Adrian Van Allen
Anthropology design art about contact

publications

Van Allen, Adrian. 2019. “Resurrecting Ferrets and Remaking Ecosystems.” Anthropology News 60 (3): 20-23. Special Issue Animalia, edited by Natalie Konopinski.

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Abstract
Cryopreservation has given way to a new scientific ice age: The ability to freeze and bank biological material is today a pivotal technological practice in animal breeding, conservation biology, and human reproduction. This article examines the revival of the black footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) using eggs, sperm and embryos cryo-preserved in museums and zoos over three decades. Thought extinct until a remnant population of 18 individuals was discovered in 1981, these “salvaged” ferrets were captured and used in breeding programs, increasing their genetic pool with in-vitro fertilization using frozen collections. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the laboratories and biobank at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute at the National Zoological Park in Washington D.C., I examine the practices of reviving endangered species through biotechnology. Working with scientists as they created, used and negotiated the potential of frozen collections I examine these biobanked resources of ferret genetic material from two connected perspectives. First, I explore the concepts of violence and care as frozen collections are utilized not just for their potential to resurrect a critically endangered species, but with the potential of their “latent life” used to reconstruct specific pasts and craft imagined future ecologies. Care here can be understood as care for a reconstituted species and their ecosystems as well as care of the self through the “cryo-optimistic” practices of remaking ferrets. Second, I focus on the cryopoltics of technology as it migrates from human medical contexts into the feral landscape of biodiversity conservation, a “feral” biobank so named for the potential authentic wildness it may both contain and reproduce.

 

Van Allen, Adrian. 2019 (In press). "Folding Time: Practices of Preservation, Temporality and Care in Making Bird Specimens." In Deterritorializing the Future, edited by Colin Sterling and Rodney Harrison. Critical Climate Change series. London: Open Humanities Press.

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Abstract
Through crafting specimens and corresponding categories of life, natural history museums have been apparatuses for articulating knowledges, power, and natures into an ordered whole, practices that have extended through to contemporary natural history museums and their genetic collecting programs. In this paper I focus on the practices of “folding time” in specimen preparation practices of two museums—the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington D.C. and the Muséum National d’Historie Naturelle (MNHN) in Paris. Examining the ways that animal bodies are made and remade at these two sites I explore how they are configured into specific representations of types of time—as windows into ecological pasts, markers of deep evolutionary time, or as instruments for future biodiversity conservation policies. Within the context of these longer histories of specimen preparation, I argue that as birds are taken apart and reassembled in the museum they articulate different concepts of time with different pieces. Following scientists and their specimens into the workrooms, laboratories and biorepository of these museums, I learned to stuff bird skins, take tissue samples, extract DNA, and assemble genomic data. In examining two sets of materials and tools used by scientist to craft specimens and construct futures, I suggest different temporalities are “folded” into the daily practices of preserving specimens. Historic techniques are transformed with the integration of new technologies, and in doing so incorporate new perceptions of preservation, endangerment and care—all oriented towards charting the genomic biodiversity of life and preserving it for uncertain futures.

 

Van Allen, Adrian. 2019 (In press). "Oiseaux, plumes, spécimens, données: l'évolution de la valeur des collections de musées dans l'anthropocène (Birds, Feathers, Specimens, Data:  The Changing Value of Museum Collections in the Anthropocene)." In Matérialité et valeur dans les musées (Materiality and Value in the Museum), edited by Frédéric Keck. AEstethica series. Paris: l’Ecole normale supérieure Press.

Abstract
This project examines the shifting value of connected museum artifacts and specimens, linking past and current uses to provide a model for future interdisciplinary collections research. Objects tell stories, through their creation, circulation, perceived value, and the connections they embody between people, places, materials, and interests. Amazonian featherwork objects tell a very specific narrative, as traced through their creation and display as exotic objects to sites of cultural heritage. Following a parallel line of inquiry, bird specimens were collected in the same region during the same period, transformed from exotic objects to scientific specimens, and are now being re-evaluated as sites for mining genetic data for biodiversity conservation. Connecting museum collections across disciplines—such as ethnographic featherwork and scientific bird specimens—highlights their location within larger networks of practice, exchange, and value. Tracing the material, semiotic, historical, and technological connections between a group of Amazonian featherwork objects (Museé du Quai Branly) and bird specimens (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle), my research questions examine the shifting value of museum collections, focused on the material practices that create different kinds of value. Through studying how featherwork and bird specimens are made and remade as valuable objects through time—most recently as genetic samples and genomic data—I will focus on linking the historical, archival, and contemporary uses of the collections. In parallel, I will identify and engage subjects for ethnographic interviews at both museums. A close attention to the material practices of creating and conserving these objects, and the types of perceived value generated through these processes, form my methodological and theoretical framework. Collections are not simply accumulated objects, but instead can be seen as a continual reassemblage of the people who have made, use, and collect the objects, and the regimes of value they represent and reproduce. My research engages the construction of these assemblages, creating meaningful paths through and between collections, disciplines, and perspectives. Through examining featherwork and bird specimens as assemblages of materials and shifting values, in their historical and contemporary contexts, this project will produce a case study of these objects and provide an extensible model for interdisciplinary collections research.

 

Van Allen, Adrian. 2019 (In review). “Resources for Repair: Feathers, Specimens, Heritage and the Reimagined Potential of Museum Collections.” Museum Anthropology. Special Issue Museums, Art and Anthropology, edited by David Odo and Shalini LeGall.

