The Bancroft Library's anthropological collections include some of the richest source material on the languages of the Indigenous peoples of California. Containing extensive linguistic field notes, vocabulary schedules, ethnographic documents, and more, these collections play a vital role in indigenous language revitalization and reclamation efforts. The bulk of this material comes from UC Berkeley's Department of Anthropology and the papers of notable anthologists who served on its faculty. The Bancroft Library also collects papers of anthropologists who were based at other institutions, such as Margaret Langdon and Catherine Callaghan.
Please note: The Bancroft Library does not hold Native American human remains. However, some collections do contain photographs where remains are visible.
Alfred L. Kroeber was at the forefront of the early emergence of anthropology as a field of study. Primarily interested in Californian Indians, he conducted extensive research on numerous native groups in the region. His field notes cover a wide variety of topics, including linguistics, phonetics, mythology, ethnogeography, music, material culture, ethnography, and kinship.
In 1901, Kroeber was offered a position in the new Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. By 1909, he headed both the department and the UC Museum of Anthropology at Parnassus Heights in San Francisco. He was promoted to full professor in 1919 and taught at Berkeley for 45 years until his retirement in 1946.
While Kroeber's contributions to the field of anthropology is immense, UC Berkeley acknowledges the controversial legacy of this man - his collecting of native remains, his unequal relationship with Ishi, and his erroneous but damaging pronouncement that the Ohlone people were culturally extinct.
A highlight of this collection are the multiple cardfile boxes of phonetic tracings of native words, a visual representation of sound. The tracings represent the action of the breath at the lips and the accompanying activity of the vocal cords.
Salinan phonetic tracing of Pedro Enciñales
Image citation: Salinan phonetic tracing, A.L. Kroeber papers, BANC MSS C-B 925, Carton 14, File box 3, Envelope 1 & 2, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
This eclectic collection is composed of a wide variety of materials, including manuscripts, field notes, and other linguistic, ethnographic, and ethnobotanical documents. Specific formats include card files, newspaper clippings, genealogical tables, charts, maps, drawings, and photographs. Some of the data were gathered by Berkeley anthropology graduate students for the Culture Element Distribution Survey, under the direction of Alfred L. Kroeber. These documents also include more than 100 field notebooks containing interviews with Californian Indians that were conducted under the auspices of the United States Works Progress Administration and the California State Employment Relief Administration during the 1930s. The collection also provides insight into the history of the Anthropology Department and of the development of ethnology in California.
Notebook of Yahi Duck Myths
Image citation: Yahi notebook 1: Duck myth, Ethnological documents of the Department and Museum of Anthropology, CU-23.1:35.1, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Tubatulabal phonetic system note cards
Image citation: Tubatulabal phonetic system notes, Ethnological documents of the Department and Museum of Anthropology, CU-23.1:34.5, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
In August 1911, a starving Native American man walked out of the wilderness into Oroville. He was identified by Alfred Kroeber and his colleague T. T. Waterman as the last of a remnant band of Yahi people native to the Deer Creek region, a tribe that was decimated by a series of massacres. They brought the man to the University of California Museum of Anthropology, then located in San Francisco, and gave him the name "Ishi" which meant "man" in the Yahi language. Ishi was then employed as a live-in custodian as well as a demonstrator of Yahi culture to the museum visitors. In working with Kroeber, Waterman, and other anthropologists, Ishi provided insight about his language, a dialect presumed lost until his emergence. Ishi contracted tuberculosis and died on March 25, 1916.
A statement from the Museum of Anthropology:
We must now recognize that Ishi’s position at the Museum resembled indentured servitude and that he was objectified as a living exhibit. Kroeber counted Ishi as his friend, but he also used their unequal relationship to advance his own career and the Museum’s popularity.
Ishi salmon fishing on Deer Creek
Image citation: Salmon fishing on Deer Creek [Ishi], C. Hart Merriam collection of Native American photographs, BANC PIC 1978.008--PIC, v.48, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Ishi's reading lessons notebook
Image citation: Reading lessons notebook, A.L. Kroeber papers, BANC MSS C-B 925, Carton 17, Folder 33, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
C. Hart Merriam started his career as a natural historian of the rural West, but later his primary research focus shifted to Native American cultures in California. He was especially interested in documenting and preserving the Indigenous languages of the region, which were being lost through the death of older tribal members and the assimilation of surviving members into white culture. Merriam did extensive field work, interviewing surviving tribal members and recording their language in printed vocabulary schedules, very carefully documenting names and locations of those with whom he worked. His collection contains field notes, vocabulary schedules, manuscripts, typescripts, notebooks, clippings, printed matter, and photographs relating to those efforts with California Indians.
Dave Mauwee (L) and C. Hart Merriam (R)
Image citation: Dave Mauwee and C. Hart Merriam, C. Hart Merriam collection of Native American photographs, BANC PIC 1978.008--PIC, v.30, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Chumash field check lists
Image citation: Chumash field check lists, C. Hart Merriam papers, BANC MSS 80/18, Carton 10, Folder N/13e/NH53, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley