Ruth Underhill Documentary Film Series

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  • Ruth Underhill in the field, circa 1936.

  • Ruth Underhill filming her television series in the late 1950s.

  • Ruth Underhill filming her television series in the late 1950s.

In 1995 an employee at KRMA-TV contacted the Denver Museum of Nature & Science regarding a collection of 16 mm films he had rescued from the trash. The employee also had been volunteering with the Anthropology Department at the Museum and knew the films would be a valuable addition to the collections. The films are the Red Man's America series, which was originally filmed to be a telecourse for the University of Denver in the late 1950s. Anthropologist Ruth Underhill produced and narrated the series, and the films are part of her collection in the DMNS Archives.

The films corresponded with Underhill's book of the same title. Each episode focused on a different region in North America, where she would discuss the Native Americans of the area. Clothing, art, food and language were all themes addressed in each televised lecture.

Since their donation to the museum, the films were stored in their original metal cans. The films have recently all been assessed and moved to archival quality cans which will help to protect them for years to come. This assessment included checking each film for shrinkage, needed repairs and acid levels. All films are in good shape and were recently cleaned and repaired in the hopes they will be able to be digitized in the future.

These films are just one component of the Ruth Underhill Collection at DMNS. The collection also includes her field journals, research notes, publications, sound recordings, oral histories, correspondence and photographs. Underhill was a renowned anthropologist who predominately studied the people of the American Southwest from the 1930s until her death in 1984.

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