This collection is comprised of the professional papers of Gordon D. Gibson. The collection contains his correspondence, field notes, research files, museum records, writings, photographs, sound recordings, and maps.The bulk of the collection consists of Gibson's southwestern Africa research. This includes his field notes, film scripts, photographs, sound recordings, and grant proposals he wrote in support of his fieldwork in Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. In addition, the collection contains his research notes, maps, drafts, publications, and papers presented at conferences. While most of his research focused on the Herero and Himba, the collection also contains his research on the Ovambo and Okavango and other southwestern African groups. In the collection is a great deal of photocopies and microfilms of literature on southwestern African ethnic groups, many of which are in Portuguese and German and which he had translated for his files. He was also interested in African material culture, especially Central African headgear. His research on African caps is well-represented in the collection, and includes photos of caps at various museums, source materials, research notes, and textile samples of knots and loop work. Gibson's files as the curator of African ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History also make up a significant portion of the collection. Among these records are his files for the museum's Hall of African Cultures and other African exhibits; his files on the museum's African collections, early donors and collectors of the collections; his personnel files; documents relating to his committee work; department and museum memos; meeting minutes; and his records as head of the Old World Division and acting chair of the department. The collection also documents the efforts to establish the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Film Center, now the Human Studies Film Archives, as well as his work on the planning committee to establish the Museum of Man at the Smithsonian. Memos and minutes relating to the Smithsonian's Center for the Study of Man are also present in the collection. In addition to Gibson's field photos, the collection also contains African photos taken by others. Among these are Herbert Friedmann's photos of Kenya; Hausmann's Libya photos; photos by Ralph Kepler Lewis during the Morden Africa Expedition in Kenya; and photos by Lawrence Marshall, Volkmar Wentzel, Alfred Martin Duggan Cronin, and Father Carlos Estermann. There are also photos of the exhibit cases from the Hall of African Cultures; photos of Smithsonian and non-Smithsonian African artifacts; and copies of photographs he obtained from different archives, including the National Anthropological Archives. Other materials in the collection include his files as film reviews editor for the American Anthropologist during the 1960s and 70s and his activities in different organizations.
Arranged into 19 series: (1) Correspondence, 1938-1998; (2) Southwestern Africa Research, 1951-2004; (3) Caps Research; (4) Nineteenth Century Collectors; (5) General Research Files; (6) Exhibits, 1959-2007; (7) Curatorial Files, 1936-1984; (8) National Anthropological Film Center, 1965-1983; (9) Museum of Man, 1952-1981 [bulk 1968-1981]; (10) Center for the Study of Man (1967-1979); (11) Writings, 1947-1981; (12) Organizations; (13) Daily Log, 1958-1983; (14) Personal Files ; (15) Card Files; (16) Photographs, circa 1904-1983 [bulk 1953-1983]; (17) Microfilm; (18) Maps; (19) Sound Recordings
Gordon D. Gibson (1915-2007) was trained at the University of Chicago (Ph.D., 1952) and joined the staff of the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology in 1958 as its curator of African ethnology. He served in that capacity until 1983. During the 1960s, he undertook a major renovation of the National Museum of Natural History's African exhibits, which had been on display since the 1920s. He developed the Hall of African Cultures, which opened in 1969 and remained on view until 1992. He was also instrumental in establishing the National Anthropological Film Center, now the Human Studies Film Archives. During his tenure, he also served as the first chairman of the Senate of Scientists of the National Museum of Natural History (1963-1964), chairman of the museum's photographic facilities committee (1968), member of the Center for the Study of Man, and member and chairman of the Department of Anthropology collections committee and its photographs records committee (1970s-1980s). He also had special interests in the department's library and processing lab. In 1980, he was chairman of a committee which studied the feasibility of establishing a Smithsonian Institution Museum of Man. Gibson held several offices and committee memberships with the Anthropological Society of Washington during the during the 1960s and 1970s and served as film review editor of the American Anthropologist. Gibson conducted fieldwork among the Herero and Himba in Botswana (1953, 1960-61), Namibia (1960-61, 1971-73), and Angola (1971-73). Articles produced from his field research include "Bridewealth and Other Forms of Exchange Among the Herero," "Double Descent and Its Correlates among the Herero of Ngamiland," "Herero Marriage," and "Himba Epochs." While in the field, he also filmed footage of the Herero, Himba, Zimba, and Kuvale. His edited films include Herero of Ngamiland (1953), Himba Wedding (1969), and The Himba (1972). In addition to the Herero and Himba, he also conducted research on the Okavango and Ovambo people. He edited and translated Carlos Estermann's Ethnography of Southwestern Angola (published in 3 volumes in 1976-81) and edited and contributed to The Kavango Peoples (1981). Gibson's research interests also included Central African headgear, coauthoring High Status Caps of the Kongo and Mbundu (1977) with Cecilia R. McGurk.
Other materials relating to Gordon Gibson at the National Anthropological Archives can be found in the Records of the Department of Anthropology, Records of the Bureau of American Ethnology, and the Records of the American Anthropological Association.
The Human Studies Film Archives holds his films on the Herero, Himba, Kuvale, and Zimba.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives has materials relating to Gibson's work as the first chairman of the Senate of Scientists.
The papers of Gordon D. Gibson were received in three separate accessions. The first accession (comprised of correspondence; committee files; and materials relating to the Herbert Ward collection, the National Anthropological Film Center, the Center for the Study of Man, and the Museum of Man) was transferred to the National Anthropological Archives by Gibson after his retirement. A guide to this accession was created in 2001. An accretion (consisting of correspondence, fieldwork and research files, curatorial files, writings, photographs, sound recordings, and maps) was transferred to the archives by Gibson's family in 2007. His exhibition and museum specimen files were transferred to the archives in 2008 by the Department of Anthropology.
The Gordon Davis Gibson papers are open for research. Access to the computer disks in the collection are restricted due to preservation concerns. The personnel files of Smithsonian staff have also been restricted.
Access to the Gordon Davis Gibson papers requires an appointment.