thumbnail 48503

About the Collection: Harley Harris Bartlett

Harley Harris Bartlett

H.H. Bartlett. © University of Michigan

Harley Harris Bartlett was born on March 9, 1886, in Anaconda, Montana. During his school years, he developed interest in botany, geology, and chemistry (Jones 1975:1). In 1904-08, he studied Chemistry at Harvard University. For a few years after his graduation, Bartlett held various appointments in the fields of botany and biochemistry (Jones 1975:31). In 1915, he was offered a position of Acting Assistant Professor of Botany at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Bartlett stayed with the University of Michigan until his retirement in 1956, becoming Director of the University of Michigan Botanical Gardens in 1919 and Chairman of the Department of Botany in 1924 (Jones 1975:4).

In 1918, Bartlett spent a year at Kisaran, Asahan, on the east coast of Sumatra, conducting fieldwork for the U.S. Rubber Company (Jones 1975:37). Beyond his activities as a botanist, Bartlett became fascinated by the culture and tradition of the Batak and Malay indigenous population, and noted that his "most absorbing hobby became amateur anthropology" (Bartlett 1909-1960: box 7). While in Sumatra, he observed and described the lives and customs of the Batak. He brought back to the United States a large photo archive and a collection of about 2000 native manuscripts (Jones 1975:37), some of which are now curated by the Museum of Anthropology. During his second visit to Sumatra in 1927, Bartlett continued his ethnographic studies and even was ceremoniously adopted as the younger brother of a hereditary chief (Bartlett 1952:629).

Bartlett was a universal scholar with an unusually broad spectrum of scientific interests. Topics of Bartlett’s non-botanical papers range from anthropology to history of science to philately (Jones 1975:7). Along with his academic activities at the University of Michigan, Bartlett conducted field work and research in Sumatra, Formosa, Mexico, Guatemala and British Honduras, the Philippines, Panama, Haiti, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile (Voss 1961:49).

During his residence in Sumatra, Bartlett developed a strong interest in linguistics and anthropology and eventually became an expert in Batak script and rituals. He published a series of scientific papers on Batak language, literature, and culture. After his death, his major anthropological work "The labors of the datoe" was republished by the University of Michigan Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Harley Harris Bartlett died on February 21, 1960. In 1961, a part of his collection was donated to the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan.