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Daniel Garrison Brinton Mexico collection


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.

Summary Information

University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
Brinton, Daniel Garrison, 1837-1899
Mason, John Alden, 1885-1967
Daniel Garrison Brinton Mexico collection
Date [bulk]:
Date [inclusive]:
Call Number:
0.2 linear foot (The collection consists of four folders housed in an archival box)
Daniel Garrison Brinton is considered one of the founders of modern American Anthropology. He was also the first to hold a professorship in Archaeology in the United States. His library, which includes the Carl Hermann Berendt collection of manuscripts in the indigenous languages of Mexico and Central America, is considered the core of the University of Pennsylvania Anthropology Library. Among the collection are 4515 items; rare illustrations, contemporary photographs, portraits of individual authors, and texts in Spanish, French, Italian, and German. Brinton gathered his information from archival and library studies and did not participate in any archaeological expeditions. This small collection, attributed to Brinton by J. Alden Mason of the University Museum, consists of four folders. Two contain linguistic notes on the Maya languages. The remaining two, contain drawings of pottery, objects, sites, and maps of Maya regions, primarily in Mexico. Some of the drawings are believed to be those of Carl Hermann Berendt, purchased by Daniel Brinton for the library at the University. The collection is in fragile condition and many of the items are in need of conservation assessment, particularly the Berendt drawings.
Cite as:
[Item name]. Box [Box number]. Daniel Garrison Brinton Mexico collection. Penn Museum Archives. Accessed [Date accessed].
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Daniel Garrison Brinton, considered one of the founders of American Anthropology, was born in Thornbury, Pennsylvania and attended Yale University, awarded his A.B. in 1858. He then studied medicine at Jefferson Medical College. After attaining his medical degree in 1861, Brinton traveled and studied in Heidelberg and Paris for a year before establishing his medical practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania. During his medical studies, Brinton published "Notes on the Floridian Peninsula", which suggested his later career change.

In 1862, Brinton began his service in the Union Army, appointed acting assistant surgeon to the Federal Army at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He rose to Surgeon-in-Chief also serving in battle at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Brinton returned to his medical practice in 1865 but retired at age 50 to devote himself to the study of Anthropology.

Brinton was appointed Professor of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in 1884, followed in 1886, by his appointment to Professor of Archaeology and Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Brinton did not participate in field work, his investigations based on archival and library research. From 1859 to 1899, he published a total of twenty-three books and over 200 essays on mythology, folklore, ethnography, and linguistics of the American Indian from South America to Alaska. Brinton is also known for his systematic classification of the aboriginal languages of North and South America, published as The American Race, in 1891. Brinton's Library of Aboriginal American Literature incorporates his translations and annotations of native mythology and folklore.

Brinton was instrumental in purchasing materials from Carl Hermann Berendt, a German-born natural historian, linguist, and ethnologist, now a part of the Daniel Garrison Brinton Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Brinton arranged for additional Berendt materials not available for purchase to be copied for the library. The Berendt Collection contains hand-written transcriptions of important manuscripts, in indigenous languages, from the native people in Mexico and Central America. There are 183 entries pertaining to the more than forty languages of Mexico and Central America covering the period from mid-sixteenth to late-eighteenth centuries.

Carl Hermann Berendt, born in Danzig, Germany in 1817, received his medical degree in 1842 from the University at Konigsburg. He established a medical practice in Breslau in 1843 and later taught surgery and obstetrics at the University of Breslau. In 1848, Berendt was a member of the Vor-Parlament where his liberal political views resulted in his removal to Graudenz and the loss of his University position. Then, in 1851, Berendt was exiled to America.

Berendt lived briefly in New York then traveled to Nicaragua where he spent two years investigating the natural history and anthropology of the region. This was followed by a move to Orizaba, Mexico then to Vera Cruz. Berendt stayed in the region from 1855 to 1862. He abandoned the practice of medicine and devoted himself to the natural sciences, linguistics, and ethnology, eventually gaining the sponsorship of The Smithsonian Institution to collect natural history specimens.

Berendt transcribed two important Maya vocabularies that dated from the colonial period while subsidized by the Peabody Museum at Harvard University ; the sixteenth century Diccionario de Motul by Antonio Ciudad Real and the Compendio de nombres en lengua Cakchiquel by the Franciscan priest, Pantaleon de Guzman. In 1974, Berendt settled in Copan, the center of the German coffee plantations in Honduras and purchased land with coffee groves. He returned to the United States at least once to arrange for the sale of his papers to Daniel Brinton. Berendt died of fever in Copan on May 12, 1878.

Scope and Contents

The Daniel Garrison Brinton collection consists of four folders, two of notes related to Maya languages and two of drawings of objects and places. Folder one contains "Maya linguistic materials" which J. Alden Mason labeled in 1934 as works by Berendt and "probably Brinton." These original study notes from Brinton are the only papers by Brinton housed by the Penn Museum. Additional papers are housed at the American Philosophical Library and the Brooklyn Museum. None of the materials is dated. There is a pre-printed form for the gathering of information about languages in fragile condition. A small envelope contains a notebook from the Wanamaker Savings Bank, established in Philadelphia in 1889 by John Wanamaker, with a few pages of notes. A linguistic map of the region, believed to be by Carl Hermann Berendt, is in need of conservation assessment. It has been folded and is in very fragile condition.

Folder two, "Kekchi Study Notes", contains two notes from J. Alden Mason. One, from 11/29/40 attributes some of the papers to Brinton. The second note, from 7/26/45 indicates that the material is "Apparently post-Brinton". The folder contains information about the Kekchi language including lists of words and phrases, personal pronouns, possessives, pronouns of time, and verbs in "some Mayan language" according to Mason's notes, and four pages ripped from a tablet relating to vowel sounds and relationship nouns. A letter to Stewart Culin is unsigned but relays the instructions to the Maya Corn Game of "Booltik".

An additional paper describing a plantation in Northern Guatemala in 1898 has been attributed to "maybe Cary (in charge at Chama, 1898)" by J. Alden Mason.

Folder three contains "Maya Pottery Drawings" in need of conservation assessment. These are believed to be by Carl Hermann Berendt (J. Alden Mason, 12/13/34). The first, a drawing of a dish, has hand-written notes "Berendt collection #137." The picture of a basin reads, "#56 of my collection." The remaining drawing of a vase is labeled "#109 of the collection of D. Florentina Jimeno, Compeche." The handwriting appears to be the same on all three drawings.

The materials in folder four are in very fragile condition. A note from J. Alden Mason, dated 12/13/34, states, "Plans or notes of archaeological sites probably in Mexico"; "Also some ethnological and personal sketches." The "notes in German script probably Dr. Berendt." The sites portrayed include a map of Rio Grande del Puente Nacional, Jobo, El Fortin de Consoquitla, El Fortin de Centla, Atliyar, and El Castillo de Zacuaran.

Administrative Information

Publication Information

University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives,  November 2009

Finding Aid Author

Finding aid prepared by Jody Rodgers

Use Restrictions

Although many items from the archives are in the public domain, copyright may be retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law. The user is fully responsible for compliance with relevant copyright law.

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Controlled Access Headings

  • Drawings (visual works)
Personal Name(s)
  • Berendt, Carl Hermann, 1817-1878
  • Brinton, Daniel Garrison, 1837-1899
  • Archaeology--History

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Collection Inventory

Language notes, 1868-1934 (Bulk, 1868-1891) . 0.1 linear foot (The Language notes are in two folders in an archival box).

Drawings, 1868-1934 (Bulk, 1868) . 0.1 linear foot (The drawings are in two folders in an archival box).