Peabody Museum to Digitize and Share Kalahari Archives with Descendant Communities in Africa

September 9, 2020
N!ai and friends with a Peabody Museum truck, 1955.
N!ai and friends with a Peabody Museum truck, 1955. Photograph probably by Daniel Blitz. Gift of Laurence K. Marshall and Lorna J. Marshall. © President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 2001.29.633.

The Peabody Museum begins a two-year project to catalog, digitize, and share the photographs and records of one of the most significant contributions to American anthropology: the eight Marshall Family expeditions to the northwest Kalahari region of Southern Africa (1950–1961). The museum will share the archives with the descendants of the Ju/’hoansi and G/wi, with whom the Marshalls worked.

The Marshalls documented how the Indigenous peoples of the Kalahari San (primarily the Ju/’hoansi) lived prior to extended contact with the “modern world.”

The Marshall Family Expedition archives contains 35,252 photographs and ~16,000 pages of ethnographic journals, diaries, genealogical data, correspondence, and financial records. Currently, less than 10 percent of the archives are digitized.

In preparation for this project, the Peabody Museum has already shared materials with the Museums Association of Namibia for its Stand Together traveling exhibition inspired by the desire of San youth to learn more about their traditions. In addition, the museum will support in part a permanent exhibition of Marshall Family photographs at the !Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre and a component at Tsumkwe, where the Marshalls worked, and where some of the Ju/’hoansi they photographed are still living. The museum is working to collaborate with universities in South Africa and Botswana to disseminate the newly digitized material among the San.

There is significant potential for this uncataloged material to reveal new insights regarding historic and contemporary patterns in the social, political, and ritualistic culture of traditional Kalahari communities. Making these materials accessible enables the Peabody Museum to aggregate and synthesize the new data for use in education, exhibitions, and public programs, and provides a resource for dialogue among scholars, students, the public, and—very importantly—contemporary descendant communities.

This project was made possible by Harvard University and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (grant number MA-245387-OMS-20). The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums. It advances, supports, and empowers America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Its vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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See also: Africa