150 Years of Smithsonian Research in Latin America

Over the past century and a half, Smithsonian scientists have found a fertile field for collaborative research and exploration in Latin America. 150 Years of Smithsonian Research in Latin America offers a window on the complex and rich relations among scientists throughout the Americas.

 

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Ephraim George Squier

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Ephraim George Squier, 1872, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2012-6120 or 84-11135. Ephraim George Squier was a self-educated journalist and diplomat who made substantial contributions to the archaeology and ethnology of the Americas. Born in 1821, he worked as a journalist in New York and Connecticut before moving to Ohio. There Squier developed an interest in the large earthen mounds believed to have been made by American Indians. Together with Dr. Edwin H. Davis, he excavated a number along the Ohio River. Their research and excavation, under the title Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, became the Smithsonian Institution's first publication (1851) as volume one of its Contributions to Knowledge series. Squier continued to study and publish on North America, but his work in Central and South America was also very significant.

Squier's contact with Latin America came initially through several diplomatic posts which he held, and led to his becoming a recognized authority and author, especially on Central American affairs as well as its archaeology and ethnology. In 1849 he was appointed U.S. Chargé d'affaires in Guatemala for one year. Later while in Nicaragua, he sent the Smithsonian Institution five large "stone idols" and a number of other items, suggesting they be used to form the core of a "national archaeological museum." In 1852 he published Nicaragua: its People, Scenery, Monuments, and the Proposed Interoceanic Canal. In neighboring Honduras, he served as Secretary of the (eventually unsuccessful) Honduras Interoceanic Railway Company in the mid-1850s and as Consul-General of Honduras in New York in 1868. His experiences there resulted in the 1879 publication Honduras; Descriptive, Historical, and Statistical. Among his other works was The States of Central America published in 1858 and heralded as one of the first successful attempts to present Central American geography, people and resources. From 1863 to 1865 he was the U.S. Commissioner to Peru. There Squier explored and mapped the pre-Columbian Chimú capital of Chan-Chan. His investigations in that country were published in 1877 in the popular volume Peru: Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas. Squier's published travels and discoveries throughout Latin America remain today as significant contributions to the historical literature of the region and the foundation for continued scholarship in the field.

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