William C. Farabee expedition records
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives [Contact Us]3260 South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19104-6324
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William Curtis Farabee was born February 7, 1865, near Sparta, Washington County, Pa. He studied at California State Normal School from 1885 to 1887, before attending Waynesburg College, Pa., where he received his B.A. He was a teacher and public school principal following his graduation. In 1897 he married Sylvia Manilla Holdren of Athens, Ohio.
Farabee attended Harvard University, studying physical anthropology under William C. Castle. He was also a student of anthropologist Frederic Ward Putnam. He received his Ph.D. in 1903, only the second student at Harvard to be awarded a degree in his field. His dissertation dealt with digital malformations in humans, and was reputedly the first successful attempt to apply Mendelian principles of genetics to human subjects. He taught anthropology at Harvard from 1903 to 1913. His early work, in addition to genetic research, included field work in archaeology in the Tennessee and Ohio valleys, the American Southwest, and Iceland (1901- 1905). He led the J. DeMilhau Ethnological Expedition to South America from 1906 to 1909 (Harvard University), exploring the rainforest of Peru east of the Andes.
In 1907 Dr. Farabee was offered a position at the University of Pennsylvania Museum as curator of the Department American Archaeology and Ethnology after the departure of Stewart Cullin, but he declined, accepting instead a post as instructor at Harvard.
Farabee was subsequently offered a position as leader of the South American Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania Museum by director George Byron Gordon in 1912, which he also declined. Gordon then asked explorer Algot Lange to lead the expedition. Lange completed much preparatory work, but was replaced when Farabee accepted the position in 1913, in addition to the museum curatorship, which he held until 1917. Lange was then sent as special envoy to Brazil to prepare local authorities for the expedition, but bad feelings between Lange and the museum persisted, and his relationship to the expedition and the museum was terminated.
The task of the South American, or Amazon expedition, was to record the cultures of indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin, threatened by incursions of the developing rubber trade. It was also assigned to conduct archaeological investigations in the region whose prehistory was virtually unknown. During the Amazon expedition Farabee spent three years (1913-1916) exploring and documenting the little-known Arawak and Carib tribes of the Amazon basin in Brazil, British Guiana and eastern Peru. His field notes document bodily measurements, material culture, languages, and myths and customs of the local peoples. His travel companions included a Scotsman, John W. Ogilvie, an adventurer and trader who had lived for fourteen years among the Wapisiana, and physician Franklin H. Church, who departed the team early for health reasons. Farabee also spent some time excavating archaeological sites on the island of Marajo at the mouth of the Amazon, where he recovered a large collection of ceramics. He documented several prehistoric cave sites north of the river, as well as petroglyphs along the expedition route. He was able to record a great deal of new cartographic information concerning the Amazon basin. In some cases, he was the first person of European origin to be seen by natives, although some of his assertions in this respect were later challenged. In addition to his field notes, Farabee sent back to the museum a significant collection of native artifacts, as well as drawings and photographs.
Artifacts from the Amazon expedition were exhibited at the University Museum in 1917 (again in 1927). The same year Farabee was the recipient of the Elisha Kent Medal from the Philadelphia Geographical Society. He also received a gold medal from the Explorers Club of New York.
Farabee served in the Intelligence Corps of the U.S. Army during World War I, and was selected by President Wilson to be chief ethnographer of the American Peace Commission during the Versailles Treaty negotiations. He was responsible for drawing up a series of cultural maps of the world. In 1921, President Harding sent him as special diplomatic envoy to Peru. There he was decorated with the Order of the Sun, and became an honorary member of the University of San Marcos, Lima. From 1921-1922 he was president of the American Anthropological Association.
Farabee returned to South America in 1922, exploring the Andean regions of Nasca, Pisco, Tambo Colorado and Arequipa, collecting pottery and textile artifacts. He also made ethnological observations concerning the Quechua Indians. This expedition was cut short when he contracted dysentery, or pernicious anemia, which required him to remove for a time to Chile, where he studied the Araucanian Indians, and eventually to return to the United States. Despite heroic efforts at a cure, he succumbed to recurring illness on June 24, 1925.
Dr. Farabee was the author of several scholarly books and articles related to his anthropological studies. His most important monographs are The Central Arawaks (1918), Indian Tribes of Eastern Peru (1922), and The Central Caribs (1924). Farabee published an account of the Amazon expedition: “A Pioneer in Amazonia: The Narrative of a Journey from Manaos to Georgetown” in The Bulletin of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, vol. XV, no. 2 (April 1917). About half of Farabee’s ethnological data remained unpublished at his death. By his own estimate, he had enough data to generate an additional volume on ethnology and another of archaeology.
The William C. Farabee expedition records consist of 5.3 linear feet of textual and photographic material related to the South American, or Amazon expedition (1913-1916) and the Andean expedition (1922-1923), of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. The bulk of the collection, at least 4.1 linear feet, concerns the Amazon expedition. The collection consists of correspondence, diaries, field notes, drawings, photographs, publishing information, talks, and various administrative documents. The bulk of the Amazon material concerns anthropological data relating to various tribes of the Amazon basin in Brazil, British Guiana, and eastern Peru. The native peoples documented belong to the Arawak and Carib linguistic families. Data include somatology, linguistics, notes on material culture, folklore, music and myths. Farabee also recorded cartographic and other practical information during his expedition, including notes on flora and fauna. The Amazon expedition records include archaeological notes related to excavations on the island of Marajo and other nearby prehistoric sites. The Andean expedition records contain both ethnological and archaeological material.
The Amazon expedition collection is divided into series by type: correspondence, diaries, field notes, administrative documents, publications and talks. The Andean expedition consists of one series. The photograph series contains material from the Amazon expedition, Andean expedition, as well as the Harvard DeMilhau expedition to Peru in 1906-1909. Three boxes containing notes on index cards complement the folders in the main collection. The index cards are referenced in the finding aid after their related folders by box number only, but they can be easily searched after the following order:
Box 6: Diaries, Native tribes arranged alphabetically, Archaeology, Flora and fauna, Somatology, Administrative files and bibliographies, Notes for talks and public presentations
Box 7: Carib vocabularies
Box 8: Arawak vocabularies, John Rowe notes on Andean collection, Archaeological notes on Manabi, Ecuador and Peruvian pottery
Documents are principally in English, but there are several files, usually data collected from other scholars, in Portuguese, Spanish, French and German. Spellings of indigenous tribes vary; the spellings used in this finding aid are those used by Farabee.
This collection was originally processed in 1983. At that time, numerous processor notes were appended to the collection. These have been retained where they contain useful information, although some notes may be misleading. Farabee’s field notebooks were numbered and arranged by him, and this order has been retained. Additional notes on index cards intended to complement the notebooks were often numbered by Farabee to correspond to the field notebooks. Other unnumbered notebooks had been given a letter designation by a later researcher; these have not been used in the present collection arrangement as they have no relation to the original collection.
- Church, Franklin H. (Franklin Higby), 1880-
- Farabee, William Curtis, b. 1865-d. 1925
- Gordon, G. B. (George Byron), 1870-1927
- Lange, Algot, 1884-
- Ogilvie, John W.
- Arawak Indians
- Carib Indians
- Mundurucu Indians
- Quechua Indians
- Waiwai Indians
- Wapisiana Indians
- University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by James R. DeWalt
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The Amazon expedition correspondence relates to the earliest efforts of the University of Pennsylvania Museum to mount an expedition to South America, through follow-up and scholarly activity after the expedition. Early documents include communications with Algot Lange, the original leader of the project. Once Farabee takes charge, the correspondence reflects the relationship between him and museum director George Byron Gordon, Franklin H. Church, and to some extent John W. Ogilvie. The series contains not only formal correspondence, but also documentation relating to travel, equipment, and other preparations. Included also are reports and depositions by expedition team members regarding various incidents and situations encountered, and newspaper clippings covering the expedition. Later correspondence relates to scholarly challenges to some of Farabee’s claims, and also to his interest in the palm nut oil business in Brazil.
The Amazon expedition diaries series contains travel diaries and one travel account. They do not cover the entire progress of the expedition, but highlight certain passages. The Marajo excavations are well represented. Some of the notebooks were labeled as field notes by a later processor, but they are described as diaries by Farabee. Some of the diary text, typewritten as index entries, have been filed in Box 6. It should be noted that throughout the field notes series, brief dated entries recording the progress of the expedition may be encountered.
The field notes series is contained in two filing systems. The first are notebooks referring to various Arawak and Carib peoples, and numbered by Farabee, who refers to these numbers in numerous places throughout his notes. Books 10 and 12 are missing. The second section contains notebooks and subjects not numbered, although some were later given letter labels by a processor. These letters are not followed in the present arrangement. The series contains not only notes taken by Farabee himself, but also research notes gathered from other scholars. Almost none of the field notes are dated. A large portion of the data in this series concerns vocabulary lists, most on index cards in separate boxes, but others included among the notebooks devoted to native peoples. Any topic in this series may be found among the numbered notebooks, the notebooks and documents not numbered, and the index card collection. The order maintained in the filing aid list is an attempt to make some sense out of this system, but thorough research will require consulting all areas of the series.
The administrative series contains documents relating to general information gathered in preparation for the expedition and later organization of files and other documentation. Bibliographies, lists of photographic negatives and other practical information are included, some pertaining to Farabee’s business interests. A proposal (1918) for an expedition to the Central and South American coasts, although not properly belonging to the Amazon expedition, is filed here, as well as a brief autobiographical sketch, written by Farabee himself.
The publications and talks series contains notes and drafts of manuscripts in preparation for several publications, both articles written about the expedition, and two books by Farabee: The Central Arawaks (1918), and The Central Caribs (1924), including a file of illustrations. Notes for talks given before various groups are included on index cards in Box 6.
The Andean expedition contains all of the topics described in the Amazon expedition in one series: correspondence, field notes, archaeological notes, talks and administrative files. The field notes for southern Peru contain some brief diary entries from October 1922. Among the index card collection are archaeological notes from Manabi, Ecuador, and a file containing notes and drawings of Peruvian pottery.
The photograph series contains photographic prints principally from the Amazon expedition (1913-1916), but also from the Andean expedition (1922-1923) and from the Harvard University DeMilhau expedition to Peru (1906-1909). Farabee used both glass slide and nitrate film. The photographs are arranged by expedition and subject, mostly tribal affiliations. Some of the photographs in this series are by John W. Ogilvie. There is a catalogue of negatives for the Amazon expedition in the Amazon expedition administrative series. The catalogue is indexed alphabetically by detailed subject, with photograph numbers.