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Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology


SIMA is a research training program offered by the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History with major funding from the Cultural Anthropology Program of the National Science Foundation. The program seeks to promote broader and more effective use of museum collections in anthropological research by providing a supplement to university training. Working intensively each summer with 12-14 students interested in museum research, the institute:

  • introduces students to the scope of collections and their potential as data
  • provides training in appropriate methods to collect and analyze museum data
  • makes participants aware of a range of theoretical issues relating to collections
  • positions students to apply their knowledge within their home university

The curriculum, including both seminars and hands-on workshops, teaches students how to navigate museum systems, select methods to examine and analyze museum specimens, and recognize the wealth of theoretical issues that museum data can address. Topics include the critical analysis of documentation, the development of observational skills, the definition of appropriate data sets, and reconstruction of the "social life" of objects. Unique Smithsonian resources such as the annual Folklife Festival, the National Anthropological Archives, the Human Studies Film Archives, and other museum collections complement lessons in which students explore the integration of museum-based data with other types of information, such as fieldwork and the critical analysis of visual data and the documentary record. Click to view the 2017 syllabus and read about the 2017 curriculum.

SIMA 2012 NAAMuch learning centers around individual research projects that students propose as part of the application process. During SIMA students engage in initial data collection and continually rework their project proposals as they become familiar with the nature of museum data and work on the construction of a research question.

Catherine Festival 2012 The program culminates in a symposium at which students present preliminary research findings and a refined project proposal suitable for implementation upon return to their home universities. Descriptions of past student research projects are available here. Smithsonian collections are an integral part of the training. The primary resource is the ethnology artifact collection in the Department of Anthropology and related materials in the associated National Anthropological Archives and the Human Studies Film Archives. Students are able to explore issues and develop projects on any topic for which there are relevant artifacts in the ethnology collections.

Explore the databases.

Stephanie photographs the totem poleSIMA is intended for graduate students who are preparing for research careers in cultural anthropology who are interested in using museum collections as a data source. The program is not designed to serve students seeking careers in museum management or whose research field is archaeology. Students at both the M.A. and doctoral level are considered for acceptance. Students in related interdisciplinary programs (Indigenous Studies, Folklore, etc.) are considered if the proposed project explores issues of importance to cultural anthropology and if an anthropology faculty member at the student's university commits to supervise its implementation. All U.S. students are eligible for acceptance, even if studying abroad. International students can be considered only if they are enrolled in a university in the U.S.A. Canadian First Nation members are eligible under treaty agreements.

Past student projects

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SIMA 2019 dates: June 17 - July 12, 2019. Application deadline is March 1, 2019.

Applicants must submit a short statement of interest and an initial proposal for an individual research project (see full application instructions.) A letter of commitment is required from a faculty member who will supervise further development and implementation of the project in the year after the student's participation in SIMA. Students will be notified of acceptance 4 weeks after the application deadline.



The program covers students’ room, board, and tuition. Housing is provided and a small stipend will be provided for food and other local expenses. Participants are individually responsible for the cost of travel to and from Washington, DC. This is an intensive residential program and the participants are expected to devote full time to the training. Preparatory readings are assigned to ensure that students arrive with comparable background knowledge.



Joshua BellDr. Joshua A. Bell, SIMA Director

Instruction is enriched by lectures and collection workshops led by additional scholars from throughout the Smithsonian as well as by visiting speakers. Smithsonian faculty for SIMA 2019 will be announced soon.

Faculty at students' home institutions are important partners who guide SIMA participants in the implementation of what they have learned during the Institute. Such faculty need not have experience in museum-based research, but they must be committed to helping students continue the project they will have begun during SIMA and turn their research prospectus into a publishable paper.



Jason Baird Jackson, Indiana University

Christian Feest, University of Vienna

Aaron Glass, Bard Graduate Center

Chris Gosden, University of Oxford

Steven Hooper, University of East Anglia

Ira Jacknis, Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Michael Jordan, Texas Tech University

Jennifer Kramer, University of British Columbia

Cara Krmpotich, University of Toronto

Howard Morphy, Australian National University

Fred Myers, New York University

David Odo, Harvard Art Museums

Nancy Parezo, University of Arizona

Ruth Phillips, Carleton University

Robert Welsch, Franklin Pierce University



Alison K. Brown, Anthropology, School of Social Science, University of Aberdeen

Amalia Córdova, Curator of Digital & Emerging Media, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution

Candace Greene, Research Associate, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution; Director Emeritus, SIMA

Kate Hennessy, Associate Professor, School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University

Gwyneira Isaac, Curator of North American Ethnology, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Logan Jonas Kistler, Curator Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Cynthia Chavez Lamar, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

Mary S. Linn, Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution

Ann McMullen , Curator and Head of Collections Research and Documentation, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

David R. Odo, Director of Student Programs and Research Curator of University Collections Initiatives, Division of Academic and Public Programs, Harvard Art Museums

Torben C. Rick, Curator and Research Scientist, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Jennifer A. Shannon, Assistant Professor and Curator of Cultural Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado and Museum of Natural History

Adrian Van Allen, Postdoctoral Fellow, Département de la recherche et de l'enseignement, Musée du quai Branly, Paris


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1127060, Grant Number BCS-0852511, and Grant Number BCS-1424029.

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