American Museum of Natural History. Hall of African Peoples.

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Exist Dates

1968 June 7 - present

Biographical or Historical Note

abstract
Permanent exhibition. Opened June 7, 1968. Located in Section 1, Floor 2. The Hall of African Peoples at the American Museum of Natural History explores Africa's cultural heritage through time. The hall highlights lifestyles and customs—many of them disappearing—of peoples living in four environments: grasslands, deserts, forests, and river region as well as Ancient Egypt.

In 1960, plans for a new Man in Africa hall under the direction of Colin Turnball are mentioned as a part of a 1959 exhibition expansion program (1, 1960/61, p. 25). The new hall, originally called Man in Africa, would replace the old Hall of African Ethnology and opened on June 7, 1968 in the space previously used for the Hall of Oil Geology, which closed on August 16, 1965 (1, 1967/68, p. 22; 3, 1972, p. 127; 5, 1964/65, p. 2-3).

In preparation for the new hall, Colin Turnbull worked with Henry Gardiner from the Department of Preparation and Shirley Blancke from the Department of Anthropology to design layouts for the hall’s sections. Turnbull also corresponded and consulted with other museums for information and materials including Musée de l’Homme (Paris), Musée de l’Afrique Centrale (Brussels), British Museum (London), Coryndon Museum (Nairobi), Rhodes Livingstone Institute (South Rhodesia), Khartoum Museum (Sudan), Kampala Museum (Uganda), and Fort Jesus Museum (Mobasa, Kenya), Smithsonian, University Museum (Philadelphia), Museum of Primitive Art (New York), the Brooklyn Museum, Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) (5, 1962/63, 11-12).

Contributors to the hall included Alf Svendsen, sculptor, who created six life-size pygmy figures; and Stephen Searles, sculptor, who created a sample figure for 11 full-size costume mannequins. George Peterson, Preparation Supervisor, joined Colin Turnbull to collect plant life in Uganda for the displays in hall (5, 1964/65, p. 2-3, 8).

Construction began on the Hall of Man in Africa in November 1966 when Turnbull returned from the field. The hall was to focus less on the display of artifacts and more on “the ways in which people live and think, of patterns of organization. Systems of authority, law, and the concept of justice, family organization and domestic life, economic technology and structural organization, religious belief and practice, are some of the subjects to be treated...Also to be treated is the diffusion of various aspects of African social organization and belief, particularly in the New World. (5, 1966/67, p. 12-13).”

The religious, political, economic, and domestic aspects of life are illustrated with artifacts, including sculpted masks, religious icons, and tools for farming, fishing, and iron-making. Dioramas depict scenes which include the Berbers of the desert in North Africa, the Mbuti in Central Africa, and the Pokot people in East Africa. In a corridor at the end of the hall are artifacts of the great river valley civilizations of the Niger, Nile, Zambezi, and Congo. The hall features an extensive collection of African musical instruments, including the lyre, zither, flute, trumpet, oboe, bells, horns, and drums. It also showcases examples of ceremonial costumes, from the masses of banana fronds covering a Barawa “Dodo dancer” of Nigeria to the elaborate skin mask and symbolic painted leopard spots worn by the initiator of Bira boys of the Congo into manhood (2). Recordings of traditional music, most of which were recorded by Colin Turnbull, play continuously in the hall (7).

The sections of the hall are color-coded to represent four different types of African environments: Desert, Forest, Grasslands, and River Valley. (6, 1967/8, p. 4). Several cases were designed to resemble East African round houses to give the hall a village-like effect (8).

There is documentation for minor revisions in the hall in 1973-1974 and 1994-1995, the latter of which included a new map and introductory section, both under the direction of the curator of African ethnology, Enid Schildkrout (5, 1973/74, p. 8; 5, 1994/95)

This is a condensed summary of the exhibition. For additional information, see Sources and/or Related Resources.

