For centuries, Native Americans have generously shared their wisdom, helping outsiders to understand their unique cultures and important contributions to human knowledge. The APS collections contain numerous images that testify to the richness and depth of such collaborations.
In the 1770s, for example, Philadelphia botanist William Bartram learned about Southern nature from the Seminoles. During their landmark westward expedition from 1804 to 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark relied on Natives (most famously Sacagawea, a Shoshone woman) for guidance, food, horses, and sheer survival. In 1820, artist-naturalist Titian Ramsay Peale documented the buffalo-hunting skills of the Oto along the Missouri River in a series of drawings, later adapted into book illustrations.
Elisha Kent Kane, whose ship was marooned in ice during two Arctic expeditions in the 1850s, would have perished without assistance from the Inuit. Their boating, hunting, and fishing skills were essential to Kane and his shipmates. Frans Boas’s own experience doing fieldwork among the Inuit in 1883–84 helped transform him from a geographer into a scholar of human culture. His idea that human biology and geography influence culture, but do not determine it, is key to the modern discipline of anthropology.
The next generation of anthropologists followed in Boas’s footsteps, combining intensive linguistic study with extensive fieldwork. Frank G. Speck spent a lifetime learning the languages and cultures of the Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples of the Eastern Woodlands. William N. Fenton also studied with the Iroquois, particularly emphasizing ceremonies, music, and dance. Mary R. Haas was a linguist who relied on Native collaborators, some of whom were the last speakers of their languages.
Today, the Native American Images Project is playing an important role in helping the APS support language preservation and cultural revitalization projects in partnership with Native American communities. Images from the A. Irving Hallowell collection, for example, are being used by four Anishinaabeg communities—Poplar River, Paungassi, Little Grand Rapids, and Pikangikum First Nations—to support a UNESCO World Heritage Site grant application to preserve their ancestral homelands and cultural geography.
Anthony F. C. Wallace, one of the most distinguished ethnographers of the 20th century and an APS member, is currently working with the Tuscarora community in upstate New York to identify tribal members in photographs taken by Anthony Wallace and his father Paul A. W. Wallace. These photographs will then be integrated into ongoing cultural revitalization projects. Such projects provide a meaningful example of the kinds of collaborations that digital technology can foster, building historic bridges between cultural archives and Native communities.