), The Rise of Anthropological Theory (1968), Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches (1974), and Cannibals and Kings (1977).  His papers were processed with the support of a Wenner-Gren Foundation Historical Archives Program grant awarded to David Price.  

Margarer Blaker portrait, Oct. 16, 1967.jpg

Margaret Contant Blaker (1924-2008)

Margaret Contant Blaker (1924-2008) by Paula Richardson Fleming, Raymond J. DeMallie, Carol Mahler and Joanna Cohan Scherer

Margaret C. Blaker, former Archivist and Director of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, passed away July 23, 2008 in Winter Haven, Florida of congestive heart failure.

Margaret Eleanor Contant was born May 28, 1924 in Rochester, New York, and received a B.A. from the University of Rochester.  She also studied at Catholic and American Universities in D.C.  Her professional career began in November 1945 as a Scientific Aid in the Division of Archeology at the Smithsonian.  The next year she transferred to the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) as a Museum Aide in the newly created River Basin Surveys.  In 1950 and 1963 she published articles resulting from her study of pottery from the Townsend site in Delaware.  Jennifer Ogborne (2006) praised these studies as, “perhaps the most critical contribution to the development of ceramic traditions in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

In 1953 Margaret was appointed Archives Assistant in the BAE, rising to the position of Archivist in 1958. During her tenure as the first designated Archivist, she introduced professional standards to preserving and cataloguing the BAE’s collection of manuscripts and photographs. Previous to her work, the archives was largely an unorganized repository with oversight provided as an additional duty of a curator.  The archives itself was stored in cramped quarters on several levels of the north tower of the original Smithsonian Castle. When the BAE was absorbed into the Department of Anthropology in 1965 the archives was renamed the Smithsonian Office of Anthropology Archives.  In 1967 she oversaw the move of the archives to improved storage conditions in the mall to the Natural History Building.  In 1968 the name was changed to the National Anthropological Archives, reflecting an increased scope for the acquisition of collections.

Margaret took pride in the rigor of her cataloging and research and strove to maintain the highest professional archival standards.  Because she knew the collections well, and was herself an anthropologist, widely read in many aspects of the field, she helped visiting scholars and Smithsonian staff use the collections effectively and efficiently. She was always ready to share her knowledge, leading many scholars to gratefully acknowledged her assistance in their publications.

Margaret retired on June 30, 1972 after serving the Smithsonian for twenty-seven years.  A member of the American Anthropological Association since 1948, she continued to attend meetings well into her retirement.  She was also active in the American Society for Ethnohistory, the Middle Atlantic Anthropological Association and the Society of American Archivists.

A talented writer, Margaret‘s humorous verses not only amused her staff, but were also published in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies such as The Norton Book of Light Verse (1986), which included works by Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker. She also collected poems written by  anthropologists which she hoped to publish.
After her retirement she moved to Winter Haven, Florida, where she studied creative writing, primarily at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and began to study Mayan archeology. In 1998 Archeology magazine published her “The Tears of Time,” poems that captured “the mood, beauty, joy, and sadness of the pre-Columbian Maya.” 

Margaret is survived by a sister-in-law, a great niece, and great nephew, and many friends.  Her husband of forty-one years, Carl Benjamin Blaker, predeceased her in 1989.

More News: November 2008...

Publication date: March 2011

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