Ethnography & Ethnohistory

Ethnohistoric and ethnographic research, spanning the disciplines of history and anthropology, is an integral component of good cultural resource management (CRM). This type of research is less about dates, events and chronology, and more about how people lived day to day. Ethnohistoric and ethnographic research includes early interviews with Native American and other community populations, recordation of cultural traditions, and the writings of members of cultural groups. Ethnographic and ethnohistoric sources provide important information on historic and cultural properties, but more importantly, they include a commnity's perspective. For many properties, historic and cultural value rests in the views and beliefs of a community.

Project Examples

Fort Hill

This property contains the remains of an ancient Native American fortification, but its importance to a local Native American tribe is far greater. The hill is believed to house sacred ancestors and to provide a cultural and historical connection to other significant places. Ethnographic and ethnohistoric research established that although the surrounding area is extensively developed, the setting has no effect on the power and the value of the hill. The integrity of association, feeling, and setting remains intact in terms of culture and history, so the property qualifies for National Register listing as a Traditional Cultural Property.

Agawam Herring Run

This project involved the evaluation of the National Register eligibility of a mid-19th-century stone-lined herring run on the Agawam River, along with a fish house and dam/mill remains. Adding to its complexity, the fish run was an integrated component of a nail factory built by a pioneer in pisciculture (fish farming). AHS undertook ethnohistoric and ethnographic research to understand the cultural and historical value of the fish complex to the local Wampanoags as well as non-Native populations. River herring, and the sustained efforts to restore their populations in eastern Massachusetts, have been protected since well before fisheries commissions were established. The herring run and fish house were assessed as a National Register-eligible Traditional Cultural Property, based on historic, ethnohistoric and ethnographic research.

Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center

AHS staff are experts in northeast Woodland (Michigan to North Carolina) Native American ethnographic lifeways and material culture. On behalf of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, we assembled the museum’s collection of 3,000 historic objects, ranging from snowshoes to weapons to clothing. Every item was meticulously researched and documented through enthnographic and historic sources.