Search Finding Aids
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
- University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
- American Section
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- 16 Linear feet
- The American Section was one of the first to evolve during the early development of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The University Archaeological Association established in 1887 and later, the American Exploration Society, established in 1892, exhibited several small collections in College Hall before the building campaign for the museum began. Charles Abbott was the first curator of the section succeeded by Henry C. Mercer and then Stewart Culin who was also named Director in 1899. Each succeeding curator was responsible for adding collections, many of them representing their own expeditions in the United States, Alaska, Mexico, Central America and South America. Records in the files are dated from 1826 through the 1980s. The transfer of materials to the Archives took place piecemeal and without a central organization. The current re-processing placed the files into three series, Deaccessions and Loans, Collectors and Collections and Exhibits.
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The American Section was one of he first sectiions of the new Museum, originally titled the "Museum of American Archaeology." Preliminary steps were taken in 1886 with the appointment of Daniel Garrison Brinton as Professor of American Linguistics and Archaeology within the Religious Studies Department of the University. In 1888 Brinton organized the University Archaeological Association, a group of scholars and laymen interested in archaeology and ethnology. Brinton materials available include correspondence in the early Director's files, offprints of his pioneering articles in American Indian linguistics, and filed in the curatorial section, a portion of his "Walum Olum", a purportedly Native American epic he edited, with annotations in an unknown hand. Before his death in 1899, he saw the Museum firmly established in American archaeology and anthropology. A large file of letters concerning a memoir on Brinton being prepared by Stewart Culin can be found at the Brooklyn Museum. Brinton also willed his library of 20,000 rare volumes, including 16th century dictionaries, to the new Museum to form the core of the present Anthropology Library.
The Museum was officially established in November 1889, with Charles C. Abbott appointed its first curator, several small collections being brought together in College Hall. Abbott, after earning a medical degree, had served as a field archaeologist for Frederic Ward Putnam of the Peabody Museum and then had earned his own national reputation for publishing claims that crude stone tools found on and nearby his Trenton farm were of the same great antiquity as those claimed for early man in Europe. On his appointment Abbott turned over the burden of proof to Ernest Volk, who supplied the Museum with collections over the next 22 years. The Abbott papers consist entirely of incoming correspondence, which he soon began to number in red pencil chronologically, plus several reports to the Archaeological Association (the 1890 one lists not only American but also many sources of early collections represented). These reports contain the only description of excavations by Abbott, his son Richard, and fellow amateur archaeologist Henry C. Mercer during Abbott's brief tenure (1889-1893). A listing of Delaware Valley sites, undated and possibly by Abbott, and one of American Indian artifacts received during the 1890's are also filed with Abbott's curatorial papers. During his tenure a variety of small local excavations were undertaken in the eastern United States. Francis C. Macauley, a member of the Association donated his large collection of eastern American archaeology. The American Section curatorial files also contain an 1890 catalog of the Warren Moorehead collection which was apparently not acquired by the Museum.
After a major effort failed to obtain Franz Boas as Curator, in late 1893, Abbott was replaced by his friend Mercer, who agreed to serve without salary. Mercer, who later was to establish a nationally known tile works and pioneered the study of American folk culture, spent most of his brief tenure in the field conducting numerous small-scale excavations on Museum grants in attempts to establish great human antiquity, whether in Yucatan or Tennessee. For this reason his records are treated under Expeditions, and his papers are listed in the North America and Central America finding aids. Essential background on Mercer can be found in Mason's 1956 biographical article in the Pennsylvania Archaeologist, while the bulk of his papers are held by the Bucks County Historical Society. During this time Stewart Culin, who had been named the Museum's Director in 1892 to represent it at the Madrid exposition, acquired important American collections not only from expeditions to Key Marco in Florida and Pachacamac in Peru but also Guatemala, Venezuela, and Ecuadorian objects from the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893; the very large and valuable Hazzard/Hearst collection of Utah and Colorado prehistoric perishable antiquities (put together by the Wetherill brothers, discoverers of Mesa Verde, and others and divided with the Hearst Museum at Berkeley); the pan-American Lamborn collection; an early treasure of ceremonial objects excavated in the Chira Valley, Peru, by S. M. Scott; and a remarkable variety of ethnological and archaeological objects collected in North America by Major Horatio Rust, whose 1895 catalog survives.
