National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives

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Postcard of Egypt from the Charles W. Frost Collection, ca. 1926


 History of the NAA

 History of the HSFA

 Recent Acquisitions







About the Archives

The National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives collect and preserve historical and contemporary anthropological materials that document the world's cultures and the history of anthropology. Their collections represent the four fields of anthropology – ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, and physical anthropology – and include fieldnotes, journals, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, maps, sound recordings, film and video created by Smithsonian anthropologists and other preeminent scholars.

The collections include the Smithsonian's earliest attempts to document North American Indian cultures (begun in 1846 under Secretary Joseph Henry) and the research reports and records of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1879-1964), the U.S. National Museum's Divisions of Ethnology and Physical Anthropology, and the River Basin Surveys. The NAA also maintains the records of the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology and of 25 professional organizations, including the American Anthropological Association, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the American Ethnological Society, and the Society for American Archaeology.

Among the earliest ethnographic collections are the diaries of John Wesley Powell, which recount his exploration of the Colorado and study of the region's Indians, and the pictographic histories of Plains Indians collected by U.S. military officers and BAE ethnographers. Other significant manuscript collections include the ethnographic and linguistic research of Franz Boas, Frances Densmore, Alice Cunningham Fletcher, Albert S. Gatschet, John Peabody Harrington, and J.N.B. Hewitt, as well as the expedition logs, photographs, and film record produced on Matthew Stirling's explorations in New Guinea (1926-29).

All told, the archives' holdings include nearly 635,000 ethnological and archaeological photographs (including some of the earliest images of indigenous people worldwide); 20,000 works of native art (mainly North American, Asian, and Oceanic); 11,400 sound recordings; and more than 8 million feet of original film and video materials. The Smithsonian's broad collection policy and support of anthropological research for over 150 years have made the NAA and HSFA unparalleled resources for scholars interested in the cultures of North America, Latin America, Oceania, Africa, Asia and Europe.

Today, the NAA and HSFA continue to acquire cultural materials that enhance our understanding of the world's peoples and draw attention to the changing historical relationship between recorded observation, ethnography, and other forms of anthropological analysis. To accomplish these broad goals, the archives work closely with the Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records (CoPAR) and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Each year, the archives are used by several thousand researchers, including prominent scholars, graduate students, journalists, television and film producers, and many others. We are especially proud of the fact that individuals researching their own culture and history are among our largest constituencies.  

Schedule a visit online

You must submit an appointment request form to visit the archives. Please request an appointment at least 2 business days in advance and complete a separate appointment request form for each visitor in your group.

About restricted collections


Tips for visitors

Wi-Fi is available in our reading room.

Food is available for purchase in our cafeteria.

Please bring photo identification to show at the main security desk and shuttle bus.

Register your laptop and other valuables at the MSC security desk when you enter the building. You will not be able to leave the building with any unregistered items, including your personal laptop.

Scanners and photocopiers are not permitted in the archives due to conservation concerns and copyright restrictions. Digital cameras are allowed in the reading room.

Privacy Notice: The archives has installed closed circuit security cameras (CCTV) that will record your visit.


Visiting the Archives

The archives are located in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD, approximately six miles southeast of the museums on the National Mall. The Smithsonian operates a free hourly shuttle bus service between the Mall and MSC; please request a pass when you schedule your appointment. Public transportation is also available via Metrorail; the Museum Support Center is a 10-15 minute walk from the Suitland Station. Free parking is available if you prefer to drive. Please see Directions and Transportion for details.


If the federal government shuts down on Oct. 1, 2013, the NAA Reading Room will be closed. For the status of Smithsonian please check or Please plan accordingly. Researchers are welcome to contact the archvies via email: with reference inquires during these times.

National Anthropological Archives
Tuesday–Friday  /  9:00 am – 4:30 pm

Human Studies Film Archives
Monday–Friday  /  9:30 am – 4:30 pm

The Museum Support Center also houses the Department of Anthropology's Ethnology, Archaeology and Physical Anthropology collections, but you'll need a separate appointment to visit them.

Researchers may also wish to consult a Guide to Smithsonian Institution Archives, Libraries and Special Collections.

Reference Services

Archivists are available to assist visitors with reference inquries and guide them to appropriate materials. The NAA and HSFA also accept reference inquiries by email and phone. A list of freelance researchers is also available.

Reproductions of photographs, manuscripts and sound recordings may be purchased by using these order forms. The archives accepts payment by personal check, money order or credit card.

Fellowship Opportunities

Fellowships for archival research are available from the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Research Training and Services to support predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows, minority interns, visiting scholars and others.

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