Nov 2013: The Unexpected Rewards of a Career in Museum Anthropology

  • 05 Nov 2013
  • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Sumner School


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The Unexpected Rewards of a Career in Museum Anthropology

Speakers: Jake Homiak, Smithsonian Institution
Date: Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Sumner School, Rotating Gallery G-4

Pre-meeting get-together, 5:30 pm Beacon Bar and Grill. Registration is helpful, but not required.  


In the late 19th century anthropology was largely a museum-focused discipline shaped by scholars concerned with collecting the artifacts and documenting the rituals, languages, and the expressive forms of Native cultures expected to soon disappear.  A century later -- with the decolonization of anthropology and pressure to collaborate with ‘traditional’ communities -- concepts such as cultural equity, cultural property, and indigenous knowledge have shifted understandings about curatorial authority and repositioned debates about the meanings of ethnographic and archival collections.

Today, the manner in which museums curators document, care for, provide access to, broker and exhibit ethnographic artifacts and materials are projects profoundly shaped by ongoing relations with source communities whose materials they hold.  Jake Homiak, the Director of the Anthropology Collections & Archives Program at the Smithsonian, will discuss these issues in relation to his own career variously as a collection manager, an ‘accidental archivist’, and anthropologist whose museum work frequently brings him into contact with the members of Native communities. He also reflects on how these same concerns have shaped his own long-term ethnographic work in the Caribbean with Rastafari communities.

Presenter bio:

Jake Homiak is the Director of the Anthropology Collections & Archives Program in the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History. He has occupied various positions in his museum career including director of the Department’s Human Studies Film Archives and its National Anthropological Archives. He is now currently responsible for all anthropology collections and archival holdings at the Smithsonian Museum Support Center including the care, preservation, and researcher access to collections. The latter has increasingly involved and collaborations with members of various Native communities and organizations. 

Homiak came to the Smithsonian as a Post-doctoral Fellow in 1985 after finishing his dissertation at Brandeis University on the social organization and dynamics of leadership within the Jamaican Rastafari movement. Over the years his work has expanded to include the international spread of the movement. Using his institutional base at the Smithsonian he has assisted several delegations of Rastafari Elders to travel to the United States in order to perform and present in various public forums. In 2007, working with a Rastafari Advisory Committee, he curated the exhibit Discovering Rastafari in the Smithsonian’s African Voices Hall. He continues to develop the International Rastafari Archives Project (IRAP) as part of his combined museum work and ethnography on the movement.

Meeting:  Charles Sumner School, corner of 17th St and M St NW, Washington, DC

How to get there:  The Sumner School is located at 1201 17th St NW (corner of 17th St and M St NW).  The entrance to the meeting area is on 17th St under the black metal stairway. Directions from Metro Red Line: From Farragut North station, take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 2 blocks north.  Enter the building through the double doors under the black metal staircase.  MEETING ROOM:  Rotating Gallery G-4 (ground floor)

Pre-meeting:  Beacon Bar & Grill (one block north of Sumner School)

How to get there:  The Beacon Bar & Grill is in the Beacon Hotel located at 1615 Rhode Island Ave NW (corner of Rhode Island and 17th St).  Directions from Metro Red Line Farragut North station: take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 3 blocks north (one block past Sumner School).  All are welcome.

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