September 18, 2008

Smithsonian has stuff

Drafting a FutureDuring his getting-acquainted tour of the Smithsonian, G. Wayne Clough, the institution's new secretary, was stopped in his tracks by a group of researchers poring over pages of "endangered" languages.

Clough sat there in the reading room of the National Anthropological Archives in Suitland, one of the many outposts of the Smithsonian empire, and heard how experts at the institution have been collecting languages since before the Smithsonian was the Smithsonian.

This group handed him some cards. He undid the white ribbon and found slips with words from the Poosepatuck Nation. Clough recalled he was a little flabbergasted when Robert Leopold told him these were 19th-century copies of a set that Thomas Jefferson had written on a trip to Long Island in 1791. And Clough (pronounced "cluff") said he was even more impressed when he visited a laboratory and saw that 8,000 pages of Cherokee had been digitized and shared with North Carolina tribe members who wanted to teach their children the language.

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