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

Living in the Anthropocene: Prospects for Climate, Economics, Health, and Security
9 October 2014
Webcast available here.

Grand Challenges Share Fair
May 12, 2014
Archive available 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
Archive available here.
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Consortium for World Cultures


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 Understanding the American Experience


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 the American Experience and the Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet


Parallels and Convergences: Pictorial Space in the Art of Italy and China
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is organizing a planning workshop February 8-10, 2012 for its exhibition, Parallels and Convergences: Pictorial Space in the Art of Italy and China. The show examines the history of treatment of space in Chinese and European painting over the past two millennia, focusing on Chinese axonometric perspective and on European linear perspective. Linear perspective reached China in the 17th century, when Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians introduced it to the Imperial court. Axonometric perspective, first developed in China, became an important technique in architectural drawing in 20th-century Europe.

To ensure that the exhibition is fully grounded in the most current scholarship, seventeen scholars will review the exhibition proposal from their particular disciplines —including art history, mathematics, and science— and identify areas where new research will be needed. This workshop will ensure that the exhibition will make a significant scholarly contribution, but also that it is presented in a way that will allow visitors with varying levels of knowledge to understand and appreciate the subject matter.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Julian Raby (Principal Investigator)

Freer and Sackler Galleries
Owen Gingerich Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory


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 Understanding the American Experience


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 Understanding the American Experience

Level Two Projects

Caribbean Indigenous Legacies Project
The Caribbean Indigenous Legacies Project (formerly the Taíno Legacy Initiative) explores the culture, history, and legacy of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean islands. In particular, this project focuses on the Taíno, the inhabitants of Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas, who were the first Native American people to encounter, as well as to resist (often with the help of enslaved Africans), Spanish colonization after 1492. This initiative offers new perspectives on the Taíno and related neighboring ethnic groups prior to European contact using the Smithsonian’s first-rate (yet rarely studied or displayed) archeological collections, while it explores and contextualizes the growing attention to indigeneity currently emerging in the Caribbean, and in U.S. communities of Caribbean origin.

This project is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Latino Center, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of Natural History and an international, interdisciplinary network of scholars. An exhibition on the Taíno legacy is planned for 2014 in the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian. A public program series initiated in 2011 will continue through the exhibition opening, and plans for a traveling exhibition will be evaluated in the future.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Ranald Woodaman (Principal Investigator)

Smithsonian Latino Center
Jose Barreiro
Jorge Estevez
Cynthia Vidaurri

National Museum of the American Indian
Jake Homiak National Museum of Natural History


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 Understanding the American Experience


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 Understanding the American Experience


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 Understanding the American Experience