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National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

Kevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon Director

Legislation was signed in 2003 establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The Museum’s building was scheduled to open on the National Mall in 2015. NMAAHC is dedicated to the collection, preservation, research, and exhibition of African American historical and cultural material reflecting the breadth and depth of the experiences of individuals of African descent living in the United States. Currently, the museum is presenting exhibitions, producing publications, hosting public programs, and building its collections. Its growing collections include material culture, documents, and art from era of slavery, the period of Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and more recent developments in history and culture from 1968 to the present. This is a unique opportunity for students to work with a museum-in-the-making, and to contribute to the research for its exhibitions and programs.

The collections, exhibitions, research, publications, and educational programs serve the Museum’s basic mission: to inspire a broader understanding of African American history and culture in a national and international context. In addition to exhibitions, the Museum interprets history and culture through performances and hands on activities, as well as music from America’s past.

The Museum’s programmatic objectives are flexible enough to encourage the creation of projects tailored to students’ interests and needs. The student will have opportunities to develop and engage in a variety of projects that may include oral history projects, regional history, as well as art and cultural history. Under the supervision of museum staff, there is also the opportunity to engage in curriculum development and program evaluation projects. The Museum’s growing permanent collection of artifacts, archives, photographic holdings, and art offers scholars interested in African American material culture excellent opportunities for research.

Office of Curatorial Affairs

The Office of Curatorial Affairs (OCA) guides the intellectual work of the Museum through collection research and stewardship and staff expertise and scholarship. OCA is tasked with interpreting the African American experience through exhibitions, programs, and publications; collecting and caring for objects related to African American history and culture; and providing public access to the collection both online and in person.

Over the last five years, the museum’s collection has grown to include significant materials from the Black Lives Matter movement and objects relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. Overall, the collection has grown to over 41,000 accessioned objects from a total of 35,000 objects in September 2016. Acquiring significant collections sometimes required collaborating with outside organizations as in the acquisition of the Johnson Publishing Company photo archive with the Getty Research Institute and the portrait of Breonna Taylor with the Speed Art Museum of Nashville. Additionally, multiple foundations funded both joint acquisitions.

The OCA staff has produced several traditional exhibitions, although each has introduced innovations in the visitor experience. OCA has produced four major, onsite exhibitions for the Special Exhibits Gallery (from “More than a Picture” to “Watching Oprah” to “We Return Fighting”), two exhibitions in other galleries (“City of Hope” and “Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Reilience.”), and three exhibitions in the CAAMA gallery.

Significant publications accompanied two of these exhibitions (“We Return Fighting: World War I and the Shaping of Modern Black Identity” and “Make Good the Promises: Reclaiming Reconstruction and Its Legacies”). The “Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap” is the latest and most elaborate publication project headed by OCA. Other publications include three additions to the “Double Exposure” series (Vols. V-VII) and significant contributions by 17 members of NMAAHC staff to “Smithsonian American Women.”

Since the Museum’s opening five years ago, OCA has been working to enhance the Museum’s global influence by making more resources more easily accessible through more formats than ever before.

A good example is the NMAAHC participation in the Smithsonian Open Access program making thousands of digital images from the Museum’s collection available for the public to download, share, and reuse, immediately without seeking permission.

OCA capitalized on this new opportunity by creating a variety of new digital access points: some collections focused and other presenting more interpretive narratives. Collections have been highlighted through innovative portals (Design, Latinx and LBGTQ+) and pioneering collecting initiatives, including the Museum’s 2020 pandemic-story collecting project, Voices of Hope and Resistance, and contributing to the leadership of the pan-institutional 24 Hours in a Time of Change. Interpretive material has been creatively presented through the web-based Curator’s Chats, landing pages for new initiatives (Chez Baldwin, Many Lenses, The Freedmen’s Bureau Project), and virtual symposia (Making African America and Changing the Landscape). The September 2021 debut of The Searchable Museum will demonstrate the power of transforming and enhancing onsite exhibitions into a digital format.

The OCA is currently collaborating with Accenture in developing a “Vision for Digital Humanities,” a unique departmental approach to ensuring that the OCA produces the best scholarly based, digitally accessible interpretations of African American history and culture.

The work of the past five years has required new forms of intensive collaboration within OCA teams (curatorial, collections management, digitization, conservation) and between OCA and other Museum departments. In response, Dr. Dwandalyn Reece, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs, has partnered with Accenture to conduct a team-based review of the department’s personnel needs and organizational structure. In other words, from structure to work culture to work processes and working relationships, the OCA is repositioning itself as a more transparent, efficient, and effective organization. As the Smithsonian engages in a digital transformation, representing “the here and the now” in historical context requires a heightened awareness of the links between past and present and the ability to rapidly present the evidence behind those stories to the public.

Research Staff

Curtis, ArianaCurator. B.A. (2002) Duke University; M.A.(2009) American University; Ph.D.(2012) American University. Research Specialties: Latino history and culture; Racial constructions in the Americas; Latino urban experiences; Blackness in the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean; African Diaspora; urban immigration and migration; Latin American political history; identity and policy. Contact: CurtisA@si.edu

Fleming, Tuliza, Interim Chief Curator of Visual Arts. B.A. (1994) Spelman College; M.A. and Ph.D. (2007) University of Maryland, College Park. Research Specialties: American art history; art by Americans of African descent. Contact: flemingt@si.edu

Gardullo, Paul, Museum Curator. B.A. (1986) Rutgers University; M.A. (2001), Ph.D. (2006) George Washington University. Research specialties: African American history and culture; American social and cultural history; public history; memory; race; popular culture, photography and visual culture, folklife. Contact: GardulloP@si.edu

