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Mountain Chief, Chief of Montana Blackfeet, in Native Dress With Bow, Arrows, and Lance, Listening to Song Being Played On Phonograph and Interpreting It in Sign Language to Frances Densmore, Ethnologist, March 1916, by Harris & Ewing, Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives

“When elder tribal members visited the Museum’s collections, long dormant words and recollections came to them almost like dreams. It is contact with the actual objects and discussion among community members that will awaken the information inside.”

-Jonella Larson White, St. Lawrence Island Yupik

Recovering Voices emphasizes the role of cultural knowledge located in language, practices and objects. We partner with communities and institutional partners worldwide to support collaborative research in the sociology of knowledge, language documentation and revitalization and culturally informed analysis of collections. We provide opportunities for communities to come to the Smithsonian to access collections, exchange knowledge and build networks.

Our research is guided by four themes:

      • Designing and implementing interdisciplinary research methods by linking collections with fieldwork on language, knowledge and cultural  practices. 

      • Conducting multi-sited and comparative ethnography to illuminate the multiple venues in which people, ideas and things travel, enabling us to interpret differences between institutional and informal approaches to revitalizing languages and the creation of knowledge.

      • Investigating intergenerational knowledge and intergenerational dynamics as key to the sustainability of knowledge systems and language.

      • Generating knowledge through Smithsonian collections by reconnecting community members with relevant collections and effectively returning research outcomes to communities.

      Community Research in Collections

      Breath of Life

Research Lightning Talks

Joshua A. Bell
Weaving knowledge: Perspectives on the environment from the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea

Gwyneira Isaac
The Dynamics of Knowledge Diversity: A Case Study from the Pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico

Gabriela Pérez Báez
Language: A Window into the Human Mind