Negotiating Deep Time: Producing Smithsonian’s Fossil Exhibits, Presented by : Dr. Diana E. Marsh Assistant Professor, Archives and Digital Curation, University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies

In this talk, I will highlight the political work behind large-scale exhibitions and the politics of exhibiting scientific knowledge to the public. In the book, Extinct Monsters to Deep Time, I describe participant observation among the Smithsonian’s exhibition team tasked with the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)’s largest-ever exhibit renovation, Deep Time (to open in 2019)I highlight how processes of negotiating, planning and designing scientific knowledge in exhibits is shaped by the intersections of different expertise's involved in the planning process—including Education, Design, Exhibit Writing, Project Management, and three subfields of Paleobiology—as well as broader institutional cultures and pressures. Drawing on interview, oral history and archival research, the work contextualizes the contemporary exhibits process by tracing trends in exhibit development from late-19th century to the present, I show how the deep history of earth is mediated through 1) different techniques and technologies for museum communication, 2) the recent professionalization of museum disciplines, and 3) the expanding institutional split between the museum’s missions of “research” and “outreach.” 

Bio: Dr. Diana E. Marsh is an Assistant Professor of Archives and Digital Curation at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies (iSchool). She studies how heritage institutions share knowledge with the public and communities. Her current research focuses on improving discovery and access to colonially-held archives for Native American and Indigenous communities. She completed her PhD in Anthropology (Museum Anthropology) at the University of British Columbia, an MPhil in Social Anthropology with a Museums and Heritage focus at the University of Cambridge in 2010, and a BFA in Visual Arts and Photography at the Mason Gross School of the Arts of Rutgers University in 2009. Her recent work has appeared in The American ArchivistArchival ScienceThe Public Historian, and Museum Anthropology. Her book, From Extinct Monsters to Deep Time: Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian’s Fossil Halls was published in 2019 with Berghahn Books, and has just been released in paperback.


11 a.m. Feb. 10, 2023