Stewart Culin, who replaced Mercer in 1899, had been a founding member and secretary of the Archaeological Association and was a good friend of Daniel Brinton's. He already managed the growing Asian and general ethnology collections and had been titled "Director" since 1892. The Board of Managers retained control of budget and policy and abolished Culin's title in 1899. Culin left in 1903. Nevertheless in less than five years he managed to greatly expand the American collections, most notably by the proceeds from his own expeditions sponsored by John Wanamaker throughout the western reservations in 1900 and 1901 and a short buying trip to Zuni in early 1902. In addition to direct purchases he made acquisitions from major dealers such as C. F. Newcombe in the Northwest and Thomas Keam in Arizona, represented in correspondence and packing lists. The actual object slips are filed with field record files, while Culin's account of the 1900 trip can be found in the 1901 Bulletin of the Free Museum of Science and Art and a bound 1901 account is available with photographs at the Brooklyn Museum. Other important collections added were that of Thomas Donaldson, painter George Catlin's executor and a key official in the 1890 Indian section of the Eleventh U.S. Census, including a number of Catlin pieces; the Dickeson collection, a bequest of an early amateur archaeologist in the Natchez, Mississippi area; western Mexican archaeology and ethnology from explorer Carl Lumholtz; and the large Poinsett-Keating Mexican archaeological collection originally donated about 1830 to the American Philosophical Society by the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and an associate. Items of special interest include the original proof sheets and photographs used in the 1890 Census acquired from Donaldson's son; 1840's plans of sites in the lower Mississippi region in the Dickeson papers; and a handful of letters by famous artist Thomas Eakins, who painted Frank Hamilton Cushing in the outfit of a Zuni chief for the Museum (painting now at the Gilcrease Institute in Tulsa, outfit at the Brooklyn Museum), Mrs. William Frishmuth, donator of a worldwide collection of musical instruments to the Museum (painting now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art); and a lost portrait of Stewart Culin. The Culin curatorial files contain miscellaneous routine correspondence, including a file on casts made from the Peabody, Smithsonian and Cologne Museums and a set of vouchers for 1901-1902 donations to the American Prehistoric Fund. A large ledger recording exchanges begun by Mercer but continued by Culin is in the Exchanges and Loans series (a few leaves in Culin's hand are in a Mercer folder), and Culin's 1900 and 1901 reports are filed with the rest of those from the American Section, in addition to one box of papers in the Director's files. Culin' major interest was in games worldwide, in which he worked with Frank Hamilton Cushing, and he published the definitive work on Native American games in 1907; a large collection of these are both at Penn and at Brooklyn.
With Culin's departure, the size of the collections demanded a swift replacement. The choice would almost certainly have fallen on William Farabee, a Harvard student of Sara Yorke Stevenson's old friend Dr. Putnam, but Farabee declined in favor of a Harvard instructorship. Eventually the decision was made to temporarily combine the American and General Ethnology Sections under William Furness as curator,(see East Asia finding aid) while George B. Gordon, another Putnam student who had worked for the Peabody on Honduran excavations, was hired as Assistant Curator. Furness resigned in November 1904, with Gordon then appointed Curator of the Section of American Archaeology and in 1905 Curator of General Ethnology. He held these responsibilities even after his 1910 appointment as the Museum's first true Director, until 1913. Documents on his curatorship are mostly in the Director's files and letterbooks (the latter not beginning until February 1905) and in the American Section reports, which are very detailed for 1903-1910 and less so for 1910-1913 (latter in Director's reports. Actual curatorial files include a detailed catalog and correspondence on a large and valuable North American ethnological collection offered by the Fred Harvey Company to the Museum but not purchased; a 1904 evaluation by Gordon of the collections of the New York Academy of Sciences; and a set of memos on objects acquired during the curatorship. Information on the 1905 and 1907 collection trips taken by Gordon to Alaska has been filed with field records. It should also be mentioned that systematic anthropological instruction in the University began at Gordon's instigation by 1906, with the establishment of Harrison Fellowships to bring in Assistant Curators able to finish graduate degrees and serve as instructors after 1907.
