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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Department of Anthropology


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“There is a lot of sleeping information within each material piece—language, memories, and cultural meanings. When elder tribal members visited the Museum’s collections, long dormant words and recollections came to them almost like dreams. It is contact with the actual objects and discussion among community members that will awaken the information inside.” Jonella Larson White, St. Lawrence Island Yupik


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The Smithsonian Institution holds a vast array of objects, artifacts, specimens and archival materials in its collections and archives estimated at 137 million objects, 1.5 million library volumes, and 89,000 cubic feet of archival material. Work is currently underway to digitize the collections and archives to make them more accessible to communities, researchers and the general public.


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Above photos (left to right): The National Anthropological Archives hold many sound recordings like these, the fieldwork of John Peabody Harrington, a field ethnologist for the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology in the early 1900s. Harrington preserved and documented many indigenous languages and cultures, concentrating on the American West; Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule "Achu" (left) of the San Blas Kuna community of Panama and anthropologist Jake Homiak examine a pictographic map of the Kuna landscape drawn around 1925 by Chief Igua Nigdibippi during a visit to the Smithsonian. Mr. Kantule’s grandfather, Alfred Kantule, accompanied Chief Nigdibippi on this visit as an interpreter.

National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives
The Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives maintain extensive documentation of many of the world’s endangered languages. These 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.

Smithsonian Archives

The Smithsonian Institution Archives holds approximately 46,800 feet of records and nearly 3 million photographic images. The collections include official records of the Smithsonian, personal papers of individuals associated with the Smithsonian, oral and video histories, and other special materials that document the staff, research, events, exhibitions, and facilities of the Smithsonian.

Natural History Collections

The National Museum of Natural History holds more than 126.5 million objects and specimens in collections. Some of this number is in the Department of Anthropology that preserves artifacts and specimens representing cultures from around the world. This includes one of the largest collections of North American Indian artifacts, including baskets, pottery, textiles and utilitarian objects.

Every department at the National Museum of Natural History holds collections that are in some way important to the Recovering Voices initiative, and can be accessed through the same Collections web portal. They can also be examined through collections pages of the museum’s Departments of Botany, Entomology, Invertebrate Zoology, Mineral Sciences, Paleobiology, and Vertebrate Zoology. Knowledge and language are deeply intertwined with how people and cultures interact with and adapt to the world around them. Of particular note is a project completed by the Department of Botany on the Edward Palmer Collection.


Arctic Studies Center

National Museum of the American Indian

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)



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