Going Retro: Reconstructing NMAI Collections Histories

Author(s): Maria Galban

Year: 2018


The National Museum of the American Indian and its predecessor, the Museum of the American Indian, have long suffered a reputation for poorly documented collections. Assuming that documentation never existed or was at some point discarded; researchers have been largely unable to take full advantage of the scientific and research value of NMAI collections. In 2010, NMAI staff began a project to overturn this reputation. By retroactively implementing an accession lot system and creating virtual accession files of digitized documents, we have reunited documentation stored in NMAI archives with associated objects. The project reverses the typical methodology of starting with an object and searching for its related documentation; instead, we have systematically reviewed archival documents, matched them with objects, and connected sometimes far-flung and previously lost bits of information. As a result, we have uncovered detailed and complex connections between our objects and hundreds of collectors and archaeologists not previously visible in our museum catalog, all of which is readily available to researchers. To date, 88% of NMAI collections have been re-associated with their documentation, providing us with new understandings of our collections and creating new opportunities for research use of NMAI’s vast collections.

Cite this Record

Going Retro: Reconstructing NMAI Collections Histories. Maria Galban. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443964)

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Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 21358