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Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America

April 15 - December 30, 2016

The last of three exhibitions at the American Philosophical Society on Jefferson, Gathering Voices told the story of Jefferson’s effort to collect Native American languages and its legacy at the Society. Jefferson had an abiding interest in Native American culture and language, while, at the same time, supporting national policies that ultimately threatened the survival of Indigenous peoples. As president of the APS from 1797 to 1814, Jefferson charged the Society with collecting vocabularies and artifacts from Native American nations. Over the next two hundred years, the APS would become a major repository for linguistic, ethnographic, and anthropological research on Native American cultures.

Gathering Voices traced the Native American language collection at the APS from Jefferson’s vocabularies to the current language revitalization projects at the Society’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR). Audio stations allowed visitors to hear Native American voices from the past speaking their own languages, and interactive touchscreens revealed the dramatic extent of Native American language loss as well as the active tribal revitalization efforts underway in collaboration with CNAIR.