National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives

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Postcard of Egypt from the Charles W. Frost Collection, ca. 1926








About the Archives

The National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives collect and preserve historical and contemporary anthropological materials that document the world's cultures and the history of the discipline. Their collections represent the four fields of anthropology – ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, and physical anthropology – and include manuscripts, fieldnotes, correspondence, photographs, maps, sound recordings, film and video created by Smithsonian anthropologists and other preeminent scholars.

The collections include the Smithsonian's earliest attempts to document North American Indian cultures (begun in 1846 under Secretary Joseph Henry) and the research reports and records of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1879-1964), the U.S. National Museum's Division of Ethnology, its Division of Physical Anthropology, and River Basin Survey archaeology. The NAA also maintains the records of the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology and of dozens of professional organizations, such as the American Anthropological Association, the American Ethnological Society, and the Society for American Archaeology.

Among the earliest ethnographic collections are the diaries of John Wesley Powell, which recount his exploration of the Colorado and study of the region's Indians, and the pictographic histories of Plains Indians collected by U.S. military officers and BAE ethnographers. Other significant manuscript collections include the ethnographic and linguistic research of Franz Boas, Frances Densmore, Albert S. Gatschet, John Peabody Harrington, and J.N.B. Hewitt, as well as the expedition logs, photographs, and film record produced on Matthew Stirling's explorations in New Guinea (1926-29).

All told, the archives' holdings include nearly 635,000 ethnological and archaeological photographs (including some of the earliest images of indigenous people worldwide); 20,000 works of native art (mainly North American, Asian, and Oceanic); 11,400 sound recordings; and more than 8 million feet of original film and video materials. The Smithsonian's broad collection policy and support of anthropological research for over 150 years have made the NAA and HSFA unparalleled resources for scholars interested in the cultures of North America, Latin America, Oceania, Africa, Asia and Europe.

Today, the NAA and HSFA continue to acquire cultural materials that enhance our understanding of the world's peoples and draw attention to the changing historical relationship between recorded observation, ethnography, and other forms of anthropological analysis. To accomplish these broad goals, the NAA and HSFA work closely with the Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records (CoPAR) and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Each year, the archives are used by several thousand researchers, including prominent scholars, graduate students, television and film producers, and many others. We are especially proud of the fact that individuals researching their own culture and history are among our largest constituencies.

Visiting the Archives

The National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives are open by appointment only.

NAA: Tuesday–Thursday (9am to 4:30pm)
HSFA: Monday–Friday (9:30am to 4:30pm)

Please note our holiday schedule: The NAA will be closed Dec. 20-22 and Dec 27-29.

The archives are located in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, approximately six miles southeast of the National Mall. The Smithsonian operates a free hourly shuttle bus service to MSC (please request a pass when you schedule an appointment). Public transportation is also available via Metrorail; the MSC is a 10-15 minute walk from the Suitland Station. Free parking is available if you prefer to drive. Maps and additional details appear on our Directions and Transportion page.

Visitors must present a photo ID to board the shuttle bus and to enter the Museum Support Center. Please note that the MSC cafeteria is temporarily closed.

Internet access is available in the NAA and HSFA.

The Museum Support Center also houses the Department of Anthropology's Ethnology, Archaeology and Physical Anthropology collections, but visiting them requires a separate appointment. Researchers may also wish to consult a Guide to Smithsonian Institution Archives, Libraries and Special Collections.

Reference Services

Archivists are available to assist visitors with reference inquries and guide them to appropriate materials. The NAA and HSFA also accept reference inquiries by phone, mail and e-mail. A list of freelance researchers is also available.

Reproductions of photographs, manuscripts and sound recordings may be ordered phone, mail and e-mail. The archives accepts payment by personal check, money order or credit card.

Fellowship Opportunities

Fellowships for archival research are available from the Smithsonian's Office of Fellowships and Grants to support predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows, minority interns, visiting scholars and others.

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