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chumash recordings

Photo10_sm.jpg"There is a lot of sleeping information within each material piece—language, memories, and cultural meanings. 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

The Smithsonian Institution holds a vast array of objects, artifacts, specimens, and archival materials in its collections and archives, estimated at 137 million objects, 1.5 million library volumes, and 89,000 cubic feet of archival material. We are continuously working to digitize the collections and archives to make them more accessible to communities, researchers, and the general public.

You can click on the photos below to view these collections and others in the Smithsonian's online databases:

The National Anthropological Archives hold many sound recordings like these, the fieldwork of John Peabody Harrington, a field ethnologist for the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology in the early 1900s. Harrington preserved and documented many indigenous languages and cultures, concentrating on the American West.
Achu Kantule (left) of the San Blas Kuna community of Panama, and Jake Homiak examine a map of the Kuna sacred landscape drawn around 1925 by Mr. Kantule's grandfather. Museum Support Center, Maryland, 2009.

For additional information on other archives, training & research, conferences and funding visit our external resources page. 

Department of Anthropology Collections and Archives Program

The diverse holdings of the Department of Anthropology include specimens in archaeology, ethnology, and physical anthropology, as well as fieldnotes, journals, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, maps, sound recordings, film and video. They are an unparalleled resource containing historical and contemporary materials that document the world's cultures and history of anthropology. The collections are used to understand the ways in which objects embody distinct worldviews and indigenous forms of knowledge as well as how their creation and use is enmeshed in social relationships.

  • Anthropology Collections
    The Anthropology collections include about 2.2 million specimens in archaeology, ethnology, and physical anthropology. Together these collections document the cultural and biological diversity of humankind, past and present.
  • National Anthropological Archives and National Anthropological Film Collection
    The Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives and National Anthropological Film Collection (formerly the Human Studies Film Archives) maintain extensive documentation of many of the world's endangered languages. These collections represent the four fields of anthropology—ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, and physical anthropology—and include fieldnotes, journals, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, maps, sound recordings, film, and video created by Smithsonian anthropologists and other preeminent scholars.

Natural History Collections

The National Museum of Natural History holds more than 126.5 million objects and specimens in collections. Some of this number is in the Department of Anthropology that preserves artifacts and specimens representing cultures from around the world. This includes one of the largest collections of North American Indian artifacts, including baskets, pottery, textiles and utilitarian objects.

Every department at the National Museum of Natural History holds collections that are in some way important to the Recovering Voices initiative, and can be accessed through the same Collections web portal. They can also be examined through collections pages of the museum's Departments of Botany, Entomology, Invertebrate Zoology, Mineral Sciences, Paleobiology, and Vertebrate Zoology. Knowledge and language are deeply intertwined with how people and cultures interact with and adapt to the world around them. Of particular note is a project completed by the Department of Botany on the Edward Palmer Collection.

National Museum of the American Indian collections

The National Museum of the American Indian has one of the most extensive collections of Native American arts and artifacts in the world—approximately 266,000 catalog records (825,000 items) representing over 12,000 years of history and more than 1,200 indigenous cultures throughout the Americas. Ranging from ancient Paleo-Indian points to contemporary fine arts, the collections include works of aesthetic, religious, and historical significance as well as articles produced for everyday use.

Ralph Rinzler Folkways Recordings and Collections (Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage)

The Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, available through the Folklife Archives, is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States, dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among peoples through the documentation, preservation, and dissemination of sound. Through the dissemination of audio recordings and educational materials – a growing legacy that currently comprises more than 3,200 albums and 45,000 tracks – Smithsonian Folkways seeks to strengthen people's engagement with their own cultural heritage and to enhance their awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage of others.

Smithsonian Archives

The Smithsonian Institution Archives holds approximately 46,800 feet of records and nearly 3 million photographic images. The collections include official records of the Smithsonian, personal papers of individuals associated with the Smithsonian, oral and video histories, and other special materials that document the staff, research, events, exhibitions, and facilities of the Smithsonian.

Smithsonian Libraries

Individually each of the 20 specialized research libraries that make up the Smithsonian Libraries is among the world’s greatest repositories of knowledge for the specialized fields they support. Collectively they are among America’s greatest scientific and cultural treasures. The Libraries own more than 2 million volumes, over 40,000 of which are rare books, complemented by 10,000 manuscripts, thousands of commercial catalogs, microfilm and microfiche as well as a growing collection of digital journals and databases.

Partner Centers and Institutions