Abstract
Museum collections are currently being re-evaluated not just for what they are, but for what other kinds of knowledge they can be seen to potentially offer up, that is, what they can do. Within the context of the museum as an “archive” of postcolonial pasts and reimagined futures, I examine the material practices that construct, preserve and maintain two objects made from birds. My ethnographic research focuses on two episodes of identifying and collecting feathers in the behind-the-scenes spaces of two Parisian museums. First, I accompany visiting researchers into the conservation lab at the Musée du quai Branly to view a 16th c. Tupinambán club originally adorned with bundles of parrot feathers, now a resource for indigenous groups working to revive lost cultural heritage. Second, I move to the specimen collections at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle where I work with scientists to assess the viability of stuffed parrot skins for extracting samples from feathers, bones or toepads to measure environmental contaminants. Following these two threads I examine how Amazonian featherwork objects and bird specimens are being reimagined as tools for “repair” in multiple senses, on the one hand used to revive lost heritage craft practices and on the other to reform ecological damage.

 

Van Allen, Adrian. 2019 (Accepted, pending revisions). "Flight Paths Through the Museum:
Paiute Duck Decoys and Bird Specimens from the 1859 Utah Territory Expedition."
In Putting Theory & Things Together: Working with Museum Collections, edited by Joshua A. Bell and Jennifer Shannon. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

Abstract
Objects tell stories–through their social lives, their materials, their paths of exchange, and the different meanings they acquire as they shift between contexts. In this paper I examine the circulation paths of several Smithsonian ducks, each crafted into a carrier for different knowledge using the same materials: bird parts combined with grass, cotton and wire. My collection of ducks include Paiute duck decoys and scientific study skins from the 1853 Utah Territory Expedition, a set of duck skins stretched over reed forms or stuffed with cotton. Shipped back to the Smithsonian these various assemblages of reconfigured duck parts were catalogued into “natural” and “cultural” artifacts and circulated into the Ethnology and Ornithology collections. To understand these historical ducks in their contemporary context I learned to prepare my own duck study skin in the Smithsonian Division of Birds. Taking tissue samples from my black-bellied whistling duck I followed the assemblage and circulation of its genomic data through the museum and beyond. The circulations of bird parts–-from the field into the museum, to the lab and then out into public databases—charts not a linear path but a set of circular routes, back and forth through time, where the same materials can carry different meanings.

 

Van Allen, Adrian. 2018. "Pinning Beetles, Biobanking Futures: Genetic Voucher Specimens and Shifting Ontologies in Museum Genomics.” New Society and Genetics, 37 (04): 387–410.

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Abstract
Examining how biotechnology is redefining concepts of “life itself,” I explore the museum as a site for thinking through how life is being archived and for what imagined futures. Focusing on negotiations at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History between 2014-2016, this article examines debates over whether a genetic sample could serve as a voucher specimen—a physical reference permanently preserved in a museum. Learning to pin beetles, take genetic samples and extract DNA I reconstruct the analytical chains that bind together a specimen, samples and data. I argue that the capacities and limitations of biomaterials are a vital part of understanding how cryo-collections are made to matter as ontological embodiments—through their negotiated use and continuing re-evaluation.

 

Van Allen, Adrian. 2017. “Bird Skin to Biorepository: Making Materials Matter in the Afterlives of Natural History Collections.” Knowledge Organization, 44(7) 2017: 529-534.

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Abstract
Examining the material practices of museum genomics, my ethnographic research focuses on the Global Genome Initiative at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., a project that seeks to preserve vanishing biodiversity for an uncertain future by sampling and cryo-preserving half of the families of life in the next six years . Through stuffing a bird skin, taking genetic samples, and sub-sampling tissues for DNA extraction I examine a return to encyclopedic collecting with biotechnological tools, exploring how biotechnology is redefining and preserving “life itself” (Foucault 1966; Kowal and Radin 2015). This article examines one instance of how museum collections are made, standardized, and shared at the Smithsonian. Contrasting perspectives from ethnographic work in the Division of Birds and the Biorepository, I examine the friction and flow of biodiversity as specimens are transformed into data through material-semiotic practices. I analyze how these data and specimens then undergo multiple re-classifications as categories for new types of museum objects—such as genetic samples—are negotiated. Cryo-collections are “made to matter”(Barad 2003) as ontological embodiments through their preservation, multiple uses, and standardization across disciplines. Through attending to the (bio)materials themselves, the practices currently structuring a shared ecological future become legible.

 


Van Allen, Adrian. 2016. “Crafting Nature: An Ethnography of Natural History Collecting in an Age of Genomics.” Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of California Berkeley.

See book project below: Frozen Futures: Crafting Natural History in a Genomic Age >

Abstract
As biotechnology reshapes museum practices, vanishing biodiversity is being preserved for uncertain ecological futures in a variety of ways, each with a distinct shape and scale of time guiding its making. This ethnography focuses on the Global Genome Initiative at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., a project that seeks to cryo-preserve half of the taxonomic families of life in the next six years. Grounded in a feminist STS perspective of how materials are made to matter (Barad 2003) I examine how museum cryo-collections are crafted as ontological embodiments (Mol 2003) and forms of "latent life" (Radin 2013; Radin and Kowal 2017) as they are made and used. Through stuffing bird skins, pinning beetles, pressing plants, taking tissue samples and assembling genomic data I explore how these disembodied living things are transformed into embodiments of different types of time—through their preservation, negotiated use and continuing re-evaluation as specimens are made, evaluated and consumed. As specimens’ biologies are unbound (Helmreich 2009) into differently valued parts and pieces, spread across the spaces of the museum—from frozen tissue samples to a bird skins in cabinets to globally dispersed data—these distributed specimens remain sites of contested classificatory meanings, objects of shifting value, and disembodiments of hand-crafted “natural orders” (Foucault 1966; Haraway 1989). Through exploring museum specimens as mobile and transformative of a variety of scales of time, I argue there is multiplicity not only between but also within objects as they negotiate reconstructed pasts and imagined futures.

