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Castle Lecture Series
Noon–1pm
Talks are held monthly and are webcast live. Videos archived here.

Scots in the American West Symposium
8 August 2013
Archive available here.

Grand Challenges Share Fair
May 14, 2013
Archive available here.

The Anthropocene: Planet Earth in the Age of Humans
11 October 2012
Archive available here.

Grand Challenges Share Fair
May 10, 2012
Archive available here.

Perspectives on Limits to Growth: Challenges to Building a Sustainable Planet
March 1, 2012
Archive available here.

Grand Challenges Share Fair
May 18, 2011
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Consortium for Understanding the American Experience


2011 Grand Challenges Award Projects

Level One Projects

After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Revitalization and Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge
Bringing together thirty scholars from diverse anthropological fields, indigenous communities, collecting institutions, and an array of Smithsonian units, this workshop seeks to document and discuss sets of best practices and case studies of digital repatriation in order to theorize the broad impacts of such processes in relation to: linguistic revitalization of endangered languages, cultural revitalization of traditional practices, and the creation of new knowledge stemming from the return of digitized material culture. Theoretically, this workshop asks how and if marginalized communities can reinvigorate their local knowledge practices, languages, and cultural products through the reuse of digitally repatriated materials and distributed technologies. The workshop will result in three key products all aimed at broadening the public and scholarly understanding of digital repatriation: 1) an edited collection of essays based on the workshop's themes, 2) a dedicated project website and database with informational materials, a space for dialogue before and after the conference, and an interactive database aggregating the results of digital repatriation projects globally with a focus on outcomes, best practices, and partnerships, 3) a set of white papers to be made freely available online with suggestions for best practices, international standards, and practical guidelines for researchers, indigenous communities, and collecting institutions.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Josh Bell (Principal Investigator)
Gwyneira Isaac

National Museum of Natural History
Sita Reddy

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
David Penney National Museum of the American Indian

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for World Cultures


Civil War's 150th Anniversary
This project will develop a two-part initiative related to marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The first part will center on the organization of a symposium in the fall of 2011 to think critically about the plans for collaborative research and programming opportunities at Smithsonian related to the Civil War. The second part will involve the commissioning of eight literary works and one artistic work by a group of writers, poets, and one contemporary artist. We propose to publish the results in a unique Smithsonian Civil War reader.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Frank Goodyear (Principal Investigator)
David Ward

National Portrait Gallery
Jennifer Jones
Harry Rubenstein

National Museum of American History
Eleanor Harvey
Smithsonian American Art Museum


IndiGEO: Long-term monitoring of cultural and biological diversity on tribal lands
Environmental concerns, especially climate change and the loss of biodiversity, are among the most pressing issues facing our society today. These changes are taking place across the planet and affect all habitats and cultures. Living closer to the environment, Indigenous peoples are on the front line of these changes. They posses unique knowledge systems that bring greater understanding to the environment and our relationship to it.

This project combines elements of two existing projects into a new synergy that will produce new research tools, questions, and approaches to environmental issues on Indigenous lands and beyond. The Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatories (SIGEO) is employing modern scientific tools to monitor the transformation of biodiversity as these major environmental changes accelerate. The observatories, based on tested methodologies, are currently forest-based and soon marine-based, but can be developed for any habitat and geographic location for the description and measurement of biodiversity over time. The National Museum of the American Indian, in reconstituting its web-based Indigenous Geography project, has devised and environment-focused platform for documenting and presenting place-based Indigenous knowledge in a holistic and comprehensive format with educational tools.

The merged Indigenous Global Earth Observatories (IndiGEO) project will combine modern and traditional tools to investigate and integrate environmental as well as cultural knowledge in Tribal lands in order to develop an in depth understanding of human-environment relationships. IndiGEO should provide a new standard for scientific information, cultural heritage, scholarship, and educational tools and resources on global environments.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Douglas Herman (Principal Investigator)

National Museum of the American Indian
Jonathan Thompson

National Zoological Park
John Parker Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet and the Consortium for World Cultures


A National Symposium on Early Learning
The Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center and Smithsonian Affiliations, in partnership with nine units across the Institution, will begin the planning phase of A National Symposium on Early Learning in Museums. The project work leading up to the symposium includes a literature review, a national advisory committee of early education and research experts, and the establishment of a collaborative network that engages the museum community in an examination of current research and collects pertinent data in early learning from educators across the nation. By building internal and external networks that can begin to serve as a learning community, the Smithsonian can address the need for a collaborative body of practitioners. The Early Learning Collaborative Network (EL Collab) will provide a delivery system for information, and a clearinghouse for best practices. 

