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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


2012 Grand Challenges Award Projects

Level One Projects

Creating a Roadmap for Music at the Smithsonian
Music collections have been in the Institution almost since its founding. Today, the Smithsonian boasts an array of successful music initiatives, which often cross disciplines and museums. Activities include exhibitions such as Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington (Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and National Museum of American History), Red, Hot, and Blue (National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American History), and Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Music (National Museum of the American Indian); award-winning recordings from Smithsonian Folkways and by the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society ensembles; international performances by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra; rare, original instruments in the Museum’s collections; and years of music-making at the Folklife Festival. In 2010, a group of Smithsonian staff involved with music convened the Smithsonian Music Forum – a group interested in enhancing public access and research collaboration in an effort to take full advantage of the Smithsonian’s great depth of musical resources. The Smithsonian Music Forum will host a two-day conference for Smithsonian staff that work with music collections, exhibitions, research, publications, education, and programs. Together with external thought-leaders, the group will discuss the future of music at the Smithsonian and explore ways to share and maximize the potential of the Institution’s vast musical resources.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Kennith Kimrey (Principal Investigator)
John Hasse
Cynthia Adams Hoover
Kenneth Slowik

National Museum of American History
Richard Burgess
Jeff Place
Atesh Sonneborn

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Adrienne Kaeppler

National Museum of Natural History
Michael Pahn

National Museum of the American Indian
Dwandalyn Reece

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Wendy Wick Reaves

National Portrait Gallery
Joanna Pecore
Michael Wilpers
Freer and Sackler Galleries

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for Understanding the American Experience


Kenya at the Smithsonian: Kuna mambo!
In 2014, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will present a program on Kenya. Occurring just after the 50th anniversary of Kenya's post-colonial independence, the program will showcase ways in which the people of Kenya are balancing protection of their valued cultural and natural heritage with the challenges and opportunities of change in the 2lst century. Festival program development involves collaboration with organizational partners throughout Kenya's diverse cultural communities and among Smithsonian scholars and staff from multiple museums and research centers. Because many Smithsonian units have important mission-directed interests and relationships in Kenya, the 2014 Festival offers a unique opportunity to develop programming in ways that enrich visitors' experiences at the Festival site on the Mall while also leveraging and expanding access to Kenya-related collections and research activities carried out by other Smithsonian units beyond customary Festival planning.

Preparation for the Festival and expanded Kenya-related programming will strengthen and create new working connections among Smithsonian museums and research centers. It also will deepen and expand Smithsonian relationships with multiple Kenyan communities and institutions cost-effectively through the type of people-to-people interdisciplinary development and planning approach that the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH) does particularly well. The 2014 Kenya program offers an unprecedented opportunity for extensive Kenya-focused collaboration between CFCH and at least six other Smithsonian museums and research centers that will generate important and lasting benefits for the Smithsonian, the Smithsonian's participating partners in Kenya, and for the public who will experience Kenya at multiple Smithsonian venues in 2014.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Preston Scott (Principal Investigator)
Kristofer Helgen
Briana Pobiner
Rick Potts

National Museum of Natural History
Andrew Johnston

National Air and Space Museum
Deborah Mack

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Christine Kreamer

National Museum of African Art
Frank Goodyear

National Portrait Gallery
Suzan Murray National Zoological Park


Smithsonian in Kenya – Olorgesailie Resource Center: Building a Vision and Strategic Plan
This project is the first phase in developing a vision and initial plan for a Resource Center dedicated to the preservation and public understanding of Maasai cultural heritage and natural habitat conservation in the Olorgesailie region. Located in the southern Kenya Rift Valley, this region is a homeland of rich Maasai culture with its profound traditional knowledge of livestock, environment, and wildlife, yet is subject to the loss of knowledge on which present values and the future cultural heritage of the region depend. Olorgesailie also is situated in the highest biodiversity zone for animal and plant species in all of East Africa. The Smithsonian’s involvement in the region to date has focused on archeological and paleontological research, which has led to high visibility scholarly publications, exhibitions, and educational programs in the U.S. and Kenya. The idea of the Resource Center is to provide a location for bringing together Maasai knowledge, skills, and art; for organizing future collaborative projects and scholarly investigations that connect Smithsonian, Kenyan, and local expertise; and for building the foundation for public understanding of Maasai culture and regional biodiversity.

A Strategy Session based at Olorgesailie in 2013, will provide the first opportunity to unite Smithsonian experts in science, art, culture, history, and exhibition with Kenyan counterparts and stakeholders as critical steps in building a vision and strategic plan for the Resource Center. The visioning and strategic planning session will serve as a platform to seek partnerships and financial support to make this Resource Center a reality for our partners in Kenya, and a home for future collaboration with the Smithsonian.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
Rick Potts (Principal Investigator)
Michael Mason

National Museum of Natural History
Preston Scott

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Karen Milbourne

National Museum of African Art
Suzan Murray National Zoological Park


Unseen Connections in the Ecologies of Cell Phones
Bringing together scholars from a wide range of disciplines, including anthropology, linguistics, fine arts, geology, public health and environmental science, as well as institutions, including the Smithsonian, universities, and private companies, this workshop seeks to address the interconnected material, linguistic, and aesthetic aspects of the cellular phone. Using these three aspects as a guide for framing the workshop will help illuminate how cell phones operate along different scales, transforming not only individual subjectivities and bodily habits, but also collective orientations as these devices enable new dimensions of connectivity and communication. From the rare earths and raw materials extracted to make cellular phones, to the ways that people mediate their communication using a variety of technologies, to the mapping of the movement of waste, each scholar will inform the rest about different material, linguistic, or aesthetic networks connected by cell phones.

By exploring each site in the history of a cell phone’s life, we can better understand the multiple and varied impacts that it has on communities across the world. The workshop will result in six outcomes, including: 1) interdisciplinary dialogue about the cell phone and all of its components, capabilities, and consequences; 2) a concept script that provides an outline of the key components and objectives of the proposed exhibit, A Natural History of the Cell Phone; 3) the development of an advisory board to coordinate and manage the diverse scholars as the exhibit and research project proceed; 4) begin a database of relevant holdings in the Smithsonian for the exhibit; 4) publish several articles from interdisciplinary perspectives not usually brought together; 5) build a network essential in developing a varied portfolio of possible support.

Project Team Collaborating Smithsonian Units
John Bell (Principal Investigator)

National Museum of Natural History
Cynthia Smith Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

This project funded jointly with the Consortium for Understanding the American Experience