 

Van Allen, Adrian. 2014. “Object Lessons: Visual Anthropology in the Museum” Review of Museums: A Visual Anthropology by Mary Bouquet. Museum Anthropology Review, 8 (1) 2014: 86-88.


 

Van Allen, Adrian. 2019-2021
"Biobanking for the Future in Japan, France and the USA: A Comparative Study of Preserving Biodiversity in an Age of Extinction"
Social Science Research Council (SSRC), Abe Fellowship, 2019-2021

Project Overview and Research Questions
As extinction rates increase, with an estimated 50% of all species potentially heading towards extinction by mid-century (IUCN Red List 2017), the ethical imperative to preserve biodiversity before it vanishes has taken on multiple forms. Conservation projects have emerged in the recent decades that focus on preserving vanishing biodiversity through genomic collecting for an uncertain future (Hanner et al. 2009; Harrison 2017). This research project examines the collection and exchange of specimens, tissues samples and genomic data at three national museum of natural history in the USA, France and Japan: The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington D.C.), The Muséum Nationale d’ Histoire Naturelle (Paris) and the National Museum of Nature and Science (Tokyo). Members in a global coalition of museums, zoos, herbariums these sites are working towards biobanking genome-quality samples of all life—collaborating to create an archive of “all life on ice.” Museum genomics projects negotiate between international bioprospecting policies, priorities for biodiversity monitoring and assessing the impact of species loss on human biomedical, agricultural and security concerns. Key questions to consider at this pivotal moment are: How do emerging genomics practices affect the preservation of vanishing species and their movement across international borders? What are the implications of museum genomics for individuals, institutions and nations as they negotiate access, conservation and benefit sharing from genomic collecting? How do scientists engage with each other across disciplines, and also across borders, to negotiate the global circulation of specimens? And how are these various practices shaped by policies such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Nagoya Protocol, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)?

The goal of this research is to provide a detailed view of genomic collecting workflows in and across museums, and to improve knowledge about the capacities and limitations of museum genomics and its interactions with international policies to make them legible to policy makers and wider public audiences. To this end I will be conducting ethnographic fieldwork in three national natural history museums in Washington D.C., Paris and Tokyo. At these sites I will be interviewing administrators, curators, geneticists, lab technicians and policy-makers, and as a participant-observer in the laboratories and workrooms of the museums I will continue my hands-on methodology of learning to prepare specimens, extract DNA and assemble genomic data. The collected data will result in two peer-reviewed papers: one on the theoretical and ethical concerns of museum genomics and global biobanking, and a policy review providing insight into the movement and global exchange of specimens and genomic collecting workflows for policy-makers and wider public audiences.

 

Van Allen, Adrian (book in progress)
Frozen Futures: Crafting Natural History in a Genomic Age

Abstract
How are types of time made, futures formed and life preserved? As biotechnology reshapes museum practices, vanishing biodiversity is preserved for our collective and uncertain ecological futures in a variety of ways, each with a distinct shape and scale of time guiding its making. This ethnography focuses on the Global Genome Initiative at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., a project that seeks to cryo-preserve half of the taxonomic families of life in the next six years. Through stuffing bird skins, pinning beetles, pressing plants, taking tissue samples and assembling genomic data, I examine how cryo-collections are crafted as ontological embodiments, forms of "latent life" (Radin 2013), and embodiments of different types of time—through their preservation, negotiated use and continuing re-evaluation. As specimens’ biologies are unbound (Helmreich 2009) into differently valued parts and pieces, spread across the spaces of the museum—from frozen tissue samples to a bird skins in cabinets to globally dispersed data—these distributed specimens remain sites of contested classificatory meanings, objects of shifting value, and disembodiments of hand-crafted “natural orders” (Daston 2004; Foucault 1966). Through exploring museum specimens as mobile and transformative of a variety of scales of time, I reiterate that there is multiplicity not only between but also within objects as they negotiate reconstructed pasts and imagined futures.

 

Van Allen, Adrian and Joshua A. Bell, eds. (edited volume in progress)
Birds as Material Culture: Engagements Between Zoologists and Anthropologists

Abstract
Bringing together various lines of disciplinary flight, this book examines the ways in which biological entities–birds–are collected, crafted, circulated and curated within museums. The value of birds have shifted across time and between contexts: from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History’s treasured taxidermy mount ‘Martha’ the last passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius); to the hollowed-out quills of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) used to carry gold dust during the Gold Rush; to the red and black feathers of the Scarlet honeyeater (Myzomela Cardinalis) woven into ‘feather money’ and used for exchanges in the Solomon Islands. Birds are valuable as metaphor, as material, and as a way to understand the entangled social, cultural and biological knowledges of a museum and its collections. Drawing on insights from the multispecies turn with interdisciplinary approaches to the examination of material culture, the chapters examine these entanglements along different scales, from molecular to morphological to metaphorical. Doing so they collectively discuss the real and figurative wealth found in birds, and raise questions about how anthropology and the biological sciences construct knowledge in their manufacture of specimens. Integrating insights from anthropologists, archeologists and ornithologists, the book's chapters examine how different ontologies are alternatively made present or obscured during the transformations of birds into artifacts, specimens, and data, and why collections continue to matter in an age increasingly defined by ecological collapse and uncertainty. Different authors examine the art and science of preparing bird study skins and taking tissue samples for an archive of life, specimen collecting through social networks in the Arctic, the assembly of a honeycreeper genome, isotopic analysis of feather and bone from historic specimens, the cultural history of the kula feathers in Central Oceania and the social values of extinct giant elephant birds of Madagascar for communities in the past. For as much as we carry birds from field to lab to collection, they also carry us—burdened with metaphor, valuable as material, or even transformed into a featherwork cape, a genome or an ancestral figure—they speak to the generative potential of museum collections. 

