OTTRS Speaker Series: Conflict and Compromise among Museum Exhibit Teams: The Impacts of Organizational Change and Professionalization on Curating Smithsonian’s Fossil Halls

Event Start Date: Friday, October 20, 2023 - 12:00 pm

Event End Date: Friday, October 20, 2023 - 1:00 pm

Location: Virtual

In this talk, Dr. Diana E. Marsh, Assistant Professor of Archives and Digital Curation University of Maryland, College Park,  will highlight interdisciplinary teamwork behind large-scale exhibitions and the politics among different experts who curate scientific knowledge for the public. Presenting highlights from her book, Extinct Monsters to Deep Time: Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian’s Fossil Halls, Dr. Marsh will describe participant observation among the Smithsonian’s exhibition team tasked with the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)’s largest-ever exhibit renovation, Deep Time. Dr. Marsh will highlight how process of negotiating, planning and designing scientific knowledge in exhibits is shaped by the intersections of different expertises involved in the planning process—including Education, Design, Exhibit Writing, Project Management, and three subfields of Paleobiology—as well as broader institutional cultures and pressures. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork as well as interview, oral history and archival research, the work contextualizes the contemporary exhibits process by tracing trends in exhibit development from late-19th century to the present. Dr. Marsh will show how telling the story of the Deep Time is mediated through 1) different techniques and technologies for museum communication, 2) the recent professionalization of museum disciplines, and 3) the expanding institutional split between the museum’s missions of “research” and “outreach,” leading to new “frictions” and “complementarities” among exhibit teams.

Bio: Dr. Diana E. Marsh is an Assistant Professor of Archives and Digital Curation at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies (INFO College) who explores how heritage institutions communicate with the public and communities. Her current research focuses on improving discovery and access to colonially-held archives for Native American and Indigenous communities. Previously, she completed her PhD in Anthropology (Museum Anthropology) at the University of British Columbia, an MPhil in Social Anthropology with a Museums and Heritage focus at the University of Cambridge in 2010, and a BFA in Visual Arts and Photography at the Mason Gross School of the Arts of Rutgers University in 2009. Her recent work has appeared in The American ArchivistArchival ScienceArchivaria, and Archival Outlook, and her book, From Extinct Monsters to Deep Time: Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian’s Fossil Halls was released in paperback with Berghahn Books in Fall 2022.

Please contact at least one week prior to the event to request disability accommodations. In all situations, a good faith effort (up until the time of the event) will be made to provide accommodations.


Speaker(s): Diana E. Marsh


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