Sunday, March 1, 2009

National Museum of the American Indian Vast Collection Now Online

The National Museum of the American Indian is putting its collection online!

This vast new online archive, Collections Search, is one of the most exciting and significant undertakings in the Museum's history and we have already uncovered a wealth of new information in the course of building this critical resource.

It's almost as if the Museum was being created all over again, as objects that have been known and labeled as simply as "beaded saddle, Chippewa" take on rich and fascinating new meaning.

National Museum of the American IndianOur mission - to preserve the cultural richness of Native American heritage and make it accessible to the widest possible audience - demands we take this next logical step. Collections Search will open our collection to millions who have never had the opportunity to see it in person.

Explore and share the collection today here.

Every object has a story. And beyond the rudimentary facts about material, tribal origin, and age is the deeper level of information that can truly reveal an item's "histories and mysteries." The hard work and resources we're investing in Collections Search is helping us capture the lost, forgotten, and incomplete histories of our collection before they disappear forever.
Wiyot Native American Indian Bear Mask
Because of the unlimited access of the Internet, Collections Search has virtually no limitations. Eventually, Collections Search will contain nearly all 800,000 of the Museum's objects and 65,000 historic photographs, including those that are too fragile to display.

This new way of looking at, and learning about, the Museum's collection will further our mission in profoundly important ways.


Today the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian launched its collections online. The ever-expanding digital access to the museum’s 800,000-plus items includes more than 5,500 photographs; eventually it will be one of the largest Native American online collections. It is available here. The launch is a milestone in the museum’s “Fourth Museum” project to bring the collections to those who may not have the opportunity to visit the museum’s three buildings in New York City, Suitland, Md., and Washington, D.C.

The launch is also in keeping with Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough’s strategic planning initiative to serve the Smithsonian’s growing number of virtual visitors and fulfill its mission to increase and diffuse knowledge. “As the museum on the National Mall approaches its fifth anniversary (Sept. 21), our promise to reach out to tribal communities, schools, libraries, museums, indeed to all throughout the world is being realized,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee/Comanche), director of the museum. “Though we have a long way to go before completing this project, I am pleased to offer the first phase of our fourth museum—our museum without walls.” The goal of the project is to include as many items as possible on the Web. As staff research is completed, items will be published online.

During the course of the project, curators unearthed new evidence about the collections’ origins. Though George Gustav Heye (1874-1957) is often credited with building the museum’s collections (approximately 85% were acquired during his lifetime), thousands of previously unidentified individuals including farmers, missionaries, soldiers and teachers contributed. Their stories provide fascinating details behind the objects and open up new research possibilities for investigating the relationships between Native and non-Native people and the political, economic and social histories throughout the Western Hemisphere.

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