The Formation of Ethnographic Collections: The Smithsonian Institution in the American Southwest

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Author responds to concerns as to why anthropologists don't make more use of ethnographic collections, rejecting the argument that original field work has been overvalued. She asserts that anthropologists don't understand the procedures involved in compiling a collection and the assumptions and decisions that surround them. Using the Smithsonian's collections from the Southwest as an example, she raises such questions as how representative a collection is, whether it was amassed systematically or grew without a plan. She suggests that the researcher look at how and why a collection was amassed, how it was stored and subsequently used. For the American Southwest she argues the collections were made to preserve evidence of cultural history, especially disappearing cultures. She also addresses the influence of a natural history perspective on Native American research. The essay has an appendix of Accessioned Objects Collected by Selected Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) Expeditions, 1879-1904.


  • National Collections
  • Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Dept. of Anthropology


Smithsonian History Bibliography

Contained within

Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, 10 (Journal)

Contact information

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




  • Collectors and collecting
  • Ethnologists
  • Ethnology
  • Ethnological museums and collections
  • Southwest


  • United States
  • North America

Physical description

Number of pages: 48; Page numbers: 1-47

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