 

Van Allen, Adrian and Hannah Turner (article in progress)
"From Stereograph Cards to Augmented Reality: Misaligned Bodies and Virtual Whales in the Museum"

Abstract
We examine the histories of augmented media in museums by locating the origins of augmented media at the turn of the 20th century with the use of stereoscopic image viewers for museum publics. This historic perspective is constrasted with ethnographic accounts of developing an augmented reality exhibit in a contemporary natural history museum, the California Academy of Science. Widely used media technologies at the time, stereoscopic images and viewers allowed for individuals to take home and experience the outside world – from the streets of Rome to the exhibits installed at the Chicago Field Museum. Contemporary scholarship in media studies and film studies has situated the stereoscope within the history of virtual or haptic visual environments; yet the use of stereoscopes to engage museum visitors is little understood. By looking at the history of the stereoscope and plotting the proliferation of museum objects on display in stereoscopic images from research completed in institutions such as the Pitt Rivers museum, The Chicago Field Museum, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, this paper both contextualizes the augmented museum – and the augmented museum specimen – in the long history of museum visualization, objectivity and the construction of specific sensibilities and (mis)aligned bodies via technological apparatuses. It argues that particular epistemic loyalties and values were not only embedded into institutions by their displayed objects and dioramas, but also by the use of the stereoscope as an early augmented media technology for education and outreach.

 

Van Allen, Adrian (article in preparation)
"Reassembling the Wild: Mining the Museum for an Authentic Bison Genome"

Abstract
Determined to save representative specimens of the American bison for posterity before they dwindled to extinction, the Smithsonian sent several collecting expeditions to Montana between 1885-1886. This early Smithsonian bison collection has since circulated through the museum and beyond: From a renowned diorama in the original United States National Museum's (USNM) Hall of Mammals, to a mounted skeleton recently re-skinned with an augmented reality app, to the genetic sampling of the research collection of skins, skulls and alcohol-preserved fetuses in 2013—new audiences have transformed the collection with new technologies. These genetic samples from the Smithsonian’s 19th century bison collection are now being used to reassemble an ‘authentic’ bison genome, one free from cattle DNA introduced by crossbreeding in the 1890s. Part of a new joint effort between the National Park Service and Texas A&M University to conserve the bison’s genetic distinctiveness, the reassembled genome will potentially be used to sort the federally controlled bison herds in Yellowstone National Park into either ‘wildlife’ or ‘livestock’—with each category governed by different policies, subject to different uses, and each reflecting underlying concepts about the inherent value of natural resources. In an examination of how the bison collections were originally made and are currently being mined I look to the entangled histories of national identity and national collecting, examining conflicting concepts of conservation, the reconstruction of wilderness, and the implications of reassembling a historically ‘authentic’ genome.

 

Van Allen, Adrian (article in preparation)
"
Object Lessons: Dioramas, Genomes, and Shifting Concepts of Authenticity at the Smithsonian"

Abstract
In 1967, the newly renovated Hall of African Cultures opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. From importing beetle larvae for poisonous arrows to obtaining authentic mannequins the African Ethnology curator Gordon Gibson created a detailed replica of Khoisan life in Exhibit #34, the Bushman Diorama. However Gordon's carefully crafted diorama is a specific formation of the authentic, one which both models and maintains an a-historical construction of the Khoisan as a hunter-gatherer society offering visitors a view into a collective human past—not into a culture in another place but in another time. Through tracing the diorama's mannequin casts back to the South Africa Museum in Cape Town—and tracing the hairs still embedded in the molds–I examine contemporary framings of the Khoisan people as one of the most genetically diverse human populations on the planet. Through this framework of presence and absence, original and replica, model and archetype, I follow the series of face casts through their circulation in museums and examine genetics as another claim to authenticity in the context of the Smithsonian’s 2014 'Genome' exhibit. Museum collections are a shifting composition of the people who have made, use, and collect the objects, and the cultural imaginaries they represent and reproduce. In the context of genetic collections, specific ethical choices are being made and ‘natural’ truths remade according to shifting ideals of value and use.

 

Van Allen, Adrian (article in preparation)
"How To Build A Whale: Articulating Practices Through Assembling a Skeleton"

Contextualized within a long history of crafting articulated skeltons for natural history museums, I explore whale-building as both a process and an object that gathers together communities of practice around the vibrant matter (Bennett 2009) of the skelton as it is transformed from broken pieces to a legible, articulated whole. During the summer of 2017 I worked with a group of scientists, volunteers and "master articulators" to assemble a set of skeletons including a 27-foot orca, a common dolphin and several sea lions in Fort Bragg, California. In this paper I examine the practices of articulating different types of knowledge as we articulated bones—cleaning, drilling, and assembling pieces to re-aggregate bits of biological material into epistemic objects (Knorr-Cetina 2001). Through discussing the details of drilling vertebrae, bending and bolting steel pipe to thread through bones, and 3D priinting teeth and missing parts, I argue that epistemic objects—such as skeltons—are in a continual process of being defined as they articulate between past knowledge sturctures and new ones (Fortun and Bernstein 1998), continually acquiring new properties.

 
 

Cargo

A series of porcelain casts made from 3D scanned natural history specimens, my project collapses two types of cargo circulated in the 17th-18th century by the Dutch East India Company—export ceramics and natural history specimens—to examine the value of exotic nature and its commodification.

View project page >

 

Making Natural History: Behind the Scenes at the Smithsonian
(photo book in progress)

Objects tell stories – through their social lives, their materials, their paths of exchange, and the different meanings they acquire as they shift between contexts. This books traces the path specimens take within the museum, following their transformation from living things into museum specimens into data. Chapters examine the detailed processes of making scientific specimens of birds, mammals, parasites, botanical pages, frozen genetic samples, alcohol-preserved fish andlizards, pinned butterflies and moths, beetles, dinosaur fossils and polished gems and minerals slices. Each preparation process is accompanied by essays and interviews with curators, collection managers and specimen preparators.

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Zoologia

A photo series shot in the natural history museums and archives of Rome, Bologna, and Florence over a six-month period. In particular, I was interested in contrasting the collections on display (mostly threadbare and some dating from the 19th century) with the private spaces of the museums, where discarded specimens were stacked helter-skelter, and empty display cases held impressions of missing inhabitants.

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Objectivity

A reconstruction of Galileo's first telescope, set up in the same location in 2011 where the original was presented on April 14th, 1611 - 400 years later to the day. Looking through the telescope we can optically see what Galileo and his followers at the Academia dei Lincei saw in 1611, however our view of the universe has fundamentally changed. Conceptually we now percieve our universe from a deeply embedded heliocentric perspective.

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Mapping Science : ROME

A multimedia project which combines art, design, and an anthropology of science. Three pathways move through the layers of scientific history in Rome: ‘Observing’ connects a panopticon prison with early microscope slides, and recasts St.Peter’s Square as an astronomical instrument; ‘Collecting’ explores the many exotic and mundane collections in Rome including a recreation of an alchemists lab in a medical museum and the worm-tunneled bibles in the Institute for Book Pathology; ‘Comparing’ turns to the scientific process of weighing collected evidence, looking at Fermi’s radiation shields and a 17th century cabinet of curiosity.

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2016 University of California-Berkeley, Ph.D. Sociocultural Anthropology

2000 California College of Art, M.F.A. Interactive Media

1999 California College of Art, M.F.A. Photography
 
1997 Sarah Lawrence College, B.A. Photography

 
 
 

Museums as ethnographic field sites • Material culture and biographies of objects • Anthropologies of craft and technique with learning-through-remaking as a research methodology • The impact of emerging technologies on objects and museums, including digital imaging (photography, 3D modeling, replicas) and biotechnology (genetic sampling, biobanking) • Visual anthropology and the use of photography as a research methodology • Multispecies ethnographies and feminist science and technology studies (STS) •  History and theory of museums and collections across natural-cultural domains

 
 
 

University of California Berkeley, Department of Anthropology, Research Associate

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology, Research Associate

California Academy of Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Research Associate

Social Science Research Council, Abe Fellow

 
 
 

California Academy of Sciences, 2016–present
Associate Researcher, Anthropology. On-going research on the changing use of collections, connecting biological and social scientists.

Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, 2017–2018
Postdoctoral Fellow, Département de la recherche et de l'enseignement.
Birds, Feathers, Specimens, Data: The Changing Value of Museum Collections in the Anthropocene. Research reconnects Amazonian featherwork and scientific bird skins across Paris museums, examining the bird "body multiple"

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 2017–present
Associate Researcher, Anthropology. On-going collaborations on the collection, display and circulation of specimens, artifacts and associated data.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 2014–2016
Peter Buck Fellow, Anthropology. Ethnographic fieldwork in the museum for dissertation: Crafting Nature: An Ethnography of Natural History Collecting in an Age of Genomics.  Participant observation, interviews with scientists, photographing operational sequences and learning to prepare museum specimens morphological (study skins, pinned insects) and molecular (DNA extracts, genome-quality tissues)

American Academy in Rome, 2010-2011
Rome Prize in Design/Anthropology, created replica of a Galilean telescope and in collaboration with the Vatican Observatory. Recreated its original 1611 demonstration in 2011. Same location, same optic view, but with a fundamentally different vision of the universe

Synthetic Biology Research Center (SynBERC), U.C. Berkeley, 2009-2012
Creative Director, Rabinow Lab, Grant writing, development/design and project management for NSF-funded Ars Synthetica, Bios Technika and Diogenes Lab STS/Anthropology projects

Exploratorium Museum of Art, Science, and Human Perception, 2000-2009
Multimedia Specialist / Exhibit Developer. Grant writing, development, design and project management for 40+ websites and floor exhibits on subjects ranging from physics and astronomy to biology and artificial intelligence. Interviews with scientists worldwide on their research, which I then translated into content for exhibits and programs.