Sources

    (1) American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1960/61-1967/68.
    (2) American Museum of Natural History. "Hall of African Peoples", accessed October 28, 2016, http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/human-origins-and-cultural-halls/hall-of-african-peoples .
    (3) American Museum of Natural History. General Guide to [the Exhibition Halls of] the American Museum of Natural History. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1911-1964.
    (4) American Museum of Natural History. American Museum of Natural History: an Introduction. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1972.
    (5) American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports, Departmental. Anthropology Annual Reports. 1962/63-1994/95.
    (7) American Museum of Natural History. Press Release. “Facts on the Hall of Man in Africa.” [1968] American Museum of Natural History Special Collection Vertical Files. American Museum of Natural History Library.
    (8) American Museum of Natural History. Press Release. “Hall of Man in Africa Opens at the American Museum of Natural History." May 21, 1968.

Chronology

  • 1960: Plans for new Man in Africa Hall begin.
  • 1961 April 15: Preparation Department begins work on Man in Africa (Hall of African Peoples).
  • 1962: Last mention of The Hall of the Peoples of Africa (Hall of African Ethnology) in the Museum’s General Guides.
  • 1965 August 16: Hall of Oil Geology closes to make way for Man in Africa (Hall of African Peoples).
  • 1965 August 16: Hall of Oil Geology closes to make way for Man in Africa (Hall of African Peoples).
  • 1966 November: Construction begins on Man in Africa (Hall of African Peoples).
  • 1968 June 4: Man in Africa (Hall of African Peoples) is completed.
  • 1968 June 7: Man in Africa (Hall of African Peoples) opens.
  • 1968 June 7: Man in Africa (Hall of African Peoples) opens.
  • 1973 - 1974: Minor revisions in the hall by curator of African Ethnology, Enid Schildkrout.
  • 1994 - 1995: New map and introductory section added by curator of African Ethnology, Enid Schildkrout.

Terms

place
New YorkExternal link
AMNH: Floor 2, Section 1.

Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

American Museum of Natural History. Department of Anthropology.
Related department
American Museum of Natural History. Department of Preparation.
Worked with Department of Anthropology to create layout and exhibits for hall
American Museum of Natural History. Hall of African Ethnology.
Man in Africa (Hall of African Peoples) replaced the Hall of African Ethnology
Blancke, Shirely
Worked with Colin Turnbull on hall; Museum Department of Anthropology
British MuseumExternal link
Consulted by Turnbull
Brooklyn MuseumExternal link
Consulted by Turnbull
Coryndon Memorial MuseumExternal link
Consulted by Turnbull
Fort Jesus MuseumExternal link
Consulted by Turnbull
Gardiner, Henry 1916-
Worked with Colin Turnbull on hall; Museum Department of Preparation
Khartoum Museum (Sudan)
Consulted by Turnbull
Museum of Primitive Art (New York, N.Y.)
Consulted by Turnbull
Musée de l’Afrique Centrale (Brussels)
Consulted by Turnbull
Musée de l’Homme (Paris)
Consulted by Turnbull
Petersen, George E.
Accompanied Colin Turnbull to Uganda to collect plant life for exhibits in hall; Supervisor, Museum Department of Preparation
Rhodes-Livingstone InstituteExternal link
Consulted by Turnbull
Royal Ontario MuseumExternal link
Consulted by Turnbull
Schildkrout, Enid
Curator, African Ethnology, Museum Department of Anthropology; made revisions to hall in 1973-1974 and 1994-1995
Searles, Stephen
Sculptor, created a sample figure for 11 full-size costume mannequins for hall
Smithsonian Institution
Consulted by Turnbull
Svendsen, Alf
Sculptor, created six life-size pygmy figures for hall
Turnbull, Colin M.
Curator and creator of hall; Curator, African Ethnology in the Museum’s Department of Anthropology
Uganda MuseumExternal link
Consulted by Turnbull; Kampala Museum in documentation
University of Pennsylvania. University Museum of Archaeology and AnthropologyExternal link
Consulted by Turnbull

