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Collection Margaret Mead Papers and the South Pacific Ethnographic Archives

About this Collection

This selection of fieldwork materials (212 folders containing approximately 9,450 items; 37,273 images) from the papers of noted American anthropologist and writer Margaret Mead (1901–1978) spans the years 1925-1978, with the bulk dating 1925-1933. Part of the “Fieldwork: South Pacific Ethnographic Archives” series in a much larger Mead collection, these documents relate principally to her early field expeditions between 1925 and 1933 studying life among peoples in American Samoa, present-day Papua New Guinea, and the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, with a scattering of folders relating to more recent trips to New Guinea in the early 1970s. The content was originally selected and digitized in 2016-2017, under a third party digitization agreement with the Library of Congress, by Alexander Street Press for its “Anthropological Fieldwork Online” collection. Additional documents relating to Mead’s fieldwork and other professional and personal activities during this time period and later are available for research use in the Manuscript Reading Room. Please consult the finding aid—PDF (1.6MB) and HTML—to the Margaret Mead Papers and the South Pacific Ethnographic Archives for a description of the entire collection, including links to the digital content on this site reproduced from the following boxes:  

  • N1–N4: Margaret Mead Field Trip, American Samoa, 1925-1971 (27 folders)
    During her first field expedition, Mead focused on studying child-rearing practices and gender roles in American Samoa, resulting in her groundbreaking book, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). These documents include correspondence, field bulletins, field data, note cards, and post-field material. Correspondents include Franz Boas, William Churchill, Mead family members, including Mead’s grandmother Martha Mead, National Research Council, and American Samoans.
  • N40–N49: Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune Field Trip, Admiralty Islands, 1928-1975 (64 folders)
    Mead returned to the field a few years later, this time in collaboration with her then-husband, Reo Fortune (1903-1979). They conducted research together on various expeditions, the first to Manus, the Admiralty Islands, between 1928 and 1929. The Manus people of Pere Village, to which Mead returned five times after this initial expedition with Fortune, were the focus of Mead’s and Fortune’s research at this time. Subsequently, Mead published Growing Up in New Guinea: A Comparative Study of Primitive Education (1930) and Fortune published Manus Religion: An Ethnological Study of the Manus Natives of the Admiralty Islands (1935) from these field observations. Documents include correspondence, field bulletins, field data, children’s drawings, notes, notebooks, and census data.
  • N92–N103: Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune Field Trip, New Guinea, 1931-1973 (91 folders)
    From 1931 to 1933, Mead and Fortune took a second field trip together to New Guinea. This time they gathered significant research data on the Arapesh, Biwat (Mundugumor), and Chambri (Tchambuli) peoples on the subjects of kinship, legends, linguistics, sex attitudes, and material culture. These documents include correspondence, field bulletins, administrative papers, field data, children’s drawings, bark paintings, notebooks, and notes. Mead published Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935) based on this fieldwork in New Guinea.
  • N119–120: Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune Field Trip, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska (“Omaha Indians”), United States, 1930 (13 folders)
    Mead and Fortune also undertook a field expedition together among the Omaha in 1930, after which Fortune published Omaha Secret Societies (1932). Documents include correspondence, administrative materials, field data, including census material, and miscellany.
  • N119: Margaret Mead and Others, Field Trips, New Guinea, 1935-1972 (10 folders)
    Although Mead’s and Fortune’s study of the Omaha was of principal interest to Alexander Street Press in 2016-2017, the entire contents of container N119 were scanned, including copies of Mead’s diary from a 1938 trip to study the Iatmul people; administrative files and field notes relating to her 1971 return trip to New Guinea with anthropologist Rhoda Bubenday Metraux (1914-2003); field letters and administrative materials relating to Metraux’s 1972 trip to New Guinea, which was apparently named in honor of her and Mead’s friend and collaborator Jane Belo Tannenbaum (1904-1968); and field notes from Fortune’s 1935 field trip to the Kamano River headwaters in the East Central Highlands of New Guinea.

Collection Advisory

The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people. Through its website, the Library offers broad public access to a wide range of information, including historical materials that may contain negative stereotypes and explicit or offensive language.  The Library asks that researchers approach the materials in this collection with respect for the cultures and sensibilities of the people whose lives, ideas, and creativity are documented here.