Curating as Carekeeping – SAPIENS

HHistory is taught in all sorts of ways: in textbooks, films and… museums. In this episode, museum curators challenge the status quo and connect their ancestry to advance the way history is told in cultural institutions. Mary Elliott takes listeners behind the scenes of the Slavery and freedom exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. And Dr. Sven Haakanson is helping recreate an Angyaaq, which looks like a kayak, at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington.

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  • Mary Elliott is the Curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). She co-organized the museum slavery and Freedom inaugural exhibition, and she is a member of the museum’s Slave Wrecks project team. Mary also curated and wrote the award-winning magazine’s large-format special New York Times‘ Featured post titled The 1619 Project. She is also the lead curator and content developer for the digital humanities feature of NMAAHC, the Searchable Museum. Mary’s personal research focuses on antebellum slavery, Reconstruction, and African Americans in Indian Territory, with a specific focus on black kinship networks, migration, and community development. She has worked with U.S. Representatives on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate, and has been a guest lecturer at various academic institutions, including Brown University, Duke University, and universities in Africa, Europe and In the Caribbean. She has also been interviewed by several media outlets and programs, including CBS’ 60 minutesC-SPAN, SlateBBC, NPR and PBS.
  • Sven Haakanson Jr., Ph.D., is Sugpiaq from Old Harbor, Alaska. He is Curator of North American Anthropology at the Burke Museum and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (2007), the Museums Alaska Award for Excellence (2008), and the ATALM Guardians of Culture and Lifeways Leadership Award (2012), and his work on Angyaaq led to him being inducted into Alaska. Innovators Hall of Fame (2020). Sven engages communities in cultural revitalization using material reconstruction as a form of scholarship and teaching. His projects include reconstructing life-size Angyaaq boats from archaeological models and recreating halibut hooks, masks and paddles. It also showed the traditional processing of bear gut into waterproof material for clothing. He has been collaborating with the Akhiok community at their Akhiok Kids Camp since 2000.

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human is produced by House of Pod and supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is also part of the American Anthropological Association’s Podcast Library. This season was created in collaboration with the Indigenous Archeology Collective and the Society of Black Archaeologists, featuring art by Carla Keaton and music by Jobii, _91nova and Justnormal.

VSCheck out these related resources:

Eepisode sponsors:

  • Joukowsky Institute of Archeology and Ancient World at Brown University
  • Columbia University Center for Archeology

RRead a transcript of this episode here.

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