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Students pursue a range of individual research projects as part of SIMA, applying lessons and carrying out preliminary data collection. Here are samples from a few student projects that give an idea of the types of research that are possible.

Full abstracts from past symposia are available here as a pdf:

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017

Christopher Lowman, The University of California, Berkeley

Modification and Ownership of Ainu Objects
Christopher LowmanThe modification of objects includes both individual acts that physically mark, as well as sustained patterns of wear. Physical marks of use, re-use, re-decoration, and works-in-progress draw attention to the temporality of an object’s lifecycle, and its existence in a dynamic culture. In colonial contexts, modification as a form of individual or cultural ownership can be used to oppose assumptions of assimilation by revealing ways people appropriated new materials. Objects in the Smithsonian’s Ainu collection provide evidence of how “Ainu-ness” continued to be created in the face of Meiji-era internal colonialism in Japan, and how it has continued to be created in conjunction with increased tourism and cultural recognition efforts. Building on research produced for the Smithsonian’s 1999 exhibit Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, and using contemporary and historical objects, I examine endurance of Ainu design in material and motif, as well as signs of the objects’ use and modification. Presence and absence of foreign materials, the re-application of decorative elements, and changing wear-patterns on objects of the same form, together mark ways the Ainu maintained, and modified, cultural ownership.

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Carmita Eliza De Jesus Icasiano, State University of New York at Binghamton

An Ethnography of An Encounter
Carmita Eliza De Jesus IcasianoThe Philippine collection at the Smithsonian Institution constitutes one of the largest assemblages of objects acquired in less than half a century. To make the acquaintance of this vast collection entails an engagement on two levels: from the level of the database and that of the actual physical object. Such an encounter then acquires the nature of the nonmaterial and material, which shapes the character of this person-object engagement. In navigating through this two forms of data sets, one finds the work that objects as agents perform, which opens up possibilities of inquiring into other agencies which the objects evoke. In this paper, I present a way of approaching a collection on the whole, and examine helmets listed under the category of “Moro.” As objects considered “thick” and heavy with its past, these helmets take the researcher into a journey of revelations that both illuminate and confound.

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Adrian Van Allen, UC Berkeley - Anthropology

Replicas, Authenticity, and the Reproduction of Knowledge in the 1967 Bushman Diorama
Adrian Van AllenIn 1967, the newly renovated Hall of African Cultures opened at the National Museum of Natural History. The Curator of African Ethnology from 1958-1983, Gordon D. Gibson, went to great effort to ensure a naturalistic environment was constructed in Exhibit #34, the Bushman Diorama, from importing living beetle larvae for the poisonous arrows to obtaining face casts of San people for the mannequins. However, Gibson’s creation is a very specific formation of the “authentic,” one which maintains an a-historical construction of the San as an egalitarian hunter-gatherer society that offered modern visitors a view into a collective human past. The Bushman Diorama offered a view into a culture not in another place, but in another time. In conclusion I turn to current framings of the San people as one of the most genetically diverse human populations on the planet, examining genetics as another claim to authenticity in the context of the recently opened Genome exhibition.

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Kristin Searle, University of Pennsylvania - Education and Anthropology

Constancy and Change in Pima Basketry
Kristin SearleContemporary members of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community frequently profess the importance of baskets as a marker of “Pimaness,” but there are few remaining basket makers and youth show little interest in learning how to make them. Caught up in this conversation about what it means to be Pima is a somewhat static definition of “Pimaness” that ignores the tribe’s rich history of thoughtful appropriation and adaptation. I draw upon the Pima (Akimel O’Odham) baskets housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s anthropology collections, particularly those collected by Edward Palmer in 1885 and Frank Russell in 1902, to complicate these conversations. Using photographs, drawings, and close examination of the objects themselves, I documented elements of constancy and change present in basket making materials, techniques, shapes, and designs.

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Crystal Migwans, Columbia University - Art History

In the old way: The Construction of the Traditional in a Great Lakes Quilled Mat
Crystal MigwansAmong the ornate objects collected by George Catlin for his Indian Gallery, there is a dark quilled mat that stands apart from the carefully-constructed aesthetic of the rest. Catlin used a popular Plains-style vocabulary to signal “Indian-ness” to his 19th-century white audience: light-coloured buckskin, long fringe, multi-coloured quillwork, and reduced evidence of trade materials. This lone mat, with its golden palette of quills on blackened deer hide, is likewise a display of Indian-ness. However, with its strongly cosmological iconography, it reveals additional layers in how this display was addressed to white eyes, Indian eyes, and otherworldly eyes. In a time of ever-increasing cultural exchange and upheaval – from beads to religion – quilled hide and thunderbird motifs became politicized as symbols of resistance, independence, and tradition. This paper will explore the iconography of Catlin’s blackened mat, and discuss the many-layered worlds which intersect within this quilled frame.

