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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Department of Anthropology

The National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives in the department of Anthropology, Collections and Archives Program collect and preserve historical and contemporary anthropological materials that document the world's cultures and the history of anthropology. Their collections represent the four fields of anthropology – ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, and physical anthropology – and include fieldnotes, journals, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, maps, sound recordings, film and video created by Smithsonian anthropologists and other preeminent scholars.


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National Anthropological Archives, in partnership with the Recovering Voices Initiative, awarded $1 million grant to digitize materials

boliviaDeteriorated nitrate film, 2009, HSFA, sihsfa_collections_07.

The National Anthropological Archives (NAA) has received a $1 million grant from the Arcadia Fund to launch the first two years of a long-term project to digitize endangered-language materials currently housed in the NAA. As many of you know from first-hand experience, the materials found in this archive preserve an unparalleled collection of primary sources for investigating endangered cultures and languages, indigenous environmental knowledge and the connections between these subjects. The project will be implemented by the National Anthropological Archives Program working in collaboration with the Recovering Voices Program on development of outreach.

Through this project, the team will digitize its entire collection of ethnographic sound recordings, estimated at 3,000 hours, as well as 35,000 pages of manuscript materials, using techniques that will make these electronic sources readily available to the public through the Smithsonian’s online and openly accessible catalog system. The project team plans to create digital surrogates of voice recordings and paper documents in the NAA, and make them publicly available to support researchers and communities seeking to research, document and revitalize indigenous languages and cultures. Online access will make the material widely available for use without damage to the historic originals. 

To learn more, click here.

National Anthropological Archives needs your help with a new transcription project

Be a Smithsonian transcription volunteer! Help us transcribe a number of materials and support our commitment to make our collections digitally accessible. For more information visit:

Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation award supports rapid capture digitization

The National Museum of Natural History implemented a pilot project to develop rapid capture methods for digitizing its collections and research holdings. During the two-year pilot from 2011 to 2013, the NAA collaborated with partners to develop high-speed digitization techniques, procedures and workflows for two-dimensional materials that can be utilized extensively by the National Museum of Natural History and help to inform and establish best practices for the wider Smithsonian community.

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

boliviaReport on the forestry, elevation, rainfall, and drainage of the Colorado Valley, together with an apercu of its principal inhabitants, the Mahhaos Indians, October 31, 1877, Manuscript 1122, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

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.  

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 Blaker portrait, Oct. 16, 1967Margaret Blaker portrait, Oct. 16, 1967

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 Natural History Building on the Mall.  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.

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