Records and Manuscripts, 1897-1990, with related materials dating from circa 1828

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  • The records of the Department of Anthropology are relatively discontinuous. Mainly they concern museum functions relating to anthropology as it is conceived today -- ethnology, archeology, and physical anthropology. As units concerned with other studies were transferred from the Department, related records were generally transferred with them. In addition to these transfers, evidence exists of considerable culling of early files. Furthermore, much of the Department's earliest material was filed among the records of the United States National Museum, now in the Smithsonian Archives. Moreover, some essentially administrative materials have been incorporated in papers of curatorial staff deposited in NAA, as well as NAA's series of numbered manuscripts.
  • These records contain some significant special collections. Antiquities permits for undertaking archeological work on federal lands were routinely reviewed by the Smithsonian Institution between 1906 and 1981. The Smithsonian's Office of the Secretary transferred this file to the Department in the 1960s; the file was placed with NAA in 1973. Since 1981, submission of applications and reports has been very irregular.
  • Departmental records contain two archeology reference files, one of materials dating between 1828 and 1961; the other between 1861 and 1916. Both are arranged geographically, and much of the material consists of reports of archeological finds by both professional and amateur archaeologists. The Archeology Map Collection consists mostly of printed maps for reference purposes, supplemented by manuscript maps of archeological sites.
  • Other special collections include a Manuscript and Pamphlet File, chiefly relating to ethnology, but including materials on archeology, physical anthropology, and cultural history, and also containing some administrative records. Records of the Urgent Anthropology Program and the Office of The Handbook of North American Indians document these two Smithsonian ventures, the one to support research on cultures undergoing rapid change, the other to publish a comprehensive reference work on Native Americans.


  • Stewart, T. D (Thomas Dale) 1901-1997
  • Mason, Otis Tufton 1838-1908
  • Hough, Walter 1859-1935
  • Setzler, Frank M (Frank Maryl) 1902-1975
  • Evans, Clifford 1920-1981
  • Ubelaker, Douglas H
  • Kaeppler, Adrienne Lois
  • Ortner, Donald J
  • Fitzhugh, William W. 1943-
  • Holmes, William Henry 1846-1933
  • Riesenberg, Saul H
  • Wedel, Waldo R (Waldo Rudolph) 1908-1996
  • Woodbury, Richard B (Richard Benjamin) 1917-
  • Section of Animal Products
  • River Basin Surveys
  • Federal Antiquities Act
  • Division of Cultural Anthropology (NMNH) Department of Anthropology (NMNH)
  • Anthropology Laboratory (NMNH) Department of Anthropology (NMNH)
  • Conservation and Restoration Laboratory (NMNH) Department of Anthropology (NMNH)
  • Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
  • Urgent Anthropology Program
  • Department of Anthropology (NMNH) Smithsonian Office of Anthropology (NMNH)
  • Division of Ethnology (NMNH) Department of Anthropology (NMNH)
  • Division of Anthropology (NMNH) Department of Anthropology (NMNH)
  • Department of Anthropology (NMNH) Bureau of American Ethnology
  • Department of Anthropology (NMNH) Division of Ethnology (NMNH)
  • United States National Museum Department of Anthropology


  • The Department of Anthropology was organized in 1897 as part of a general reorganization of the United States National Museum (USNM). Its creation followed a long history of involvement in anthropology that began in the earliest years of the Smithsonian Institution, with support for and publication of the researches of Ephraim George Squier and Edwin Hamilton Davis, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, and John Wesley Powell. The early United States National Museum had well defined departments and collections in ethnology, prehistoric ceramics, and archaeology, under such specialists as William Henry Holmes, Otis Tufton Mason, Charles Rau, and Thomas Wilson. The Department's immediate predecessor was a Division of Anthropology that included these and several other departments. The Division was, however, merely a grouping of departments and lacked essential organizational elements such as specific functions or administrative personnel.
  • The Department in 1897 was based on a broad concept of anthropology and included divisions of ethnology, historical archeology, prehistoric archeology, technology, graphic arts, medicine, religions, and history and biography. Over the next twenty years, several divisions were made either independent units or parts of the USNM's Department of Arts and Industries. By 1920, the major divisions within the Department were ethnology, archeology, and physical anthropology. The Department also remained responsible for small sections of ceramics, musical instruments, and art textiles until they were transferred to the new Museum of History and Technology in the early 1960s.
  • From 1879 to 1965, anthropology at the Smithsonian was divided between the Department (including its predecessors) and the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE). The primary concern of the Department was the collection of anthropological specimens; the BAE was mainly concerned with research. The division of labor was not, however, complete. Artifacts and other materials collected by BAE staff were added to the collections of the Department, while Department staff were involved in research in the collections, field research (often through temporary assignments to the BAE), and research on non-material culture. The Department and the BAE had distinctly different areas of geographic concern, however. The BAE was interested primarily in Indians of the Western Hemisphere, while the Department curated collections from the entire world. The growth of the Department's non-American collections after World War II led to new staff curatorial specialties for Oceania, Africa, and Asia.
  • In 1965, many of the functions of the Bureau of American Ethnology were transferred to the Department during a reorganization of the National Museum of Natural History. This new Smithsonian Office of Anthropology was renamed the Department of Anthropology in 1968. The curatorial staff placed primary emphasis on research, while much of the management of the collections was turned over to support staff. The scientific staff was originally organized into divisions of cultural anthropology and physical anthropology, but in the later 1960s this structure gave way to one with greater independence for individual curators, each of whom reported directly to the Department Chair. Several Departmental support units were created in the 1960s and 1970s, including an automatic data processing inventory unit, a processing laboratory, an illustrations section, a conservation laboratory, and an archives, designated the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) in 1968. In 1977, a collections manager was appointed to organize the automatic data processing and inventory units and to take charge of the processing laboratory. Until 1968, when it was placed under the immediate charge of the Director, National Museum of Natural History, the River Basins Survey (formerly administered by the BAE and for which see record unit NAA 6) was also part of the Department's responsibility. In 1986 an American Indian Program was started for coordination of programs for American Indians and to provide assistance in maintaining relations with American Indian tribes.
  • In 1989, the Department was organized into six divisions: ethnology, physical anthropology, archeology, the National Anthropological Archives, the Human Studies Film Archives, and the Office of The Handbook of North American Indians. An executive committee made up of the heads of these divisions was formed to advise the chairman. At the same time, the position of Deputy Chairman was created.
  • Head Curators and Chairs include William Henry Holmes, 1897-1902, 1910-1920; Otis Tufton Mason, Acting Head Curator, 1902-1903, Head Curator 1904-1908; Walter Hough, Acting Head Curator, 1908-1909, 1920-1923, Head Curator, 1923-1935; Frank M. Setzler, 1935-1960; Thomas Dale Stewart, 1960-1962; Waldo R. Wedel, 1963-1965; Richard B. Woodbury, 1965-1967; Saul H. Riesenberg, 1967-1970; Clifford Evans, Jr.,1970-1975; William W. Fitzhugh, 1975-1980; Douglas H. Ubelaker, 1980-1984; Adrienne L. Kaeppler, 1985-1988; and Donald J. Ortner, 1988- .
  • For further information, see James R. Glenn, Guide to the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.: National Anthropological Archives, 1992).
  • Description in control file.
  • For a history of the creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.

Addl. KW Subjects

Handbook of North American Indians


A. Records of the Head Curators and Department Chairs, including (1) reports, 1921-1967; (2) minutes of staff meetings, 1963-1972; (3) memoranda exchanged with Smithsonian units, 1965-1972; (4) memoranda from Smithsonian administrators, 1964-1971; (5) subject files, 1828-1975 (mostly dating from 1889 to 1975); (6) River Basin Surveys file, 1965-1969; (7) research statements, proposals, and awards, 1961-1977; (8) publications files, 1960-1974; (9) condemnations, 1910-1965; (10) special exhibits, 1951-1952; (11) data concerning employees, 1912-1965; (12) records concerning Smithsonian fellows, 1972-1974; (13) miscellaneous administrative files, 1891-1980; (14) invoices concerning specimens, 1904-1920; (15) leaflets for public distribution, 1955-1966; (16) Federal Antiquities Act permits and reports, 1904-1982; (17) exhibit labels and miscellaneous documents, 1870s-1950s; (18) photographs of specimens and other subjects, 1880s-1950s; (19) miscellany, 1960s; (20) records of the Urgent Anthropology Program, circa 1966- ; (21) unprocessed material; B. records of the Division of Archeology, including (22) reports, 1899-1959; (23) general files, 1899-1959; (24) correspondence, 1931-1956; (25) subject file, 1935-1974; (26) archeological reference file, 1828-1962; (27) archeological reference file, 1861-1916; (28) miscellany, 1963-1974; (29) maps; C. records of the Division of Ethnology, including (30) reports, 1920-1964; (31) manuscript and pamphlet file, mostly 1870s-1930s; (32) research plans and reports, 1946-1965; (33) data on employees, 1924-1957; (34) special exhibits, 1932-1946; (35) management plans, 1951-1955; (36) registers of visitors, 1942-1965; D. records of the Division of Cultural Anthropology, (37) accession lists, 1920-1968; E. records of the Section of Animal Products, including (38) general file, 1884-1887; F. records of the Handbook of North American Indians, including (39) manuscripts for volume 8 (California); and (40) records of the illustrations section for volumes 8 (California), 9 and 10 (Southwest), and 15 (Northeast) only; and G. records of the Anthropological Laboratory/Conservation and Restoration Laboratory, including (41) records, 1939-1973

Repository Loc.

National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, Maryland


  • 1828
  • 1828-1990
  • 1897-1990, with related materials dating from circa 1828

Restrictions & Rights

These records are located in the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives



  • Photographs
  • Collection descriptions
  • Maps

Local number


Physical description

95.9 linear meters

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