The Smithsonian is uniquely positioned to lead this initiative by creating a forum for open dialogue and capacity building within the museum and educational communities.  Both museums and school programs will be strengthened by the outcomes of this plan. Formal analysis of current practice in the field will yield project outcomes that will assemble and enrich the current research paradigm while identifying areas that need further investigation. A national symposium will draw on the outcomes from the planning grant to benefit museum practice.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Sharon Shaffer (Principal Investigator)
Betsy Bowers
Maria del Carmen Cossu
Anna Forgerson

Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center
Evelyn Hankins

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Barbara Brennan
Elizabeth Cammarata
Ann Caspari

National Air and Space Museum
Amy Bartow-Melia
Jennifer Jones

National Museum of American History
Amy Bolton
Shari Werb

National Museum of Natural History
Motoko Hioki
K. Allison Wickens

National Postal Museum
Beth Ziebarth

Smithsonian Accessibility Program
Jennifer Brundage
Christina Di Meglio Lopez

Smithsonian Affiliations
Betsy Robinson Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central


The Smithsonian Asian-Latino Project
The Smithsonian Asian-Latino Project (SALP) will host research forums on how the American experience and world cultures are animated by intersections between communities and heritages often assumed to be distinct. This approach to cultural research remains new at the Smithsonian where silo-like thinking about heritage has been the norm. By exploring the many intersections that exist between the two fastest-growing populations in the U.S.—Asians and Latinos—and how these communities have used one another as reference points as they construct their civic, cultural, and economic lives, the Smithsonian can take a leading role in studying the cultural fabric of tomorrow. The study of how emerging communities have adopted and expanded each other’s diverse heritages provides a deeper understanding of the changing face of American history, art and culture. The premise of SALP is we understand the American experience and world cultures by understanding the critical and creative crossings between Asians and Latinos.

This project builds on the conversations started by the Grand Challenges Award “RACE: A Pan-Institutional Collaboration” and two collaborative, pilot public programs launched by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) and the Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC): in October 2009, “Chinese Communities of Panama” and, in August 2011, “A Different POV: Latino- and Asian America in Cinema and Digital Media”. The SALP seeks to be a unique interdisciplinary and pan-Institutional initiative that will, as outlined in the Smithsonian Strategic Plan, “upgrade research and collections activities with regard to Latino and Asian Pacific American communities, and the interactions and intersections of diverse ethnic and regional cultures in the United States.” Indeed, given the impact of demographic change and the need for intercultural research, we believe that SALP touches on a topic of growing importance for the nation.

The research of SALP will be used to develop or join a more complex exhibition-scale initiative, grow the Smithsonian collections, and spin off material to create proposals for the Smithsonian Channel. If successful, SALP will position the Smithsonian as the leading convener of Latino and Asian Pacific American studies and shape how the Smithsonian may tell the story of a changing citizenry.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Konrad Ng (Principal Investigator)
Gina Inocencio

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
Sojin Kim

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Magdalena Mieri
Fath Ruffins

National Museum of American History
Eduardo Diaz
Ranald Woodaman
Smithsonian Latino Center


Taking Stock: Oral History at the Smithsonian Institution
With the Smithsonian’s depth of audio & video interviews, there could be more effective information sharing and fundraising vehicles to benefit all units with oral history interests. These would not reside in or be driven by any one unit, but would draw on strengths of all the Institution’s oral history holdings and practices. To begin the effort, a two-day concentrated conversation on oral history would be held at SI for staff that produce oral history interviews or manage oral history collections. Prior to the meeting, staff will share information about collections, policies, legal agreements, and concerns via the Institution’s SharePoint intranet. The first day would be comprised of 1) guided discussion about oral history procedures, policies, and legal agreements across the Institution as well as the broader issues of intellectual property rights and ethics; 2) roundtable discussion about current oral history initiatives; 3) lunchtime keynote to provide overview of new directions in field for recording, preservation, access, and critical thinking about the uses of oral history; 4) panel on new models for collecting, preserving, and making oral histories available; 5) facilitated summary to aid in effective reflection & discovery of mutually beneficial goals or projects. The second day would include an “Oral History Fair” to share information and projects, several break-out sessions on specific areas of interest, and facilitated discussion about collaboration opportunities across the Institution as well as potential next steps required to sustain a community of interest around oral history.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Liza Kirwin (Principal Investigator)