By early 1907 Gordon had met George G. Heye, wealthy New York financier and Indian collector. It appears that very soon after arrangements were made, culminating in Heye's support, for the acquisition of the Plimpton basket collection in return for duplicates collected on the Alaska trip (April 5). A major exchange of specimens was arranged in early 1908. A regular system of Gordon communicating information on collections available to Heye soon developed. By September 1908 Heye had agreed with Gordon to place his already enormous collections in the Museum, had accepted board membership, a vice-presidency, and chairmanship of the American Committee, and agreed to pay the salary of his assistant George Pepper to serve as assistant curator in the Section. These terms were ratified by the Board October 20. Pepper started work in January 1909, and served as acting curator in Gordon's absence February to early May as the Heye Collection was gradually unpacked. J. Alden Mason joined the Section as photographer and assistant at this time and with Edward Sapir, a Harrison Fellow, undertook an archaeological and ethnological reconnaissance to the Ute reservations in Utah in the summer (see North America finding aid). Meanwhile Pepper moved the large Talbot Hyde loan collection of Southwest Archaeology here from the American Museum of Natural History. William Orchard, who had been at the Museum of Natural History, was the second assistant taken on at Heye's expense in November 1909 in charge of mending, conservation and preparation of models for display (replacing Mason who was pursuing his doctoral studies).
The Heye Collection officially opened February 12, 1910, soon after Gordon became Director. Frank Speck was sent at Heye's expense to collect among the Penobscot in the spring, and Mark R. Harrington was furnished Museum authorization while collecting for Heye among the Shawnee, Kiowa, Miami, Iowa, Sac and Fox, and Delaware in Oklahoma in the summer (see Expeditions). At the start of 1911 Pepper's title was changed to acting curator and his salary made nominal for one year as he was now spending most of his time with Heye in New York, and Harrington was hired as assistant curator, with collection expenses still Heye's. He and Speck continued a wide variety of trips for Heye, as did Wilson Wallis, Orchard, and Gerda Sebbelov (the Osage).
William Farabee returned to contact with the Museum when offered the leadership of the Amazon Expedition in 1912, which he initially refused but eventually accepted in 1913, along with the curatorship. By the time he returned from his work in South America in 1916, major changes had occurred in the Section. George Heye withdrew his collections starting in May 1916 to form the nucleus of his own Museum of the American Indian in New York. Orchard had resigned in May 1915 and Harrington in January 1916, both of them continuing to work for Heye; Pepper's association had ended in January 1912. Bruce Merwin was hired as an assistant in July 1915 but spent 1917-1918 in military service before resigning. Pepper, Orchard and Harrington materials consist of correspondence in the Director's files plus a valuable 1912-1914 Harrington letterbook comprised mostly of Indian informants’ and dealers’ letters to him during his period of research in Oklahoma (he and Merwin published Journal articles, and Harrington also a monograph in Anthropological Publications). A 1911-1914 American Committee letterbook is also of great interest. Orchard's fieldwork of this period was later used to write the standard references on Native American beadwork and quillwork. Records of the Heye years include extensive Heye-Gordon correspondence, numerous photographs of specimens, several field reports by Speck, Wallis, etc.(Expeditions), and many lists of shipments coming in 1908-1916 and of complex exchanges with the Museum during these years and in 1917-1919. Heye later co-sponsored Gregory Mason's work for the museum in Colombia in the 1920's, and Theodoor deBooy left his employ for a Venezuelan Museum expedition.
Farabee served as Acting Director in 1917 in addition to the curatorship, although he was absent on military and diplomatic service 1918-1920. He made another major South American trip for the Museum in 1922-1923 to Peru and Chile. However severe illness effectively ended his job performance after his return, and his duties were undertaken by H. U. Hall in 1924-1925 until Farabee's death from anemia. The Archives contains relatively little documentation from Farabee: correspondence in the Director's files (1911-1925), extensive photographs both from the expeditions and before his curatorship, and three folders of curatorial correspondence divided geographically. He also published
Louis Shotridge, a Tlingit Indian, met George Byron Gordon in Southeast Alaska in 1905. He came to the Museum in 1912 to aid in work on the Heye Collection. In 1915, Shotridge began regular shipments of extremely valuable Tlingit ceremonial objects to the Museum (see North America/Alaska finding aid). He was appointed an assistant curator in 1922. One folder of shipments and memos from his tenure is in the curatorial files. Don Whistler, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe, filled in as assistant to Shotridge from 1925-1926.
