Antiquities Act 1906-2006 [link to homepage] Centennial Activities [link to centennial page]

Ann Hitchcock, Chief Curator, National Park Service
Session: "Common Ground: AAM and Antiquities Act 1906-2006 and Beyond", The American Association of Museums Annual Meeting, May 3, 2005

Good afternoon. I am Ann Hitchcock, Chief Curator for the National Park Service.

This session is: Common Ground: AAM and Antiquities Act—1906-2006 and Beyond.

The AAM and the Antiquities Act, both created in 1906, share a common heritage in protecting archeological resources. The two centennials offer a time to reflect on the accomplishments and changes in the past 100 years; to assess the current status of archeological collections management and public interpretation; and to challenge ourselves to leave a legacy that resolves today's pressing issues.

I'll set the scene for the founding of the AAM and the passage of the Act in 1906, but first, I want to introduce the panelists who will be discussing these two events, their impact over the past century, and challenges for the future.

Marjorie Schwarzer is Associate Professor and Chair of Museum Studies at John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley. A museum professional since 1981, she held leadership positions at the Boston Children's Museum and Chicago Children's Museum. She is currently authoring a book about American museum history in tandem with AAM's centennial celebration.

Frank McManamon is Chief Archeologist and Manager of the Archeology Program for the National Park Service. He is also Departmental Consulting Archeologist for the Department of the Interior, carrying out responsibilities assigned to the Secretary of the Interior. He oversees development of policy, regulations, and guidance for the National Park Service's archeology program.

Joe Watkins is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. Choctaw Indian and archeologist, he researches the ethical practice of anthropology and its relationships with aboriginal populations. His book Indigenous Archaeology: American Indian Values and Scientific Practice is in its second printing.

Robert Breunig became Director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, a major repository of Federal archeological collections, in 2003. He was the museum's educator and curator from 1975-1982. He has also directed the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

Now to set the scene…

Given that the number of museum professionals and archeologists was relatively small at the turn of the last century and that the two groups had overlapping interests and often worked in the same institutions, one might expect a shared history between the founding of the American Association of Museums and the passage of the Antiquities Act, which both occurred in 1906. Although not widely recognized, such a shared history exists-primarily at the personal and institutional levels. A phenomenal number of museums, universities, and historical societies wrote letters to Congress in support of the legislation. Twenty-five such letters were printed in full in the record of hearings held by the House Public Lands Committee in 1904. Several individuals and major museums played prominent roles in both causes during their formative stages.

For example, W J McGee, Director of the St. Louis Public Museum, was one of nine museum directors who issued an invitation to their colleagues to attend a convention in May 1906 to discuss establishing a museum association. McGee, who had been John Wesley Powell's principal assistant in the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, participated in a joint committee of the Archeological Institute of America and the American Anthropological Association that appeared before Congress in 1904 in support of antiquities legislation. It was this joint committee, under the leadership of Edgar Lee Hewett, a southwestern archeologist, which provided the draft legislation that eventually passed in 1906.

Similarly, Frederic Ward Putnam, Curator of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University and regarded as a founder of modern anthropology in the U.S., played a significant role in the joint committee and the antiquities legislation. He had planned and executed the exhibit of American Indian antiquities for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the collections of which became the nucleus of the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago. He was also instrumental in forming several anthropological collections and museums, including those at Harvard, University of California at Berkeley, and the American Museum of Natural History. Although he could not attend the museum convention in 1906, because of ill health, he sent his valued endorsement, which was one of two incorporated into the minutes of that meeting.

Other well-known supporters of both endeavors included Franz Boas of the American Museum of Natural History; William Corless Mills of the Ohio State Archaeological Society; George Dorsey at the Field Museum of Natural History; George Grant MacCurdy at the Yale University Museum; and Otis T. Mason of the U.S. National Museum.

Even though these individuals and their institutions featured prominently in activities of their early professional organizations, the collaborative roles between museum and archeological associations were not as strong as one might expect.

Although museums were bursting at the seams-in many cases because of archeological collections enthusiastically acquired toward the end of the 19th century-museum professionals were concerned about issues of exhibits, public education, and access, as Marjorie will point out.

By contrast, archeologists were concerned about protection of archeological sites on federal lands from disturbance and looting. They wanted to ensure that only legitimate researchers be allowed to excavate and that all collections go to qualified museums, which Frank will discuss. They argued that areas rich in archeological sites be designated national parks or national monuments. The loss of American antiquities to museums in other countries, such as Alaskan artifacts to Russia, southwestern artifacts to Scandinavia, and mound-builder collections to England, alarmed the proponents of the antiquities legislation.

Archeology, however, was only one of many disciplines represented at the first AAM meeting, which also included paleontology, biology, history, and fine arts. Then, as today, issues related to archeology were part of a larger whole for museums. Yet, the 1906 museum professionals probably did not anticipate the impact that the Antiquities Act would have on museums over the next one hundred years, including on collections growth, exhibits, and public education.

More recently, native peoples have challenged archeological and museum ethics and practices and brought to bear new legislation that recognizes their role in determining the ultimate disposition and interpretation of their heritage. Joe will elaborate on this topic. Collaboration among native peoples, archeologists, and ethnographers is essential to informed research, planning, management, and interpretation of aboriginal populations. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 established new requirements for Federal agencies, for collections from Federal lands, and for museums that receive Federal funding, requirements which some agencies and museums have not fully met. Museums, including those in national parks, are overwhelmed by the responsibility and cost of caring for the collections legacy that the Antiquities Act and subsequent acts have created.

Even more than in 1906, the museum and archeological professions need to address these issues collaboratively, and in consultation with affiliated native peoples. Bob will issue us a challenge to do so. We will then open the floor to a discussion of how we can meet the challenge and chart a path to improve our archeological legacy during the second centuries of the AAM and the Antiquities Act.