April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Demonstrations: Description

By Aeroplane to Pygmyland: Repatriating and Interpreting Multiple Voices, Sources and Media from a historic New Guinea Expedition

Paul Michael Taylor, Smithsonian Institution, USA

After his return from the 1926 Dutch and American Expedition to New Guinea, Matthew Stirling (1896-1975) embarked on a film and lecture tour with the title "By Aeroplane to Pygmyland." Like many of the expedition's lasting images, Stirling's original title set modern technology (airplanes, motion pictures) in the most primitive and exotic of settings, and reaffirmed the wider collaborative projects of scientific advancement and collecting data and artifacts for the expanding national museums of both the United States and the Netherlands. The 1926 expedition had begun small, but it grew to include more than 400 participants, including Dutch military officers and scientists, Ambonese soldiers, Dayak canoemen from Borneo and Malay (Indonesian) convicts who served as carriers. They journeyed up the Mamberamo River and its Rouffaer River tributary, then hiked upland to the so-called "pygmy" tribal areas of the Sudirman mountain range. This expedition was the first to use an airplane in the exploration of New Guinea and it produced this region’s first film footage. Until now, both Dutch and American records of this massive expedition – including their record of indigenous perspectives – have remained mostly unpublished and unavailable.

"By Aeroplane to Pygmyland: Revisiting the 1926 Dutch and American Expedition to New Guinea" by Paul Michael Taylor ( looks at the 1926 expedition to Dutch New Guinea (now called Papua, within the Republic of Indonesia) from today's perspective through a series of interpretive essays. The work also includes previously unpublished expedition records from multiple sources, including expedition diaries, more than 700 original photographs and approximately two hours of film footage – all in a fully annotated and interconnected multimedia format allowing comparison among multiple sources. This format is designed not only to integrate disparate records from multiple archives, but also to return (or "repatriate") the images and data to the regions visited by the 1926 expedition, so we can also include updated perspectives from the descendants of those encountered 80 years ago. This "revisiting" will provide the people of western New Guinea (as well as Dayaks of Borneo, Ambonese of the Moluccas, Javanese, Dutch, Americans and others) a new form of access to our interwoven history.

This is the inaugural work of a new peer-reviewed web-based series of critical editions with scholarly interpretations, entitled "Smithsonian Libraries Digital Editions: Sources and Critical Interpretations." The series attempts to balance the dynamic, changing nature of web products with the stability of reference that traditional paper-based scholarly publications provide. This peer-reviewed, data-rich, web-based publication series will present extensive or varied source materials on a particular subject-matter (such as archival text and images, or multiple editions and sources on a topic of scholarly significance). The series requires that the sources must be carefully transcribed, edited, and annotated in the form of critical or variorum editions, and presented within a peer-reviewed, up-to-date scholarly framework through interpretive essays which assess the sources from various perspectives.

Demonstration: Demonstrations - 1 [Close-Up]

Keywords: expeditions, scholarly editing, repatriation, Pacific Islands, anthropology, history of film