John Alden Mason was then hired from the Field Museum of Natural History, and his tenure (1926-1955) is well-documented, including a large professional correspondence with geographical subdivisions, offerings of collections (also geographically organized), in-house memos, a set of notebooks (1922-1952), lecture notes and bibliographies, and a long-term file on his lifelong interest in American rock art. Mason made 22 expeditions of varying scope during his active curatorship and his scholarly and field activities completely encompassed the Americas. Materials on his pre-1926 activities include the 1909 expedition for the Museum, 1913 Great Slave notes later published by Yale, 1914 Puerto Rican work for Columbia, Tepecano linguistics in west Mexico, and Santa Marta excavations for the Field Museum in Colombia. The bulk of Mason's correspondence and his linguistic fieldnotes were transferred to the American Philosophical Society on his death, and his library was sold to Southern Illinois University during his lifetime. He remained active as Emeritus Curator up to his death in 1967.
In addition to Shotridge, who spent about all of his 1922-1932 tenure in the field, Mason was assisted by Harriet Wardle, who had been curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences' Clarence Moore Collection (Southeast archaeology). Wardle came to the Museum after Moore, amid great controversy, transferred his objects to the Heye Foundation in 1929. Her curatorial records consist of a large alphabetical file of correspondence (she retired in 1948 but was active long after), while extensive research on Peruvian textiles can be found under "South America" and other work under the Key Marco Expedition and Stephens Collection.
Collections added during the Mason years include the remarkable gold objects from Cocle, Panama; objects from the Piedras Negras expeditions; Shotridge's Northwest Coast collections; the vast Academy of Natural Sciences collections including the pre-1879 Haldeman and the large Gottschall Collections, originally loaned but then acquired in exchange; Frank Speck collections from eastern Canada; the large and meticulously documented Osborne (Guatemalan textiles) and Stephens (North American ethnographic) collections; various Colombian and Panamanian gold collection and Mayer Brazilian, Broad Costa Rican, and Monday Mexican archaeological collections; jade Northwest Coast objects from Emmons.
Important research associates working with Mason include (for the most part files with "Expeditions"): Edgar Howard (1929-1943) (see Early Man files), a specialist in early man in the Americas; Mary Butler Lewis (1932-1970) (one folder of correspondence); and Frederica DeLaguna (see Alaska). John Corning worked as an assistant (1941-1943) in the Section on Cocle and his own Georgia expedition. J. Louis Giddings, an Arctic archaeologist, began as a research associate (1950-1951) and then was assistant curator (1951-1956) with correspondence in the Director's files. A major source for these years is the set of monthly American Section reports (1941-1948) written by Mason with appendices usually by Howard, Wardle, and Satterthwaite.
Linton Satterthwaite began association with the Museum as Mason's assistant on the Piedras Negras expedition in 1930 and became assistant curator in 1933, eventually becoming associate curator in 1948 and Mason's successor in 1955. In addition to a large alphabetical correspondence including such other prominent scholars as Sylvanus Morley, Herbert Spinden and J. Eric Thompson, "special", "routine", and "home" correspondence, a large series of notebooks documents Satterthwaite's long-term interest in Maya and other Mesoamerican calendrics and writing systems. Other files include lecture and class notes, bibliographies, curatorial business, exhibit designs, etc. Satterthwaite's archaeological work at Caracol and Benque Viejo in Belize and Piedras Negras and Tikal in Guatemala is described in the finding aid "Central America".
The next curatorial files of significance are those for Alfred Kidder II; although he did not hold a curatorship until 1867-1972. In his position as associate director after 1950 he had considerable involvement in American work due to his active interest in South American Archaeology. For this reason several folders of correspondence have been placed in the curatorial section. Kidder files are also in the Director’s files or in his estate. Also in this era are the papers of Frances Eyman (Witthoft), who began as an assistant in the Section in 1948, followed by an assistant curatorship and the first Keeper of American collections from 1964 to her death in 1969. Her files consist of alphabetical correspondence, exhibit labels, and research notes showing her active interest in increasing documentation and understanding of the North American objects in the Museum. These are the most recent files with significant holdings in the American Curatorial series, as the relevant papers of William Coe (Assistant Curator 1959-1964, Associate Curator 1964-1969, Curator of Middle American Archaeology 1969-1972, and Curator of the American Section 1972-1987); Robert Sharer (Assistant Curator 1972-1974, Associate Curator 1974-1984, Curator 1985-present); Ruben Reina (Assistant Curator 1959-1962, Associate Curator 1962-1967, Curator of the Latin American Ethnology 1967-1991); Anthony Wallace (Assistant and Curator of North American Ethnology 1961-1988); and John Witthoft (Research Associate 1966-1970, Associate Curator of North American Ethnology 1970-1981, Consulting Curator 1982-1986) remain in the offices of the individuals. All have joint appointments in the Anthropology Department. Also further Eyman files as well as those of later Keepers Albina de Meio (1969-1974), Claudia Medoff (1974-1982) and Pamela Hearne (1982-date) are retained in the office of the American Section. No record except for an Expedition article and a resume in the Director's files appear to exist for Thomas Greaves, Assistant Curator of South American Ethnology, 1969-1973. Records for John Cotter (Associate Curator of American Historical Archaeology, 1972-1973) have been placed with the Historical Archaeology Section. Since 1982 Professors Reina, Wallace, and Witthoft have been titled "consulting" curators and Frederica DeLaguna has been Honorary Curator of North American Ethnology.
Scope and Contents
American Section files were unarranged when transferred to the Archives. Curatorial files have been subdivided into "curatorial" proper as a sub-series (arranged, in general, "chronologically" by holders of assistant curatorships); an "exchanges, loans, deaccessions and thefts" sub-series grouping documents on the movements of American objects (to be used in connection with the records of the Registrar's Office, established in 1929); an "inventories" sub-series containing various topical and other lists of objects in the American collections; a "collectors and collections" sub-series arranged alphabetically by the name of the donor or seller or title of collection; and a "general administration" sub-series encompassing index cards, exhibit labels, various American Section reports starting with Mercer, documents on American topics with no discernible connection, miscellaneous financial transactions, etc. Research files by curators Eyman and Wardle have been placed in their curatorial files, while correspondence with non-Museum scholars using the collection for which there is no original note material (Helen Palmatary on Brazilian archaeology and Marius Barbeau on slate carving have been included in "general administration." Ernestine Singer's work on netting is now a separate collection in the American Section.
Reprocessing of the collection began in the spring of 2015. The general series were maintained with the exception of the inventories which were evaluated and placed in more appropriate series such as exhibits, personal papers, general administration, etc..
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Bryce Little/Jody Rodgers
Controlled Access Headings
- Abbott, Charles C., 1843-1919
- Brinton, Daniel Garrison, 1837-1899
- Bruckner, Geraldine M., b. 1901-d. 1982
- Coe, William R. , 1926-2009
- Culin, Stewart, 1858-1929
- Dyson, Robert H., 1927-
- Eyman, Frances, 1921-1949
- Farabee, William Curtis, b. 1865-d. 1925
- Gordon, G. B. (George Byron), 1870-1927
- Kidder, Alfred Vincent, 1885-1963
- King, Mary Elizabeth, b. 1929
- Mason, John Alden, 1885-1967
- Mercer, Henry C., 1856-1930
- Pepper, William, 1843-1898
- Possehl, , Gregory L., Dr., b. 1941
- Rainey, Froelich, Director of the University Museum
- Satterthwaite, Linton, 1897-1978
- Shotridge, Louis
- Stevenson, Sara Yorke, 1847-1921
- Hazzard-Hearst collection
- Julsrud collection
- Osbourne collection