Mills College, Spring 2004
Visiting Professor, School of Fine Arts. Course: Constructing the Technological Other

 
 
 

(Personal research funding totaling USD $466,200)

2019–2021, Social Science Research Council, Abe Fellowship Research Grant ($88,500)

2019–2020, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Postdoctoral Fellowship ($50,400)

2017–2018, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Postdoctoral Fellowship ($25,300)

2015, Council for Museum Anthropology, Travel Grant ($500)

2015–2016, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Dissertation Fieldwork Grant ($22,000)

2014–2015, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Predoctoral Fellowship ($30,500)

2013, Smithsonian Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology, Research Grant ($5,000)

2011-2013, National Science Foundation, Ars Synthetica project ($60,000)

2010–2013, National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship ($152,000)

2010–2011, American Academy in Rome, Prix de Rome ($32,000)

 
 
 

(Institutional research and exhibit funding, co-authored grants totaling USD $30,078,246)

2010
Diogenes Lab
($262,000)
Institutions: U.C. Berkeley-Anthropology, National Science Foundation (Grant # AISL-085303)

2010
Ars Synthetica
($120,000)
Institutions: U.C. Berkeley-Anthropology, National Science Foundation (Grant# AISL-0853031)

2009          
Evidence ($1,493,336)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# ISE-0452128)

2009          
Remixing Catalhoyuk
($142,000)
Institutions: U.C. Berkeley-Archeology, CyArk, The British Museum, Durham University, National Endowment for the Humanities (Grant# FA-33226-95)

2009          
Digital Nineveh Archives
($92,000)
Institutions: U.C. Berkeley-Archeology, National Endowment for the Humanities (Grant# RO-22142-90)

2009          
Polynesian Navigation ($78,340)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

2009          
Invisible Dynamics: Art and Science as Ways of Knowing
($249,271)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-0905069)

2009
Bios Technika ($74,902)
Institutions: U.C. Berkeley, Joint Biological Engineering Institute (JBEI), Synthetic Biology Research Center, U.C. Berkeley (SynBERC), National Science Foundation (Grant# AISL-0853031)

2008          
Geometry Playground ($2,993,050)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-0610436)

2008          
Saturn: Jewel of the Solar System ($147,300)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

2008          
Journey to Mars
($90,560)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
 
2007          
Reflections ($232,560)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Endowment for the Arts (Grant# RO-32345-80)

2007          
Ice Stories and Science from the Poles ($1,816,717)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-0733048)

2007          
Ancient Observatories
($267,500)
Institutions: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

2007          
Mind ($1,749,906)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-0307927)

2007          
Listening ($2,098,873)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-0307925)

2006          
Nanoscale Science Education Network ($19,999,169 total – $2,100,812 for my institution)
Institutions: Exploratorium, Museum of Science Boston, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, New York Hall of Science, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Museum of Life and Science, Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), National Science Foundation (Grant# ESI-0532536)

2006          
Archimedes Palimpsest
($47,300)
Institutions: Exploratorium, Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC), private donor

2006          
Geometry Playground ($2,993,050)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL- 0610436)

2005          
Origins
($1,332,791)
Institutions: Exploratorium, Natural History-London, CERN, Cold Spring Harbor Lab, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-9980619)

2005          
Microscope Imaging Station ($2,982,000)
Institutions: Exploratorium, Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health, Packard Foundation

2005          
Faultline
($68,213)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# EAR-9907707)

2004          
Finding Significance($451,628)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-0072917)

2003          
Emergent Universe Project
($42,000)
Institutions: Exploratorium, Santa Fe Institute

2003          
Accidental Scientist
($1,108,551)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-0104724)

2003          
Listening
($2,098,873)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL- 0307925)

2002          
Traits of Life
($1,565,354)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# ISE-9814646)

2001          
The I-Guide Project
($699,950)
Institutions: Exploratorium, IBM Research Division, National Science Foundation (Grant# CNS-0205664)

2001          
Electronic Guidebook
($651,791)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-9901985)

2000          
Seeing($1,425,214)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# DRL-9725887)

2000          
Memory
($610,404)
Institutions: Exploratorium, National Science Foundation (Grant# ISE-9980498)

 
 
 

Board of Directors, Council for Museum Anthropology (2017-present), Awards Committee Chair

Board of Directors, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, U.C. Berkeley (2015-present)

Advisory Board, Smithsonian Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (2018-present)

Scientific Committee, Caging the sky: the art, history and anthropology of aviaries conference, Académie de France à Rome-Villa Médicis and Sapienza Università di Roma (2019-2020)

Member, American Academy in Rome Society of Fellows (FAAR’ 2011)

Member, American Anthropological Association (AAA)

Member, Society for the Social Study of Science (4S)

Reviewer, Journal de la Société des américanistes, Knowledge Organization

 
 
 

Dec 2019
Of Ferrets and Feral Biobanks: Craft, Care, and Salvaged Ecologies using Frozen Collections,” invited speaker, Collections vivantes au prisme des sciences humaines et sociales (Living collections from the perspective of the humanities and social sciences) conference, organized by Mathilde Gallay-Keller, Mélanie Roustan, Manuel Valentin, Dominique Juhé-Beaulaton, and Serge Reubi. Muséum National d’Historie Naturelle, Paris, Dec 11, 2019.

Nov 2019
Reassembling the Wild: Mining the Museum for an Authentic Bison Genome,” part of the panel Towards an Anthropology of Bioinformation, organized by Silivia Posocco and E.J. Gonzalez-Polledo. American Anthropological Association annual meeting, Vancouver, November 20-24, 2019.

Sept 2019
Frozen Futures: Crafting Natural History in a Genomic Age,” part of the panel How Collections End: Objects, Meaning and Loss in Laboratories and Museums, organized by Boris Jardine, Emma Kowal and Jenny Bangham. Society for the Social Study of Science (4S), New Orleans, Sept 4-7, 2019.

Sept 2018
Folding Time: Practices of Heritage, Conservation and Temporality in Making Bird Specimens,” invited speaker, Deterritorializing the Future symposium, organized by Rodney Harrison and Colin Sterling. University College London, London, September 14, 2018.

