The Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846. Although there was no department of anthropology until the creation of the Section of Ethnology in 1879, anthropological materials were part of the Smithsonian's collection from its foundation. The Section of Ethnology was created to care for the rapidly growing collection. In 1881, the United States National Museum was established. Soon thereafter, in 1883, it was broken up into divisions, including the Division of Anthropology. In 1904, Physical Anthropology was added to the Division.
The Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) was created in 1879 as a research unit of the Smithsonian, separating research from collections care. However, during the 1950s, research became a higher priority for the Department of Anthropology and, in 1965, the BAE was merged with the Department of Anthropology to create the Office of Anthropology, and the BAE's archives became the National Anthropological Archives (NAA).
In 1967, the United States National Museum was broken up into three separate museums: the Musuem of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History), the National Museum of American Art, and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The Office of Anthropology was included in NMNH and was renamed the Department of Anthropology in 1968.
New divisions were added to the Department, including the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA) in 1981, the Research Institute on Immigration and Ethnic Studies (RIIES) in 1982, and the Repatriation Office in 1993. In 1983, the Smithsonian opened the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Suitland, Maryland, as offsite housing for collections with specialized storage facilities and conservation labs.
The Department of Anthropology is currently the largest department within NMNH. It has three curatorial divisions (Ethnology, Archaeology, and Biological Anthropology) and its staff includes curators, research assistants, program staff, collections specialists, archivists, repatriation tribal liaisons, and administrative specialists. It has a number of outreach and research arms, including the Repatriation Office, Recovering Voices, Human Origins, and the Arctic Studies Center.
The Museum is home to one of the world's largest anthropology collections, with over three million specimens in archaeology, ethnology, and human skeletal biology. The NAA is the Smithsonian's oldest archival repository, with materials that reflect over 150 years of anthropological collecting and fieldwork. The HSFA is the only North American archive devoted exclusively to the collection and preservation of anthropological film and video.
National Museum of Natural History. "Department of Anthropology: About" Accessed April 13, 2020. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/research/anthropology/about
National Museum of Natural History. "History of Anthropology at the Smithsonian." Accessed April 13, 2020. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/sites/default/files/media/file/history-anthropology-si.pdf
National Museum of Natural History. "History of the Smithsonian Combined Catalog." Accessed April 13, 2020 https://sirismm.si.edu/siris/sihistory.htm
The Smithsonian Institution is founded
George Catlin bequeaths his collection to the Smithsonian
The Section of Ethnology is established to oversee ethnological and archaeological collections
The Bureau of Ethnology is established by Congress as a research unit of the Smithsonian
The U.S. National Museum (USNM) is established as a separate entity within the Smithsonian Institution
The staff and collections of the USNM are reorganized into divisions, including a Division of Anthropology
The United States National Museum is reorganized into three departments: Anthropology headed by W. H. Holmes; Biology with F. W. True as head; and Geology with G. P. Merrill in charge
The Bureau of Ethnology is renamed the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) to emphasize the geographic limit of its interests
The Division of Physical Anthropology established
The Division of Physical Anthropology is incorporated into the Division of Anthropology
The USNM moves into the new Natural History Building
The Smithsonian Office of Anthropology is created on February 1
The BAE is eliminated and merged with the Office of Anthropology
The Smithsonian Office of Anthropology (SOA) of the National Museum of Natural History is retitled the Department of Anthropology on October 29
The Research Institute on Immigration and Ethnic Studies (RIIES) is established at the National Museum of Natural History's (NMNH) Center for the Study of Man (CSM) to study the waves of immigration to the United States and its overseas outposts that began in the 1960's
The National Anthropological Film Center is established
The National Anthropological Film Center is incorporated into the Department of Anthropology
The RIIES, part of the CSM at the NMNH, is transferred to the Department of Anthropology
NMNH establishes a Repatriation Office
The Repatriation Office is incorporated into the Department of Anthropology
Head Curators and Department Chairs