|Before (top) and after (bottom) conservation|
of a page from Dorsey’s “Comparative Dakota,
Ponca (and Omaha), Osage, Quapaw, Kansa,
Winnebago, Iowa, Mandan, Hidatsa, and
Crow vocabulary 1877” (MS 4800)
The origins of language documentation collections at the National Anthropological Archives begin with the founding of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) in 1879. The first research program in the U.S. devoted to the methodological study of Native Americans, the Bureau engaged an extensive network of researchers in highly-systematic data collection to record the past and present ways of life of the North American tribes. Researcher field notes, photographs, and sound recordings document the language, culture, and knowledge of hundreds of indigenous communities throughout the Americas. Language documentation was a major focus of the BAE from its inception, assembled through field work and collecting earlier manuscripts, such as notes from the philologist Horatio Hale, who sailed around the world with the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-42. Later collections reflect a broader interest in languages as the archives' mission expanded to include preservation of historically valuable records documenting cultures worldwide.
Sound recordings in NAA’s collection contain the poetry, songs, stories, and conversations of endangered language communities around the globe. Approximately half of the recordings were made in North America; the remaining 1,500 contain roughly equal amounts of material from Africa, Oceania, and South America. Much of the North American material was recorded early in the 20th century, while documentation from other regions dates primarily from the 1950s through the 1970s. These materials are on various obsolete and endangered media, ranging from wax cylinders and aluminum transcription disks to various sizes and speeds of magnetic tape. Digitization will move them to the latest standards of electronic media, with provision for regular migration as standards change over time.
|Dorsey_01.jpg: The Reverend James Owen Dorsey, n.d. |
To digitize ALL of the Dorsey collection
(67 boxes with an average 200 pages per box)
will take a minimum of three (3) months of full-time work.
We’ll be working hard to get these digitized sound recordings and manuscripts up online in the Collections Search Center, so stay tuned!