Bureau of American Ethnology Collection

In 1879, Congress established the Bureau of Ethnology, later the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), to collect and maintain Euro-American knowledge about Indigenous nations. Led by surveyor John Wesley Powell, the Bureau’s archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and researchers were motivated by the false “vanishing race” theory, which held that Indigenous ways of life were doomed to fade away and consequently needed to be studied and documented. The BAE gathered thousands of existing photographs and continued to generate more—especially of Native diplomats who came to Washington, DC, to negotiate with the U.S. government—until it merged with other Smithsonian Institution divisions in the 1960s.

The Carter’s collection contains over 1,400 vintage duplicates of photographs assembled by the BAE, mainly 19th-century portraits. It includes especially significant bodies of work by Alexander Gardner, John K. Hillers, William Henry Jackson, and James Mooney.

Showing 1 - 20 of 1351 results