June 2018
The Value of Feathers: Amazonian Featherwork and Bird Specimens as Ecological and Cultural Heritage,” part of panel Art and Anthropology, organized by David Odo and Shalini LeGall. Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) conference, British Museum, London, June 3, 2018.

June 2018
Marking Time in the Anthropocene: Taxidermy, Temporality and Practices of Care in the Museum,” invited speaker for the lecture series Relations hommes/animaux: questions contemporaines (Human/animal relations: Contemporary questions). CNRS/EHSS and the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, June 21, 2018.

April 2018                
Birds, Feathers, Specimens, Genomes: The Changing Value of Museum Collections in the Anthropocene,” Postdoctoral Fellow Seminar, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, April 12, 2018.

April 2018                
From Bird Skin to Biorepository: Materials and Ontologies in Museum Collections,” invited speaker for the lecture series Relations hommes/animaux: questions contemporaines (Human/animal relations: Contemporary questions). CNRS/EHSS and the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, April 5, 2018.

Dec 2017                
Flight Paths Through the Museum: The Circulation of Birds, Specimens and Genomes,” Remaking Museums in the Anthropocene conference. Moesgaard Museum and the Aarhus University Center for Ecological Research, Aarhus, Denmark, December 6, 2017.

Nov 2017          
“From Stereograph Cards to Augmented Reality: Misaligned Bodies and Virtual Whales in the Museum”, part of panel Embedding Value: Technological Practices in the Museum, co-organized with Hannah Turner, American Anthropological Association annual meeting. Washington DC, November 24-27, 2017.

Nov 2017          
“Flight Paths Through the Museum: The Circulation of Birds, Specimens and Genomes,” part of Birds as Material Culture panel, co-organized with Joshua A. Bell, American Anthropological Association annual meeting. Washington DC, November 24-27, 2017.

Nov 2017          
“Flight Paths Through the Museum: The Circulation of Birds, Specimens and Genomes” Smithsonian Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA) Symposium, National Museum of Natural History. Washington DC, November 22-23, 2017.

May 2017         
“Specimen, Object, Data: Transforming Collections Across Disciplines “ roundtable co-organized with Joshua A. Bell at Museum Anthropology Futures, Council for Museum Anthropology inaugural meeting. Montreal, May 25-27, 2017.

Nov 2016          
’Museums Are in The Forever Business:’ Biobanking Tissues, Crafting Specimens and Imagining Futures at the Smithsonian“ Panel: Futures in the Making, American Anthropological Association meeting, Minneapolis MI, Nov 18, 2016.

Aug 2016          
Cargo: 3D Scanning, Printing and Casting a Porcelain Natural History Collection” Artist talk, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Kohler WI. Part of the Arts/Industry Residency Program series, August 12, 2016.

May 2016         
“Crafting Nature: Biodiversity Biobanking at the Smithsonian” Paper presented at Biobanques: Quelles reconfigurations pour le vivant? Approches interdisciplinaires et comparatives conference, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, May 12-12 2016.

Aug 2015          
“An Ethnography of Natural History Collecting in an Age of Genomics” Peter Buck Fellow Lecture, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C. August 11, 2015.

July 2015          
Discussant at SIMA Colloquium 2015, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. July 17, 2015.

July 2015          
“Flight Paths through the Museum: The Circulation of Bird Specimens” Paper presented at Cargo: Birds as Material Culture symposium at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC, July 6, 2015. Symposium co-organized by myself and Dr. Joshua A. Bell, Curator of Globalization NMNH.

May 2015         
“Platform for Experimental, Collaborative Ethnography (PECE) - Design Logics Workshop” at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute organized by Mike and Kim Fortun, Troy, NY. May 8-9, 2015. Invited participant, presented my previous and current work in media anthropology, including a work-in-progress version of  “Crafting Nature” my ethnography of genomic natural history collecting at the Smithsonian.

March 2015       
“Reassembling the Wild: Mining the Museum for an Authentic Bison Genome” Paper presented at the Disclosures: Meaning and Materiality Across Spaces symposium at George Washington University, Washington D.C. March 20, 2015.

Nov 2014          
“Object Lessons: Dioramas, Genomes, and Shifting Concepts of Authenticity at the Smithsonian” Paper presented as part of Afterlives: Interventions in Museum Collections and Ethnographic Contexts panel at the American Anthropological Association meeting, Denver CO, November 18-22, 2015.

Oct 2014           
"From Display to Dialogue: Case Studies of Collaborative Methods in Interactive Media for Museums” Invited lecture and workshop on museums and digital media, Mathers Museum of World Cultures, University of Indiana, Bloomington, Indiana. Oct 19-21.

March 2014       
“Objectivity: Perspectives on Replicating a Galilean Telescope,” Presentation at the Foundations of Mind Conference, March 6-7, 2014. UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA.

July 2013          
“Replicas, Authenticity, and the Reproduction of Knowledge in the Smithsonian’s 1967 San Diorama” Lecture at SIMA Colloquium 2014, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC.

June 2013         
“Manufacturing Nature: Embryos, Metaphors, and De-Extinctioning” Invited lecture, Dept. of Anthropology lecture series, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA.

Aug 2011          
“Galileo, Kircher, Fermi: Mapping Science in Rome” Lecture to accompany exhibition Zoologia. Compound Gallery, Oakland, CA.

May 2011         
“Galileo, Kircher, Fermi: Mapping Science in Rome” Lecture at American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy.

Nov 2010          
“Mapping and the Politics of Display” Invited lecture and workshop on mapping technologies in Institute for Global Urban Humanities, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA.

