The National Anthropological Archives (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution) and Artstor announced today that they had reached an agreement to collaborate on the distribution through Artstor of approximately 12,000 high quality digital images of Native American art and culture from the NAA collections.
The collaboration will focus on two of the NAA’s most important archival collections, which it has already digitized at high resolution for preservation and access reasons: an archive of ca. 2,000 Plains Indian ledger drawings and a collection of ca. 10,000 historic photographs of Native American subjects (portraits, scenes, etc.), made from glass plate negatives collected by or produced under the auspices of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology beginning in the late 19th century. Plains Indian ledger drawings, mostly produced in the middle to late decades of the 19th century, represent an important indigenous artistic tradition of great and increasing interest to art historians and other scholars. These drawings on paper, often done on the pages of ruled ledger books acquired through trade, continue a long tradition of painting on buffalo hides and other available media.
The BAE photographic collections, supported by extensive documentation, are a foundation for our visual knowledge of the American Indian past. They were critical in shaping perceptions of Native Americans in the last quarter of the 19th century and thereafter and they constitute an unparalleled visual record of historic Native American art and culture. The approximately 10,000 historic photographs to be distributed through this collaboration range from studio portraits of individual Native Americans to tribal scenes, documenting treaty councils, official expeditions of exploration, and early anthropological and archeological inquiry in America. All major tribal groups are represented, many having been photographed during formal meetings of tribal delegations with members of Congress. These two landmark archives will greatly enrich Artstor’s value to a wide audience in the history of art and beyond.
Under the agreement, Artstor is supporting the post-processing of these 12,000 already digitized high-resolution images for inclusion in the Artstor Library, a database of digital images of art and cataloging data that is being assembled for noncommercial, educational, and scholarly purposes. Artstor is also supporting a variety of related cataloging activities that will enhance the value of these materials to scholars. The National Anthropological Archives will also retain a set of the processed digital images, and will continue to make these images available in lower resolutions through the Smithsonian Institution’s online public access catalog (SIRIS).
In reaching this agreement, Robert Leopold, Archives and Collections Information Manager at the National Anthropological Archives, and James Shulman, Executive Director of Artstor, expressed their enthusiasm in collaborating to use digital technologies to make these important scholarly resources more broadly available for noncommercial pedagogical and scholarly purposes. “The National Anthropological Archives is delighted to make its existing high-resolution digital images available in a secure, online environment that promotes the use of authentic, well-documented historical images for research, lectures and classroom presentations,” commented Leopold.
The National Anthropological Archives collects and preserves historical and contemporary anthropological materials that document the world’s cultures and the history of anthropology.