Archives of American Art
Mary Jo Arnoldi

National Museum of Natural History
Pamela Henson Smithsonian Institution Archives

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for World Cultures


The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity
In 1924, writer and pioneering folklorist Zora Neale Hurston wrote that “the will to adorn” is one of the primary characteristics of African American identities as communicated through the cultural aesthetics and traditional arts of the body, dress, and adornment. Will to Adorn involves collaborative and online research with partners in several major cities including D.C., New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, and St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The project will identify, document, and present exemplary artisans as well as the scope of African American community-based social dress industries. Will to Adorn will explore African continuities and contemporary influences on African American dress communities, and will trace the influence of African American dress on global style. This collaboration will contribute to and be presented in websites, an exhibition, a publication, and public programs (including a 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program).

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Diana N’Diaye (Principal Investigator)

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Portia James

Ancostia Community Museum
Matilda McQuaid

Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
Nicole Shivers

National Museum of African Art
Deborra Richardson
Fath Davis Ruffins

National Museum of American History
Christina Di Meglio Lopez
Caroline Mah

Smithsonian Affiliations
Stevie Engelke
Pino Monaco

Smithsonian Center for Eduacation and Museum Studies
Deborah Macanic Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for World Cultures

Level Two Projects

Americans All: The Immigration/Migration Initiative
Understanding the American experience centers around the fact that everyone here arrived one of three ways: immigration, importation, or incorporation. The Americans All initiative will answer fundamental questions: Who came to America when and why? How did the historical United States emerge out of so many diverse cultures from around the world? What do attitudes and policies towards successive waves of transnational migration tell us about the nation America aspires to be?

This multi-year effort is the umbrella for major research, collecting, and interpretation efforts that employ methods from social history, anthropology, folklore, and possibly biology. It will investigate, document, and present American cultural history and geography through the perspectives of global migration, ethnicity, and cultural identity. Long-term goals includeacademic symposia and publications, a Folklife Festival program, a new, "anchor" exhibition at the National Museum of American History, and the diversification of the Institution's national collections. We are engaging a growing network of museums and cultural centers and anticipate adding ethnic media to ensure that our work will be informed by diverse stakeholders and audiences.

Related Resources

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Fath Davis Ruffins (Principal Investigator)
Steve Velasquez

National Museum of American History

James Deutsch
Stephen Kidd
Sojin Kim
Diana N'Diaye

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage


The Civil War's 150th Anniversary
The Smithsonian Civil War Sesquicentennial working group is planning an initiative related to marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The team will complete a Smithsonian Civil War poetry and photography reader that was begun with funds from a Level One Grand Challenges Award. This project will support the development of an exhibition and book-length publication related to the photographic career of Alexander Gardner as well as various pan-institutional Civil War initiatives. The team will also organize two symposia: “Astride Two Ages: Technology and the Civil War” to be held at the National Museum of American History in November, 2012 and “The Civil War and American Art” to be held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the Winter 2012/13.

Related Resources

  • Would you consider the American Civil War, which happened 150 years ago, as "high tech"? Technologies such as the telegraph, travel by railroads, portable printing presses, and aerial spying were innovations that were widely used during the conflict. Civil War technology is the topic of this fascinating blog post by the National Museum of American History.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Frank Goodyear (Principal Investigator)
David Ward

National Portrait Gallery
Bart Hacker
Jennifer Jones
Harry Rubenstein

National Museum of American History
Eleanor Harvey
Smithsonian American Art Museum


Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor
This project will develop support materials that link complementary exhibitions, programming, and a collaborative educational initiative that examines the relationship between humans and the land with a focus on Africa and the United States. The collaboration builds upon an exhibition of African art entitled Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa that will open at the National Museum of African Art on Earth Day 2013.