Jan 2009          
“Ars Synthetica: Negotiating Between the Biological and Social Sciences” Presentation given in collaboration with Dr. Paul Rabinow and Dr. Gaymon Bennett.  Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvouz (LASERs)

Aug 2008          
“Ars Synthetica: Negotiating Between the Biological and Social Sciences” Presentation given in collaboration with Dr. Paul Rabinow. Joint Biological Engineering Institute (JBEI), Emeryville, CA.

 
 
 

Phoebe A. Heart Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley, CA, USA, 2018-

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2018-

Muséum National d’Historie Naturelle, Paris, France, 2017-
  
Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, France, 2017-2018
 
   
Orca Articulation Project, Noyo Natural Sciences Center, Fort Bragg, CA, USA, 2017
                
  
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2017
         
Molecular Research Laboratory, Natural History Museum London, UK, 2015

Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford University, Oxford, UK, 2015

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA, 2014-2015

Ambrose Monell Cryo-Collection, American Museum of Natural History, NY, USA, 2014

Division of Birds, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., USA, 2014

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington D.C., USA, 2013

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., USA, 2013

Smithsonian Museum Resource Center, Suitland, MD, USA, 2013

Museo di Anatomia Comparata, Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza,’ Rome, Italy, 2012

Sala della Crociera, Collegio di Romano, Rome, Italy, 2012

La Specola, Florence, Italy, 2012

Museo di Ulisse Aldrovandi, Bologna, Italy, 2011-2012

Museo Etnografico ‘I Pigrini,’ Rome (EUR), Italy, 2011

Museo di Fisica, Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza,’ Rome, Italy, 2011

Museo di Enrico Fermi, Via Panisperna, Rome, Italy, 2011

Museo di Zoologia, Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza,’ Rome, Italy, 2011

Accademia di Lincei. Rome, Italy, 2011

Museo Galileo, Florence, Italy, 2011

Museo Geologia, Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza,’ Rome, Italy, 2011

Museo dell’Erbario di Roma. Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza,’ Rome, Italy, 2011

Museo di Storia di Medicina, Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza,’ Rome, Italy, 2011

Joint Biological Engineering Institute, Emeryville, CA, 2010

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, CA, USA, 2009

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, USA, 2008

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, 2007

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2001

 
 
 

2019                
Collections Gallery, California Academy of Sciences, Senior Content Developer and liaison between curators, collection managers and the exhibits department

2018                
Matérialités réfléchies, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, co-curated with Dan Hicks, Clara Duterme, Caroline Damiens, David Jabin

2018                
Giants of Land and Sea
, California Academy of Sciences, Senior Content Developer

2017                
Earthquake
, California Academy of Sciences, Senior Content Developer

2015                
Global Genome Initiative
, Smithsonian Institution, Workflow mapping

2014                
Surrealist Photography
, Cleveland Museum of Art, Lead Exhibit Designer

2012                
Rembrandt Tablet App
, Cleveland Museum of Art, Lead Exhibit Designer

2011                
ARC Anthropological Research Collaboratory
,
U.C. Berkeley, Creative Director

2011                
Anthropology of the Contemporary: A Diagnostic
, U.C. Berkeley, Creative Director

2010                
SynBERC(Synthetic Biology Research Center), U.C. Berkeley, Creative Director

2010                
Diogenes Lab,
U.C. Berkeley, Dept. of Anthropology, Creative Director

2010                
Ars Synthetica
,
U.C. Berkeley, Dept. of Anthropology, Creative Director

2009                
Evidence
, Exploratorium, Creative Director

2009                
Remixing
Çatalhöyük, U.C. Berkeley, Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Creative Director

2009                
Digital Nineveh Archives
,
U.C. Berkeley, Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Creative Director

2009                
Polynesian Navigation
, Exploratorium, Lead Exhibit Developer

2009                
Invisible Dynamics
, Exploratorium, Media Developer

2009
Bios Technika
,U.C. Berkeley, Dept of Anthropology, Creative Director

2009                
1969-2009 at the Exploratorium
,
Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2008                
Geometry Playground
, Exploratorium, Exhibit Developer

2008                
Second Skin
, Exploratorium, Creative Director

2008                
Science from the Poles
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2008                
Saturn: Jewel of the Solar System
, Exploratorium, Creative Director

2008                
Journey to Mars
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2007                
Reflections
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2007                
Ice Stories: Dispatches
, Exploratorium, Exhibit Developer/Designer

2007                
Ancient Observatories
,
Exploratorium, Creative Director/Lead Developer

2007                
Mind
, Exploratorium, Exhibit Developer/Designer

2007                
Listening
, Exploratorium, Exhibit Developer/Designer

2006                
Nanoscale Science Education
, Exploratorium, Exhibit Developer/Designer

2006                
Transit of Mercury
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2006                
Total Solar Eclipse
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2006                
Archimedes Palimpsest
,
Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2005                
Transit of Venus
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2005                
Origins
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2005                
Microscope Imaging Station
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2005                
Faultline, Exploratorium, Creative Director/Lead Developer

2004                
Finding Significance
, Exploratorium, Exhibit Developer

2003                
Emergent Universe Project
,
Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2003                
Accidental Scientist,
Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2002                
2nd Wednesdays
,
Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2002                
Traits of Life
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2001                
The I-Guide Project
, Exploratorium, Lead Developer

2001                
Electronic Guidebook
, Exploratorium, Lead Designer

2000                
Seeing
, Exploratorium, Media Developer

2000                
Memory
, Exploratorium, Developer