Smithsonian Institution Exchanges of Native North American Ethnological Collections in the late 19th Century | Newberry

Smithsonian Institution Exchanges of Native North American Ethnological Collections in the late 19th Century

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

5:30 pm to 7:30 pm


Catherine Nichols, Loyola University Chicago
American Indian Studies Seminar Series

Though the development of scientific museum collections in the nineteenth century relied primarily on field collecting, scientists and curators also exchanged specimens in order to extend the scope and comprehensiveness of their collections. In 1864, the Smithsonian Institution began exchanging anthropological objects from their collection – mostly Native North American material culture – with foreign and domestic museums, collectors, and educational institutions. Scientific conventions stipulated that objects designated for exchange must be “duplicates” in the institution’s collection. This paper analyzes the composition of three late nineteenth century exchanges of ethnological material to: a foreign ethnological museum (Rijks Ethnographisch Museum in Leiden, Holland), a domestic historical museum (Historical Department of Iowa in Des Moines, Iowa), and a private collector (U.S. Representative Joel P. Heatwole). In contrast to exchanges that occurred within the context of specialized anthropological knowledge production, these exchanges served as a means for the recipient to acquire Native North American objects to be used for purposes of public and semi-public display. Analysis of the visual and material qualities of exchanged objects allows for an exploration of the notion of duplicate as it was mapped onto objects at the Smithsonian and its intersection with the conventions and aesthetics of museum display. I consider how the composition of exchange collections contributed to significatory processes of creating representations of Native North American peoples in popular U.S. and European culture in the late nineteenth and into the twentieth century.

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