Herbert Lang (1879-1957)
James P. Chapin (1889-1964)
Between 1909 and 1915 Mammalogist Herbert Lang (1879-1957) with assistant James P. Chapin (1889-1964) led the Congo Expedition. The two scientists collected and documented zoological, botanical, and anthropological collections and produced painted and photographic images of the natural and human environment.
The anthropological aims of the expedition initially focused on three matters:
• finding out about the Pygmies, at the time still regarded as one of Africa's greatest curiosities;
• gathering information about the physical types of various peoples;
• collecting ethnographic materials illustrative of all aspects of culture.
For Lang, ethnographic objects were clues to deciphering the culture code. A description of a knife would lead to a discussion of how fields were cleared, the division of labor, or the ceremonial uses of knives. A photograph of a chief or a ritual specialist would lead to an interview with the person and a brief description of that person's life history.
The Anthropology collection that resulted from the Congo Expedition consisted of more than 4,000 objects, including carvings made of wood and ivory, incised gourds, bark cloth, metalworking and musical instruments. The material culture collected by Lang and Chapin, their comprehensive field notes and photographs combine to give a remarkably extensive picture of life in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in the early twentieth century.
Over 4,000 objects with digital images of original Lang's field notebooks are accessible online. The transcription of the notebooks was made by the Curator Emerita of African Ethnology Dr. Enid Schildkrout.