Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “ethnic background”

Smithsonian Institution Anthropology Databases

Smithsonian Institution Anthropology Databases –http://anthropology.si.edu/accessinganthropology/onlinedatabases.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I find resources pertaining to Kenyan drama?
  • Where can I find photos of the Ainu people?
  • Where could I find hats native to the Canary Islands?


From the website:

The Department of Anthropology, a part of the National Museum of Natural History, maintains ethnographic, archaeological, and human biological collections numbering over two and a half million items and the nation’s premier archives devoted to anthropological manuscripts and film. Anthropology collections document world cultures past and present and the history of anthropology. Information on collections, conservation, and research is available through the databases and web pages listed below.

Searching the names of ethnic groups may provide helpful material that can be used in your characters’ backstories or likes/dislikes.


National Museum of the American Indian Collections

National Museum of the American Indian Collections – http://www.nmai.si.edu/searchcollections/home.aspx

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What kind of rattle might a Tlingit child have played with?
  • What sort of Cherokee archaeological artifacts might be found in Georgia?
  • What kind of beaded moccasins might a Mohawk child have worn?


From the web site:

Welcome to NMAI Collections Search, which includes a representative sample of NMAI’s object and historic photo collections. Each item is accompanied by basic, standardized information. To become familiar with the site, start with one of the Collection Highlight tours or search the website using this page or the tabs at the top.

Our goal is to include as many items as possible, but objects and photos will be added only when NMAI staff have reviewed the accuracy of accompanying information. Items identified as culturally sensitive or which are no longer part of NMAI’s collections will not appear on this website. Please contact NMAI about providing additional information or correcting any errors.

Records for many objects include their original catalog cards, which often date to the early 1900s. These cards may include tribal names and terminology considered unacceptable or offensive today but they have been included to illustrate the information that originally accompanied the objects.

To search the database, choose one of the following tabs: Peoples/cultures, artists/individuals, places, object specifics or advanced search. Different search criteria will appear.

Examples of objects with photo records here include:

  • Tlingit oystercatcher rattle
  • Cherokee pipe bowl
  • Mohawk pin cushion
  • Mayan Lancet/Blood-letting implement

This database should be of aid in ensuring that the right artifacts are used by the correct tribes in your story.

Handbook of the North American Indians (Smithsonian Institution)

Handbook of the North American Indians (Smithsonian Institution)
(Find in a Library – http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/13240086)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I learn more about Salish ceremonies?
  • What are some characteristics of the Indian Shaker Church?
  • What are some traditional aspects for the Hopi World View?
  • What are some Native American writing systems and when did they arise?
  • What vowels exist in Seneca, an Iroquoian language?


From the Smithsonian description of the series:

An encyclopedia summarizing knowledge about all Native peoples north of Mesoamerica, including cultures, languages, history, prehistory, and human biology, is a standard reference work for anthropologists, historians, students, and the general reader. Leading authorities have contributed chapters to each volume. Area volumes include separate chapters on all tribes. This heavily illustrated work contains extensive bibliographies and is well indexed. Each volume may be purchased and used independently.

This print only set consists of 16 volumes (curiously numbered from 2-17) published over a period of decades:


  • v. 2:   Indians in Contemporary Society
  • v. 3:   Environment, Origins, and Population
  • v. 4:   History of Indian-White Relations
  • v. 5:   Arctic
  • v. 6:   Subarctic
  • v. 7:   Northwest Coast
  • v. 8:   California
  • v. 9:   Southwest
  • v. 10:  Southwest
  • v. 11:  Great Basin
  • v. 12:  Plateau
  • v. 13:  Plains
  • v. 14:  Southeast
  • v. 15:  Northeast
  • v. 17:  Languages

The volumes relating to tribes can usually be counted on having these extra features in addition to narrative essays:

  • Key to tribal territories
  • Technical alphabet
  • English pronunciations
  • Conventions for illustrations
  • Preface – contains information about how information in volume was compiled.


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