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Brooke Bauer, University of North Carolina

Catawba Identity and Catawba Baskets
Brooke BauerFor my project at SIMA, I am concerned with material culture through the perspectives of Catawba Indians-how material culture was and is part of a Catawba identity. Scholars have often recognized pottery as the characteristic of Catawba identity; however, I am examining the baskets as one of many features of “Catawbaness.” I am interested in the decline of and the recent revitalization in basket making by Catawba women and how this shift could be related to politics, economics, and ecology. In analyzing nineteenth-and twentieth -century Catawba Indian basketry, I am looking for similarities and variations in the style and type of baskets made by Catawbas and other Southeastern Indians in an attempt to discover if knowledge of basket making was transmitted through intermarriage.

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Alessandro Questa, University of Virginia

The production, use and meaning of masks -and masking- in Mexican ritual
Alessandro QuestaMasks have many functions among the Nawa of Mexico. They are produced, exchanged, utilized and stored for use in dances and celebrations on precise dates. They have been used also as commodities in a folklore-oriented market, produced for tourists, for government officials, and for foreigners enthralled by them. While anthropology has explored the process by which the folkloric has supplanted the ritual in many parts of the world, I seek to understand their mutual persistence in the Puebla highlands. Why do ritual masked dances survive and thrive, when the very people who create them are devaluing so many languages, customs and aspects of traditional knowledge. Through exploring masks of various types, both in museums and in use, my research explores Nawa notions of transformation and personhood as well as their connections with elements such as spiritual force, healing and prestige, engaging with contemporary debates on indigenous ontology in Mexico.

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Lucero Radonic, University of Arizona

On Deer Dewclaws, Cans, and Missing Virgins: Tracing the Creation of a Yaqui Icon
Lucero RadonicIn 1902, in one of the bloodiest episodes of the military campaign against the Yaqui nation, the Mexican army massacred a Yaqui camp at the Sierra of Mazatan. Today, the Yaqui deer dance is a staple of Mexico’s folkloric ballet while the figure of the deer dancer proudly adorns Sonoran license plates. How did the figure of the Yaqui deer dancer become an enregistered emblem in Mexico’s popular imaginary? By studying the changes in materials used in ritual objects and the composition of the Smithsonian Yaqui collection, I will start to trace the role of Mexican and U.S. museum anthropology in the creation of this Yaqui icon.

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Catherine Nichols

The Distribution of Duplicates from the US National Museum
Catherine NicholsThe formation of anthropological collections and their deposition into the US National Museum was a symbolic process of national imagination through regional incorporation. Though given to the National Museum, a notable percentage of the objects, considered by both the collectors and curators to be “duplicates” were either exchanged with natural history museums or given as gifts to small museums and libraries. In this study, I investigate how BAE collectors thought about duplicates by examining a collection of Zuni eating bowls. I use archival materials to reconstruct the culture of curatorship when the majority of the gifts of ethnological objects occurred.

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Alexander Brier Marr

The History Work of Kiowa Model Tipis
Alexander Brier MarrFrom 1896 to 1904, James Mooney commissioned a recreation-in-miniature of the 1867 Kiowa Sun Dance tipi camp. Produced at a politically charged moment by a generation that not only moved from tipis to wooden houses, but also anticipated the imminent opening of the reservation to non-Natives, the model tipis perform multivalent cultural work. That work ranges from preserving Kiowa culture to mediating Kiowa notions of memory and home to professionalizing disciplinary anthropology. Using Mooney’s notes, close looking, and extant literature I consider how the models both engendered external knowledge of Kiowa history and allowed Kiowas to relate to the past.

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Kate Bishop

African Occasional Cloths
Kate BishopFusing Indonesian, Indian, and European textile innovations with African values and symbolism, African occasional cloths represent a material chronicle of politics, economics, and environmental change. A material and visual analysis of these articles provides a rich array of information appropriate to diverse lines of inquiry ranging from communication theory and dress to political ecology and the global textile industry. The iconography displayed on occasional cloths offers a flexible and multivocal vocabulary that allows African people an opportunity to express social solidarity, express aspirations for the future, and participate in the global conversation about the direction of society.

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Suzanne Godby Ingalsbe

Examining Multiple Layers of Curation in the Berwick and Bunting Rugs
Suzanne Godby IngalsbeMeaning is made multiple times in the life of a museum object, particularly when the item is created, collected, and curated. Yet the authority of the museum display typically serves to foreground, and thus establish as truth, only one portion of the object’s social meaning. The museum’s position of social authority makes it possible to drown out all voices but its own, intentionally or not, so it is particularly important to attend to the multiple layers of curation. In order to better understand this process, my research focuses on NMNH prayer rugs that were donated contemporaneously and subsequently displayed in notably different ways. These historic examples will demonstrate how the context of collectionand attribution of meanings by donors can impact the context of display. The studies also show how the context of creation can become invisible in the museum setting when the object is separated from its cultural milieu.

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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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