Collected Letters on Ethnology,
circa 1876-1879

Collection ID:
Record Unit 58
circa 1876-1879
Physical Description:
0.1 linear meter.
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Descriptive Entry
Descriptive Entry
This record unit includes correspondence, drawings, and maps regarding American archaeology. Most of the correspondence was probably sent to the Smithsonian in response to Circular 316, but some make no reference to the Circular. A small portion antedated its release. These were probably included in the collection because of the related subject matter. Most of the letters are addressed to Spencer F. Baird, Joseph Henry, or the Smithsonian. Many of the letters also included references to responses written by Mason. Mason reviewed the letters and wrote an extensive report using abstracted material from them. This report can be found in the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1879, pages 428-448.

Historical Note
Historical Note
On February 1, 1878, the Smithsonian Institution released Circular 316, "In Reference to American Archaeology," prepared by Otis Tufton Mason, then a collaborator in Ethnology in the Smithsonian Institution and later Curator of Ethnology and Anthropology, and distributed it under Joseph Henry's name. The Circular was designed to solicit information concerning the large amounts of detail on construction of mounds, earthworks and other traces of aboriginal engineering, as well as newspaper articles and descriptions of characters found in mounds, graves, and superficial soil. This information was to provide the basis for an exhaustive work on American archaeology to be published by the Smithsonian. With this end in mind, the replies were apparently turned over to Mason and Charles Rau, also a collaborator in Ethnology and later Curator of Archaeology in the United States National Museum.
Circular 316 was one of many circulars distributed at this time. It was 15 pages long and consisted of questions concerning the discovery and location of American Aboriginal artifacts. A primary concern was learning the localities of all American collections of artifacts. The Circular stressed a "desire to collect from every available source, whatever is now known, or can be ascertained by special investigation, of the antiquities of North America." In order to receive clear descriptions, 86 questions on American Archaeology and two pages of symbols taken from an international code published in the Smithsonian Report for 1875 were incorporated into the Circular. In addition to the questions, the Circular asked for books, memoirs, extracts from periodicals and newspaper clippings giving pertinent information. Recipients of the Circular were also asked to forward names of others interested in receiving the Circular.

SI Records

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 58, , Collected Letters on Ethnology

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887 Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mason, Otis Tufton, 1838-1908 Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Collected Letters on Ethnology Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Archaeology Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ethnology -- North American Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Illustrations Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Maps Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Washington, D.C.
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