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Department of Anthropology


Gwyn Isaac

Gwyneira Isaac

Curator of North America

Division: Ethnology

Area of Specialization:
American Southwest, Pueblo of Zuni, Knowledge Systems, Material Culture, Visual Anthropology, History of Anthropology

Fax:  202-357-2208
E-mail Address:

Department of Anthropology Mailing Address


D. Phil Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, 2002
M. Phil Ethnology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, 1995
BFA, University of Michigan, 1989

Professional Activities:

Treasurer, Council for Museum Anthropology
Director, ASU Museum of Anthropology, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, 2002-2010

Major Research Interests:

Dr. Isaac’s research investigates knowledge systems and the relationships societies develop with their past, especially as to how this is expressed through material culture and museums. Central to this study is her fieldwork and ethnography of a tribal museum in the Pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico where she examined the difficulties faced by Zunis operating between Zuni and Euro-American approaches to knowledge. Through the book Mediating Knowledges: Origins of a Museum for the Zuni People (2007), she argues that the Zuni museum reconciled the different approaches to knowledge both within its own constituency and cross-culturally, and consequently, that it took on the role of mediator between internal and external expectations about Zuni history.

Dr. Isaac's explorations into the intersection of different knowledges (either culturally or disciplinarily distinct) include how technology and media are used within the discipline of anthropology. The ethnography of media in museums and anthropology has led her to study values attributed to the reproduction of knowledge as explored through replicas and models, resulting in the paper entitled 'Whose Ideas Was This? Replicas, Museums and the Reproduction of Knowledge' in Current Anthropology (2011). Bridging the study of Native American knowledge systems and the history of anthropology has resulted in her interest in developing theories that integrate anthropology, history and art to form interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches to the study of intersections of culturally specific knowledge systems over time. Her recent collaborative work at the Smithsonian as part of the Recovering Voices initiative resulted in the development of a methodological platform focused on the applied synthesis of research, as a means to understand  and integrate the production of new knowledge within interdisciplinary research on endangered languages. She is also working on building a collaborative with communities, scholars and institutions in the Southwest with interests in exploring knowledge and language sustainability.

Selected Publications:

Isaac, G. 2011. Whose Idea Was This? Replicas, Museums and the Reproduction of Knowledge. Current Anthropology. 52(4): 585-595.

Isaac, G. 2010. Anthropology and its Embodiments: 19th Century Museum Ethnography and the Re-Enactment of Indigenous Knowledges. Etnofoor. 22(1): 11-29.

Isaac, G. 2009. Digital Enchantments: The Use of Electronic Media at the National Museum of the American Indian. In Visual Currencies: Reflections on Native American Photography, Henrietta Lidchi and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, eds. National Museums of Scotland Press.

Isaac, G. 2009. Responsibility Towards Knowledge: The Zuni Museum and the Reconciling of Different Knowledge Systems. In Contesting Knowledge: Museums and Indigenous Perspectives, Susan Sleeper-Smith, ed. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln.

Isaac, G. 2008. Technology Becomes the Object: Digital Media at the National Museum of the American Indian. Journal of Material Culture. 13(3): 287-310.

Isaac, G. 2007. Mediating Knowledges: Origins of a museum for the Zuni people. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Isaac, G. 2006. What are our expectations telling us? Encounters with the National Museum of the American Indian. American Indian Quarterly, 30(4): 574-596.

Isaac, G. 2005. Mediating Knowledges: Zuni negotiations for a culturally relevant museum. Museum Anthropology, 28(1): 3-18.

Isaac, G. 2005. Re-Observation and the recognition of change: The photographs of Matilda Coxe Stevenson (1879-1915). Journal of the Southwest, 47(3): 411-455

Isaac, G., Hobart, J., Mitchell, P., Coote, J. & De Alarcon, M. 2000. Early rock art collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. South African Field Archaeology, 9: 43-54.

Selected Exhibitions:

2005  Room for the Dead. Exhibit presented at the Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology for Dias de Los Muertos. Domestic altars based on household objects. October 27-January 20.

2004  Visiones Sagradas, Sacred Sights. Exhibit presented at the Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology for Los Dias de Los Muertos, exploring Cajitas and the tradition of traveling altars. November 4 - December 31.

2003  Time and Again: The Photographs of Allen Dutton. Exhibit presented at the Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology on the photographic documentation of environmental change in Phoenix, Arizona. September 16 - November 30. Exhibit traveled to Tempe Historical Society, February 2005.

Click here to view a video podcast interview with Gwyneira Isaac about anthropologist Frank Cushing's work with the Zuni of New Mexico.


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