NMAfA‘s Earth Matters exhibition is the fulcrum for a constellation of exhibitions and programs at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the National Air and Space Museum, and National Museum of American History. Collaborations are also in development with the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Smithsonian Global Earth Observatory. Confirmed and potential external collaborators include Dumbarton Oaks, University of Maryland, the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation‘s Capital, the Library of Congress, US Botanic Gardens, United States Geological Survey, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Karen Milbourne (Principal Investigator)
Gathoni Kamau
Jessica Martinez
Deborah Stokes

National Museum of African Art
Andrew Johnston

National Air and Space Museum
Jeffrey Stine

National Museum of American History
Mary Jo Arnoldi
Siobhan Starrs

National Museum of Natural History
Marc Haddon
Sean McMahon

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Cynthia Brown
Barbara Faust
Johnathan Kavalier
Smithsonian Institution Gardens

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for World Cultures


Our Voices on Air: Reaching New Audiences Through Indigenous Radio
The Smithsonian is deeply involved in efforts to stem the loss of the world’s indigenous languages. As part of that work, an interdisciplinary team of Smithsonian staff and external collaborators from Cultural Survival will organize a three-day conference in 2012 to bring together indigenous radio producers from the US, Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala to share resources and knowledge gained from experience in their communities. Media professionals from a variety of broadcast platforms also will attend and add their expertise to the conversation. The conference’s speakers, workshops, and discussions will provide attendees from local stations with material to develop new community radio programming to be aired in the spring and summer of 2012.

Building on the outcomes of the conference, the team also plans to develop a proposal to obtain external funding for a radio series for a broad public radio audience that tells the story of challenges facing many of the world’s languages, the importance of revitalizing these languages, and efforts to advance the revival of indigenous languages through community radio programming.

Related Resources

  • The Atlanic profiles the use of community radio stations in revitalizing endangered indigenous languages. The conference Our Voices on the Air: Reaching New Audiences through Indigenous Radio is a part of this movement.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Michael Mason (Principal Investigator)

National Museum of Natural History
Marjorie Hunt

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Emil Her Many Horses National Museum of the American Indian

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for World Cultures


Preservation of Time-Based Media Art at the Smithsonian
Time-based and digital art is global art. Building on the Smithsonian’s longstanding investment in new-media and technology from around the world, the Smithsonian Time-Based and Digital Art Working Group will develop pan-institutional protocols, with input from and relevance for peer institutions and practitioners nationally and internationally, and enhance educational opportunities and online resources concerning the acquisition, installation, and long-term care of time-based and digital art (i.e.: works having film, video, audio, or software as essential components). These protocols and resources will help establish the Smithsonian as a leader in the preservation of art (and related cultural offerings) now being produced in dynamic, but fragile, digital and time-based media.

With numerous points of contact with artists and scholars on multiple continents, the Smithsonian is uniquely situated to foster, disseminate, and house (primarily through electronic means) research being conducted globally into time-based and digital art. Through our efforts, we can better understand why, how, and where these media are used and the impact of location and culture on particular choices. By building an international network consisting of conservators, scholars, artists, and peer institutions, we can construct a framework to provide practical recommendations for the care of these media for diverse constituents at the Smithsonian and beyond.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Anne Goodyear (Principal Investigator)
Alex Cooper
Alli Jessing
Lou Molnar

National Portrait Gallery
Megan McShea

Archives of American Art
Carol Huh

Freer and Sackler Galleries
Sarah Gorden
Jeff Martin
Gwynne Ryan

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Karen Milbourne

National Museum of African Art
Isabel Meyer

Office of the Chief Information Officer
Michael Mansfield

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Sarah Stauderman Smithsonian Institution Archives

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for World Cultures


Urban Waterways
Researchers and scholars from the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM), National Museum of American Indian (NMAI), National Museum of American History (NMAH), the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), and Smithsonian Gardens (SG) are working collaboratively to investigate citizen engagement with urban waterways, specifically rivers, their watersheds, and associated creeks and streams. The goal of their collaboration is to raise public awareness about human-biosphere interaction, engender appreciation for rivers and their role in sustainable urban development, and foster civic responsibility and advocacy for waterways.

The interdisciplinary Urban Waterways Project is based upon ACM research on the Anacostia River and its watershed. Long considered one of the nation’s most troubled urban rivers, the Anacostia River faces problems that confront other rivers in the industrialized world. Project outputs will shape the development of ACM’s upcoming exhibition Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement (September 16, 2012–August 13, 2013), NMAI’s Aloha `Aina: A Hawaiian Voyage scheduled for 2013, the collections and research of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute on wildlife in riparian and urban settings, and the collections, research, and outreach of Smithsonian Gardens with native flora associated with riparian systems and adapted for community uses.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Gail Lowe (Principal Investigator)

Ancostia Community Museum
Jeffrey Stine

National Museum of American History
Doug Herman

National Museum of the American Indian
Bill McShea

National Zoological Park
Barbara Faust Smithsonian Institution Gardens

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet