Smithsonian Disseminates Circular for Collecting North American Indian Vocabularies

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For the Smithsonian, ethnologist George Gibbs produces a circular in 1865 with instructions for collecting North American Indian vocabularies. It contains 211 words in four languages and blank forms for recording additional words. It is widely disseminated and becomes the most important resource for collecting Indian vocabularies over the next twelve years. It would later be expanded to become John Wesley Powell's 1877 field guide, "Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages." First Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry considered the study of Indian languages key to understanding the origins and history of North American Indians.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Powell, John Wesley 1834-1902
  • Gibbs, George 1815-1873


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • This publication can be found at
  • Curtis M. Hinsley, Jr., The Smithsonian and the American Indian: Making a Moral Anthropology in Victorian America.Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press: 1994, 48.
  • Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume 7, Article 11. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1865.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


March 15, 1865


  • Archaeology
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  • United States
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