CALangDoc

About C. Hart Merriam

C. Hart Merriam (1855–1942) was an accomplished biologist and naturalist, being a leader and founding member of the National Geographic Society, the US Bureau of Biological Survey, and the American Ornithologists’ Union. His publications in the biological sciences amount to about 500. Later in his carreer, a personal friendship with a railroad financier caused Merriam to become financially independant—whereupon he shifted his attention from biology to the Native Americans of California.

For more information on Merriam, see Osgood’s biographical memoir of Merriam (1944) and Kroeber’s introduction to Merriam’s Studies of California Indians (1955).

The vocabularies

Though not trained as a linguist or anthropologist, Merriam gathered important linguistic and anthropological information about Indigenous Californians throughout the state. Especially important from a linguistic perspective are Merriam’s natural history wordlists and general vocabularies, as well as his work on classifying the languages he observed. True to his biological training, Merriam was interested in establishing genetic relationships between the languages he studied. The result is a comprehensive language and dialect survey of Indigenous California.

Two hand-copied versions of Merriam’s vocabulary lists were created. One copy is archived at the Library Of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the other at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the entire Merriam collection at the Bancroft was microfilmed and then digitized, to improve access to the collection.

Each microfilm reel (141 in total) is available online at archive.org. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find vocabularies for specific languages in the online collection. The researcher must first locate and consult the collection’s finding aid, find which reel the desired information is on, and then search archive.org for the desired reel number.

This website

The purpose of this website is to make the content of the Merriam collection searchable by language, to further increase access to the collection. At the electronic resources page, users may search for Merriam material by language name, and find links to individual documents (not just the reels containing the documents) at archive.org.

Disclaimer: I am not associated with the Bancroft or with archive.org. This project is an independant portal to the Merriam language data, as archived at the Bancroft and made available through archive.org.

Works cited

  • Kroeber, A. L. (1955) “C. Hart Merriam as anthropologist”. In C. Hart Merriam, Studies of California Indians. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.vii–xiv.
  • Osgood, Wilfred H. (1944) “Biographical memoir of Clinton Hart Merriam”. National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs, vol. XXIV. [link]