Gates Moresi, Michèle, Curator of Collections. B.A. (1989), M.Phil. (1997), Ph.D. (2003) George Washington University. Research specialties: 19th century U.S. Social History, African American History, Material Culture Studies, Museum History, Collections Research. Contact: GatesMoresiM@si.edu

Hyppolite, JoanneMuseum Curator. B.A. University of Pennsylvania, M.A. University of California, Los Angeles, Ph.D. University of Miami. Research specialties: African American and Caribbean history, culture and literature, immigrant American community life, foodways, folklife and traditional culture. Contact: Hyppolitej@si.edu

McMahon, Kate, Museum Specialist. B.A. University of Southern Maine, M.A. University of Southern Maine, Ph.D. Howard University. Research specialties: slavery, slave trade, American history, African diaspora history, material culture, African American history of the northeast U.S. Contact: mcmahonk@si.edu

Nichols, Elaine, Senior Curator of Culture. BA, University of North Carolina Charlotte; MSSA, Case Western Reserve University; MA, University of South Carolina. Research specialties: African American history and culture, dress and fashion, textiles, and dolls and toys and games. Contact: NicholsEl@si.edu

Pretzer, William, Senior Curator of History. B.A. (1972) Stanford University; M.A. (1976), Ph.D. (1986) Northern Illinois University. Research specialties: Labor and technology; the book and printing history; social history. Contact: PretzerW@si.edu

Strait, Kevin M.Museum Curator. B.A. Wesleyan University; M.A. George Washington University; Ph.D. George Washington University. Research specialties: 19th and 20th century African American music, African American cultural history, African American intellectual history, American popular culture, 20th century African-American literature. Contact: straitk@si.edu

Tate, Angela T., Museum Curator. B.A. California State University-San Bernardino; M.A. Northwestern University. Research specialties: African American women’s history; gender & sexuality; material culture; feminist and social movements; international relations; Pan-African movements; Black women’s clubs & organizations; high society and social class; Black newspapers and radio; Black Chicago History; Black California. Contact: TateAT@si.edu

Thomas, Damion L., Supervisory Museum Curator of Sports. B.A., University of California, Los Angeles; M.A., University of California, Los Angeles; Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles. Research Specialties: African American History; Diplomatic History; Black Internationalism; 20th Century United States History; Sports History. Contact: ThomasDL@si.edu

Wilkinson, Michelle JoanMuseum Curator. B.A. (1993) Bryn Mawr College; M.A. (1997) Emory University; Ph.D. (2001) Emory University. Research specialties: contemporary black life and culture; architecture and design; poetry; art and social movements; African diaspora studies. Contact: Wilkinsonm@si.edu

Williams, Eric Lewis, Curator of Religion. B.A. (1998) University of Illinois at Chicago; M.A. (2004) McCormick Theological Seminary; M.DIV. (2005) Duke University; Ph.D. (2015) University of Edinburgh. Research Specialties: African American History and Culture; Material Religion; African Atlantic Religions; Religion and Slavery; New African Diaspora; Black Religion in the United States; African American Christianity; Religion and Literature. Contact: williamsel@si.edu

Reeves, Teddy, Museum Curator. B.A. Hampton University, M.Div. Princeton Theological Seminary, Ph.D. Fordham University. Research specialties: Digital Black Religion; African American Religion and Spirituality; African American Christianity; Generational Theory; Millennial and Generation Z Faith and Spirituality; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); Black Educational History and Leadership (K-12). Contact: ReevesT@si.edu

Affiliated Research Staff

Anderson, Renée S., Museum Specialist. B.F.A. (1983) Virginia Commonwealth University; M.S. (1997), Ph.D. (2000) Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Research specialties: clothing and textiles; design process. Contact: AndersonR@si.edu

Washington, Esther J., Director of Education. B.A. (1982) Howard University. Research specialties: K-12 object-based education, family programming, multiple learning styles, visitors with disabilities, technology/new media in museum settings. Contact: WashingtonEJ@si.edu

Conservation Staff

Mina, Laura, Conservator of Textiles. B.S. (2000) Northwestern University, IL (Performance Studies); M.A. (2010) Fashion Institute of Technology, NY (Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice with a focus in Conservation). Research Specialties: History in Fashion; Poultice and Gels in Textile Cleaning; Re-Inventing Mount-making; Pest-Management in Costume collections. Contact: MinaL@si.edu

Neumann, Antje, Supervisory Conservator and Objects Conservator. B.A. (1990) Pitzer College, CA (Studio Art); M.A. (1999) Buffalo State College, NY (Advanced Certificate in Objects Conservation). Research Specialties: 19th Century French Bronze casting techniques; Moche Silversmithing techniques; Identification of Gujarat lacquer materials from India; Conservation of archaeological objects and sites. Contact: NeumannA@si.edu

Pedemonti, Nick, Conservator of Objects. B.A. (2007) University of Connecticut, CT (Art History); M.S. (2015) University of Delaware, DE (Objects Conservation with a minor in polychrome wooden artifacts). Research Specialties: Cleaning Outdoor Bronze by Laser Ablation; Wooden Artifact Conservation; Conservation of Painted Surfaces; Archaeological conservation; Conservation treatment of della Robbia Ceramics. Contact: PedemontiN@si.edu

Shaffer, Cait, Conservator of Objects. B.A. (2004) Bates College, ME (Art and Visual Culture); M.A. (2007) West Dean College, University of Sussex, UK (Conservation Studies). Research Specialties: Blue John Stone conservation; Ceramics history and conservation; Archaeological Conservation; Conservation of waterlogged and underwater archeological finds. Contact: ShafferC@si.edu

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