Related Resources

subjectOf
African Peoples Hall photographic slide collection, undated.. American Museum of Natural History Library Special Collections.
0.25 Linear Feet (1 box ) 35 Photographic Slides; Identifier: PSC 9
subjectOf
Afrique noire [videorecording] : Senegal.
Date of resource: 1964; Film Collection no. 177; 1 videocassette (16 min.) : si., col. ; 3/4 in.
subjectOf
American Museum of Natural History Annual Reports.
1960 (page 25); 1961 (page 21); 1962 (page 58); 1963 (page 21, 70); 1964 (page 29); 1965 (page 4, 5); 1966 (page 29); 1967 (page 69); 1968 (page 10); 1969 (page 43); 1970 (page 7); 1971 (page 16); 1972 (page 30); 1974 (page 7, 14); 1976 (page 31); 1978 (page 6); 1981 (page 6); 1984 (page 61); 1988 (page 43); 1992 (page 59, 75)
subjectOf
American Museum of Natural History annual reports, 1902-2001.
Anthropology: 1960-1961; 1961-1962; 1962-1963; 1964-1965; 1966-1967; 1967-1968; 1973-1974; 1974-1975; 1994-1995; 2000-2001 / Exhibition and Graphic Arts: 1961-1962; 1963-1964; 1964-1965; 1965-1966; 1967-1968; 1969-1970
subjectOf
American Museum of Natural History Guides
General Guides 1964 (page 26); Introduction 1972 (page 7, 15); Official Guide 1984 (page 46); Official Guide 1993 (page 42, 50); Official Guide 2001 (Table of Contents, page 61)
subjectOf
American Museum of Natural History. “Hall of African Peoples.”
Official Museum page for hall
subjectOf
American Museum of Natural History press releases, 1933-1990s.
“American Museum Appoints African Ethnologist to Staff.” October 12, 1959; “African Figurine to be Shown as Exhibit of the Month.” March 27, 1968; “Hall of Man in Africa Opens at the American Museum of Natural History.” May 21, 1968
American Museum of Natural History Special Collections vertical files
Repository: AMNH Special Collections [News articles, press releases, black and white photo prints]
subjectOf
[Background study for the Mbuti diorama] [art original] / [R.W. Kane].
Date of resource: [1965-1968]; RF-FF-24; 1 painting : watercolor on paper ; 37 x 97 cm.
subjectOf
From Man in Africa to African Peoples Hall : an exhibit's trajectory through the changing mores of science and society, 1968-2001 : a thesis / presented by Christopher Michael Kirchhoff.
Date of resource: c2001; QH70.U52 N4543 2001
subjectOf
Gardner S. Stout papers, 1963-1971. American Museum of Natural History Library Special Collections.
0.5 Linear Feet (1 box); Identifier: Mss .S76
subjectOf
Historic Halls of the American Museum of Natural History
Curated digital images of permanent halls in the American Museum of Natural History Library, Digital Special Collections.
subjectOf
Man in Africa / Colin M. Turnbull ; drawings by John Morris.
Date of resource: 1976; GN645 .T87 1976
subjectOf
Museum centennial [videorecording.]
Date of resource: 1969; Film Collection no. 231; 1 videocassette (25 min.) : sd., col. ; 3/4 in.
subjectOf
[Preparatory sketches and drawings for the Hall of Man in Africa] [art original]
Date of resource: [1909-1966]
subjectOf
Series III: Departments, 1959-1969. James Arthur Oliver papers, DR 125-125A. American Museum of Natural History Library Special Collections.
From the Collection: 10.5 Linear Feet (22 boxes) : administrative papers From the Collection: 16 Linear Feet (4 boxes) : unprocessed papers; Identifier: DR 125-125A
subjectOf
The school service of the American Museum of Natural History. American Museum of Natural History Library Special Collections.
Date of resource: 1987; 1 Film Reel (28 minutes) : silent, black and white ; 16 mm. 1 Videocassette (U-Matic (28 minutes)) : silent, black and white ; 3/4 in.; Identifier: Film Collection no. 271

Written by: Clare O'Dowd
Last modified: 2018 December 21


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