Improving the Stewardship, Access, and Discoverability of Anthropological Archives

Diana Marsh


This paper presents two projects that seek to increase the use, access and discoverability of anthropological archives using proactive, research-driven, and ethical approaches to stewardship. The first is the re-launch of the Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records (CoPAR). CoPAR was a leader in efforts to preserve anthropologists’ records in the 1990’s, but became inactive by early 2000’s. In June 2016, Ricardo Punzalan, Robert Leopold and I ran a Wenner-Gren-sponsored workshop that brought together experts in cultural and linguistic anthropology, analog and digital ethnography, fieldwork, anthropological archives, research data curation, and repository management to provide a roadmap for the future of CoPAR and best practices for the discipline. I will present the outcomes of the workshop and our current work to revitalize the organization as one that advocates for scholarly and community constituents to use and produce anthropological records. The second, being undertaken at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA), is a three-year postdoctoral project to increase the discoverability and use of anthropological records. I will share the proposed three-year research plan aimed at understanding (1) past and present use and methods of discovery by researchers in the NAA; (2) past and present archival descriptive practice in the NAA and its impacts on discovery and use; and (3) how current trends in the management of and access to digital anthropological research data can improve methods, standards, and criteria for the NAA’s collections. In particular, I will share proposed methods for the first year of research to survey current users and uses of the collections using available toolkits and additional quantitative and qualitative methods.


Diana E. Marsh is an incoming Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropological Archives at the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. Her research explores how galleries, archives, libraries and museums share knowledge with Indigenous communities and the broad public. Her current work focuses on the impacts of digital knowledge sharing in Native communities. This project draws on a previous collaborative pilot study between Ricardo Punzalan at the University of Maryland and Robert Leopold at the Smithsonian Institution called Valuing our Scans. From 2015–2017, she was an Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow at the American Philosophical Society (APS), where she curated two exhibitions drawing on archival collections. In 2014–2015, she was a Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Fellow in Museum Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). She completed her PhD in Anthropology at UBC, where she conducted an ethnography of an exhibition process at the Smithsonian. From Extinct Monsters to Deep Time: The Ethnography of Smithsonian’s Dinosaur Exhibitions is contracted for publication with Berghahn Books’ Museums and Collections Series. She completed an MPhil in Social Anthropology with a Museums and Heritage focus at Cambridge in 2010, and a BFA in Visual Arts and Photography at the Mason Gross School of the Arts of Rutgers University in 2009.