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The second life of ethnographic fieldnotes

Robert Leopold

Résumés

La deuxième vie des notes de terrain ethnographique. Créées dès 1879 sous le nom d’Archives du Bureau of American Ethnology, les National Anthropological Archives ont pour mission de collecter et d’assurer la sauvegarde des notes de terrain et, plus généralement, de l’ensemble des matériaux ethnographiques. Ces notes, photographies, archives sonores et images animées sont consultées très régulièrement par des anthropologues. Certains se consacrent à l’écriture de biographies, d’autres travaillent sur l’histoire de la discipline, d’autres encore sont désireux de revisiter les archives d’ethnologues les ayant précédés sur le même terrain. Ces matériaux sont également de plus en plus souvent consultés par des non-anthropologues, parmi lesquels on compte des membres de sociétés étudiées soucieux de mieux connaitre leur héritage. Ce texte présente quelques uns des défis que pose la collecte de ces archives et plus encore leur mise à disposition du public sur place ou en ligne. Il prend particulièrement en compte le rôle de l’archiviste vis-à-vis des sociétés-sources pour tout ce qui concerne les problèmes éthiques posés par l’utilisation de ces matériaux si sensibles.

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1The National Anthropological Archives began as the Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology (bae), the Smithsonian’s first research bureau. The bae was founded in 1879 by John Wesley Powell to promote anthropological research and to serve as the permanent repository for manuscripts and photographs concerning American Indians that had been collected earlier by the US geographical and geological surveys of the western United States, particularly those of Ferdinand V. Hayden and George M. Wheeler.

2Powell sought continuing funding for his ethnographic research program by evoked the imaging of the disappearing savage: “Rapidly the Indians are being gathered on reservations”, he said, “where their original habits and customs disappear, their languages are being modified or lost and they are abandoning their savagery, and barbarism and accepting civilization. If the ethnology of our Indians is ever to receive proper scientific study and treatment the work must be done at once” (quoted in Fowler, 2000: 93). Powell proposed that the federal government’s colonial enterprise would benefit in very tangible ways from the bae’s ethnographic work. His motto was “Better knowledge for better governance”.

3The bae’s staff included some of America’s earliest field anthropologists, including Frank Hamilton Cushing, J. O. Dorsey, Jesse Walter Fewkes, Alice Cunningham Fletcher, John N. B. Hewitt, Francis LaFlesche, Cosmo and Victor Mindeleff, John Stevenson, and Matilda Coxe Stevenson. In the twentieth century, the bae’s staff included such notable anthropologists as Neil Judd and John Peabody Harrington – a legendary linguist who spent more than forty years collecting specimens of endangered languages from their last speakers. The bae also supported the work of many non-Smithsonian researchers (known as collaborators), most notably Franz Boas, Francis Densmore, Garrick Mallery, Washington Matthews, Paul Radin, Cyrus Thomas and T. T. Waterman.

4Together these individuals contributed ethnographic, archaeological and linguistic materials that they produced or collected from others. In addition, the bae supported the work of many non-Smithsonian researchers, most notably Franz Boas and his students. A highlight of their work was the Schedule of American Indian Languages that they distributed widely to missionaries, frontier army officers, Indian agents, government scouts, physicians, travelers, and gentlemen scholars. The completed schedule formed the basis for the first comparative study of North American Indian languages.

5The archive’s collections grew quickly. By 1885, bae was already referring to its “archives” of manuscripts under the custodial care of John N. B. Hewitt, a talented linguist who was a member of the Tuscarora tribe of New York. Twelve years later (1893), the collections comprised “over 1,110 specific linguistic papers, 60 miscellaneous linguistic papers, and 236 manuscripts on miscellaneous ethnographic subjects”, all of which were stored in two large fireproof vaults. By 1897, just four years later, the collection had grown to more than 2,000 titles, and a first catalogue of manuscripts was prepared by John Hewitt “with the assistance of the late Rev. J. Owen Dorsey”.

6In 1965, the bae merged with the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology and its archives became the archives of the Smithsonian Office of Anthropology. The focus of its collecting activities changed from documenting the American Indian (and people of American possessions, particularly the Philippines) to cultures throughout the world.

7In 1968, the archive was renamed the National Anthropological Archives. The naa was created in response to a widely felt need to preserve unique field materials – a concern resulting to a considerable degree from the reluctance of university archives and libraries to accept the raw materials of science, and in many cases, the collections of their own research staffs. In fact, the National Anthropological Archives is the only American repository that exclusively collects ethnographic materials.

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Texte intégral

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Bond, George C.
1990 Fieldnotes: Research in Past Occurrences, in Roger Sanjek (ed.), Fieldnotes: The Making of Anthropology (Ithaca, Cornell University Press), 273-289.

First Archivists Circle
2006 Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.
([on line] http://www.firstarchivistscircle.org/protocols.html)

Fowler, Don D.
2000 A Laboratory for Anthropology: Science and Romanticism in the American Southwest, 1846-1930 (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press).

Hinsley, Curtis
1977 Savages and Scientists: The Smithsonian Institution and the Development of American Anthropology, 1846-1910 (Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press).

International Council on Archives (ica)
1996 Code of Ethics for Archivists.
([on line] http://www.ica.org/biblio.php?pdocid=12)

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Référence électronique

Robert Leopold, « The second life of ethnographic fieldnotes », Ateliers du LESC [En ligne], 32 | 2008, mis en ligne le 04 août 2008, consulté le 17 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/3132 ; DOI : 10.4000/ateliers.3132

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Auteur

Robert Leopold

National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

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