The National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center supports the mission of the Museum to collect, organize, preserve and make available papers, records, images, recordings, and ephemera that accurately reflect the historical and contemporary lives of Native peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere, specifically regarding Native art, culture, knowledge, politics, events, and social movements and developments. The collections also complement the Museum's artifacts and are used for scholarly research, exhibitions, journalism, documentary productions, and other research and educational activities. The Archives provides reference, research, and services to Native Americans, publishers, scholars, museum staff, and the general public. Researchers may view the collection by appointment. Below are descriptions of our major collections.
The NMAI Paper Archive is the repository for the material formerly located at the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, at Audubon Terrace in New York City. It contains approximately 1500 linear feet of records and special collections dating back to the 1830s. The records document the history of NMAI and its predecessor, the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. Official records include correspondence, memoranda, photographs, and audio material pertaining to the founder, George Gustav Heye, and staff members E.K. Burnett, Frederick Dockstader, Roland W. Force, Frederick W. Hodge, George H. Pepper, and William F. Stiles, as well as other curators, anthropologists, and scholars associated with the Museum. Other records include unpublished manuscripts, field notebooks containing original drawings, site diagrams, and maps, as well as scrapbooks, photographs, object collection listings, exhibit planning materials, and correspondence pertaining to research expeditions, collecting projects, and collectors. The Archive maintains Board of Trustees records, annual reports, and a record copy of NMAI publications. Special collections include the National Congress of the American Indian Archives (NCAI), the Leuman Maurice Waugh Papers, the Reuben Snake Papers, and ARROW, Inc. Records.
The Photo Archive contains approximately 324,000 images (negatives, vintage prints, transparencies, lantern slides, glass-plate negatives, color slides, and digital photos) comprising one of the foremost collection of images of Native American culture and history from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. The collection includes historic scenes, portraits, and field photographs of the Museum's ethnographic and archaeological expeditions in North America, Mexico, and South and Central America. In addition, this collection also records contemporary Native American artists and events at NMAI and includes images of some of the objects in the collection.
George Gustav Heye collected not only material objects made by Native Americans but also photographs documenting the artifacts, dress, daily habits, and ceremonial life of the peoples he encountered. From his earliest endeavors, Heye considered photography to be an important tool for collecting information about the Native cultures that many Americans then thought were becoming obscured by new and more dominant political, social, and spiritual institutions. Over time the archive grew as Heye solicited and purchased images from photographers, anthropologists, and private collectors. He procured ever older images and greatly expanded the breadth of the collection both in terms of its time span and its geographic coverage—an immense range covering hundreds of Native Nations across the Western Hemisphere.
The Media Archive consists of over 12,000 video tapes, motion picture films, and audio recordings, dating from 1902 to the present. Native communities from North and South America are represented in interviews, performances, cinematic films, and documentary recordings. Additionally, the Media Archive holds a large study collection of contemporary Native American cinema screened at NMAI through the Film and Video Center’s public programs. NMAI’s collection contains a vast array of formats from throughout the history of audiovisual recording, including motion picture film, analog and digital video tape recordings, and audio recordings on wax cylinders, phonograph discs, audio tape, and compact discs.
The contents of the National Museum of the American Indian Media Archives fall into three broad categories:
- Archival recordings: unique recordings made by individuals or organizations that have been donated to the National Museum of the American Indian, some along with photos, personal papers, or business records. These historic audiovisual materials contain representations of cultural and material traditions, documentation of traditional and contemporary Native American lifeways, and organizations’ decision-making processes.
- Museum programs documentation: audio and video recordings of programs and performances sponsored by the National Museum of the American Indian. This collection also includes conservation consultations discussing specific objects in the museum’s collection, fieldwork conducted by our Community Services division, and other museum-related recordings.
- Native Cinema study collection: motion pictures that have been screened by the National Museum of the American Indian’s Film + Video Center during their Native American film and Video Festival or other public programs. This collection of feature films, shorts, documentaries, television productions and video art is demonstrative of the vibrant diversity of Native American media.
*Please note that fees may be charged for original photography and/or copies of existing images or for copies of archival material. A fee schedule may be obtained from the Archives.
The Suitland facility also has an excellent library collection accessible through the SIRIS website (www.siris.si.edu). The GGHC resource center has a library collection of 4000 volumes focused on Native American history and culture, as well as a video collection of 500 titles.