Special Collections Research: Locating Delaware Artifacts at External Institutions
Semester: Spring 2023
Praxis Course: HART 420 Museum Studies Fieldwork Seminar
Faculty Advisors: Matthew Feliz & Monique Scott
Field Site: Bryn Mawr College Special Collections
Field Supervisors: Allison Mills & Carrie Robbins
For my Praxis project, the main goal was to learn if any artifacts from the Delaware Tribe, procured by donors whose collections have ended up at BMC Special Collections, are also being held at other institutions. Due to the great imposition this research would have taken on tribe members and the necessity of repatriation happening in as few rounds as possible, it is key that this research was conducted.
The first part of the research involved confirming the names that the Delaware tribe has gone by (or have been called) throughout their history and to also learn where tribe members have lived from about 1800 to 1920. This information was key for me, when looking through museum databases. I created a spreadsheet and listed every name that the tribe went under so that when I searched museums, I wouldn’t miss any results. Locations were also important so that if an object was tagged with one of the relevant states, I’d know to investigate it further or to narrow my searches to certain states.
The second part of my research was looking for the identities of donors. Many of the names on the scans my supervisors provided were only of initials and/or last names. We didn’t know who most of these people were or details about their lives. Therefore, I conducted research through census data, searching for full names and identities. Knowing the donors’ identities would allow me to learn which institutions they were associated with so I would know to search through their museum collections. Ultimately, I learned the identities of up to eight donors (for three, I am making an educated guess, but I was unable to fully confirm their identity) out of approximately 23 unknown donors on the scans.
The last part of my research involved my various trips to the archives of Swarthmore, Haverford, and The Academy of Natural Sciences. While my visits to Swarthmore and Haverford were useful, I found the most information at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Through my visit, I found letters and documents between donors and institutions (or curators), some of which confirmed the move of artifacts to these institutions. I also found letters between donors and archaeologists who purchased items or asked for the recipient’s expertise. Lastly, many of these letters confirmed sites where artifacts were excavated (and who excavated them).
Results: In total I was able to find artifacts at the Ohio History Connection and the Smithsonian that might be of Delaware origin. The next step involves working with the tribe to try and confirm whether these objects are in fact Delaware artifacts.