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Indian Notes Now Available!

No, not the rupee! We mean Indian Notes, a recent entry into the Libraries’ digital collection through the History, Art, and Culture (HAC) digitization project. Available through the Smithsonian Collection at the Internet Archive, access Indian Notes here. Lynne Altstatt, Librarian at the Vine Deloria, Jr. Library at the National Museum of the American Indian, selected this title for digitization because of the impact increased access will have for researchers of Native American culture. She adds, “Indian Notes was a quarterly serial publication designed to present the activities of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation (MAI) and to present preliminary results of those activities. Volumes 1-7 were published by the MAI between 1924 and 1930. Publication of this serial resumed in 1972 and ended again in 1978 producing volumes 8-12. Two indexes for this serial publication were compiled by Museum staff, the first for volumes 1-7 and the second for volumes 8-12. In addition to this serial publication, the MAI also published a monographic series which is named Indian Notes and Monographs. The similarity in these names often leads to problems in finding materials. At the NMAI it is frequently remarked that it would have been wonderful if Heye could have used more imagination in the naming of his publications.”

From a technical perspective, this title is interesting in two ways: it illustrates a bit of museum history while highlighting the principal challenge often faced when digitizing collections — copyright clearance.

Indian Notes was published after 1923, the date which renders books exempt from copyright law. So, why were we able to scan this title and not others? Indian Notes was published by the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. The basis for the collections at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)  began with George Gustav Heye of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI). Gustav Heye is responsible for the acquisition of tens of thousands of objects during the early 1900’s and onward. Heye is somewhat notoriously known as a voracious collector of everything native in the Western Hemisphere.  Lynn Altstatt further explains, "while it is said that the only reason Heye had a museum is that he was a avid collector and wanted to own the objects, the MAI was run in a scholarly fashion on a par with other  major museums of the period." More information about the collection history at NMAI is available here.

Through the Heye Foundation, the MAI published Indian Notes starting in 1924 and, as mentioned above, in fits and starts, until 1978. In 1989 when the MAI’s collections were transferred to the the National Museum of the American Indian, so were the publication rights that were previously under the purview of the Heye Foundation. Consequently, the History, Art, and Culture  digitization project through the Smithsonian Libraries is able (and excited) to digitize selections published by the Heye Foundation! 

Erin Thomas

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