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John Peabody Harrington

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John P. Harrington
J. P. Harrington 1924.jpg
Harrington in 1924
Born(1884-04-29)April 29, 1884
DiedOctober 21, 1961(1961-10-21) (aged 77)
EducationStanford University, UC Berkeley, University of Leipzig, University of Berlin,
OccupationLinguist, Field ethnologist
Spouse(s)Carobeth Laird

John Peabody Harrington (April 29, 1884 – October 21, 1961) was an American linguist and ethnologist and a specialist in the indigenous peoples of California. Harrington is noted for the massive volume of his documentary output, most of which has remained unpublished: the shelf space in the National Anthropological Archives dedicated to his work spans nearly 700 feet.[1]

Early life and education

Born in Waltham, Massachusetts, Harrington moved to California as a child. From 1902 to 1905, Harrington studied anthropology and classical languages at Stanford University. While attending specialized classes at the University of California, Berkeley, he met anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber. Harrington became intensely interested in Native American languages and ethnography.

Linguistic legacy

Harrington (center), recording speakers of the Guna language
Harrington (center), recording speakers of the Guna language

Rather than completing his doctorate at the Universities of Leipzig and Berlin, Harrington became a high-school language teacher. For three years, he devoted his spare time to an intense examination of the few surviving Chumash people. His exhaustive work came to the attention of the Smithsonian Museum's Bureau of American Ethnology. Harrington became a permanent field ethnologist for the bureau in 1915. He was to hold this position for 40 years, collecting and compiling several massive caches of raw data on native peoples, including the Chumash, Mutsun, Rumsen, Chochenyo, Kiowa, Chimariko, Yokuts, Gabrielino, Salinan, Yuma, and Mojave, among many others. Harrington also extended his work into traditional culture, particularly mythology and geography. His field collections include information on placenames and thousands of photographs. The massive collections were disorganized in the extreme, and contained not only linguistic manuscripts and recordings, but also objects and realia of every stripe; a later cataloger described how opening each box of his legacy was "an adventure in itself."[2] He published very little of his work; many of his notes appear to have been deliberately hidden from his colleagues. After his death, Smithsonian curators discovered over six tons of boxes stored in warehouses, garages and even chicken coops throughout the West.[3]

Harrington is virtually the only recorder of some languages, such as Obispeño (Northern) Chumash, Kitanemuk, and Serrano. He gathered more than 1 million pages of phonetic notations on languages spoken by tribes from Alaska to South America. When the technology became available, he supplemented his written record with audio recordings - many recently digitized[4] - first using wax cylinders, then aluminum discs.[1] He is credited with gathering some of the first recordings of native languages, rituals, and songs, and perfecting the phonetics of several different languages.[5] Harrington's attention to detail, both linguistic and cultural, is well-illustrated in "Tobacco among the Karuk Indians of California," one of his relatively few formally published works.[6]

A more complete listing of the languages he documented includes:[7]

Personal life

Harrington was married to Carobeth Laird (née Tucker) from 1916–1923, a relationship that Laird later chronicled in her 1975 memoir Encounter with an Angry God. They had one daughter, Awona Harrington.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Glenn, James R. (1991). "The Sound Recordings of John P. Harrington: A Report on Their Disposition and State of Preservation". Anthropological Linguistics. 33 (4): 357–366. ISSN 0003-5483. JSTOR 30028216.
  2. ^ Callaghan, C. A (1991). "Encounter with John P. Harrington". Anthropological Linguistics. 33 (4): 350–356.
  3. ^ Lisa M. Krieger, "Long gone Native languages emerge from the grave", The Mercury News, 23 December 2007.
  4. ^ "Collections Search Center, Smithsonian Institution". Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  5. ^ Krieger, Lisa M. (2007-12-23). "Long gone Native languages emerge from the grave: Millions of cryptic notes from linguist John Peabody Harrington". Mercury News. Retrieved 2007-12-30.
  6. ^ Harrington, John P. 1932. "Tobacco among the Karuk Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 94. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington.
  7. ^ Victor Golla (2 August 2011). California Indian Languages. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26667-4.
  8. ^ Laird, Carobeth. 1975. Encounter with an Angry God: Recollections of my Life with John Peabody Harrington. Malki Museum Press, Banning, CA.

External links

This page was last edited on 8 January 2022, at 20:15
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