AMNH-Bard Research Fellowship in Museum Anthropology
The Bard Graduate Center (BGC) and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) support a postdoctoral fellowship devoted to exploring, on a rotating basis, different parts of the AMNH Anthropology Division's vast ethnographic holdings. A major purpose of the Bard Graduate Center-AMNH Fellowship is to promote mutual scholarly interest and interaction among our fellows, faculty, and students, and the broader Richard Gilder Graduate School-AMNH academic community.
- Applicants must hold a PhD in Anthropology or a related field.
- For each fellowship cycle, a new Anthropology theme will be announced for which applicants may apply. The project will make use of the AMNH Anthropology collections and will involve both teaching and mounting an exhibit.
Past Themes and Alumni Fellows:
The BGC-AMNH fellowship project will explore the effects of intercultural exchange and colonial encounter on the material worlds of Native North America, as expressed in and through textiles. This project will draw upon the exceptional Southwestern textile collections at AMNH, specifically the historic Navajo blankets donated by Mrs. Russell Sage and J. Pierpont Morgan, as well as the U.S. Hollister Collection.
PhD, Bard Graduate Center
MA, Bard Graduate Center
BA, Colorado College
Research statement: My research addresses the intersections between art, anthropology, and material culture. My doctoral dissertation, Shaped by the Camera: Navajo Weavers and the Photography of Making in the American Southwest, 1880-1945, examines the visual documentation of Navajo weaving through various modes and media of representation. I believe in the close examination of objects as an integral part of learning about their material qualities and methods of production, and I am particularly interested in advancing interdisciplinary methodologies to better understand processes of making. In addition, I have hands-on experience learning indigenous weaving & natural dyeing practices (Navajo and Zapotec), which have strengthened and enlivened my work as an academic researcher, curator, and teacher. I have developed my interests in museum anthropology, textiles, and ethnographic media in a variety of fellowship positions and research opportunities, including at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History, de Young Museum, Otsego Institute for Native American Art History, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, and the Autry Museum of the American West. My work has also been supported by the Textile Society of America, The Center for Craft, and the Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for Historical Photographic Research.
Urmila Mohan (Fall 2016–Summer 2018)
The current BGC-AMNH fellowship project focuses on a specific area of material culture: Southeast Asian textiles, including textiles from Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Brunei, East Timor, Philippines. Past areas of specialization have included the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest, Oceania, South American textiles, and Australian Aboriginal cultures.
PhD, University College London
MFA, Pennsylvania State University
BA, Victoria University of Wellington
BFA, National Institute of Design
Research statement: My research involves a knowledge of South and Southeast Asia, a theoretical foundation in the study of material and visual culture, and an intimate knowledge of how materials work based on experience as an artist and ethnographer. My background in art, design, and anthropology has provided me with an applied knowledge of praxis and sensoriality. My doctoral dissertation dealt with cloth and clothing as materiality and sociality in a contemporary Hindu group. I discussed how techniques of embellishment and draping that were produced in one region traveled to other parts of the world to create a transnational identity. My BGC-AMNH postdoctoral project explores how cloth and clothing, collected by anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson in Bali, Indonesia, in the 1930s, act as embodied means of transformation and power through their symbolic, aesthetic, and praxeological value. I have organized conferences and panels on the use of materials and visual imagery in relation to diverse issues such as ornament, nationalism, and subjectivation. I am a founder and editor of the Material Religions blog and am currently editing a journal special issue on religious materiality. Recent publications include “Dressing God: Clothing as Material of Religious Subjectivity in a Hindu Group” in The Social Life of Materials: Studies in Materials and Society (2015). My teaching philosophy draws on a cross-disciplinary approach across the social sciences and arts and humanities.
In the fall, AMNH-Bard Postdoctoral Research Fellow Alum and Bard associate Professor Aaron Glass and Professor Jennifer Mass led students on a research trip to the American Museum of Natural History where they conducted portable XRF (x-ray fluorescence) testing.
my own intellectual path to the BGC reflects in fact many of the strengths of program itself I had a hard time deciding what discipline to focus on in college I started off as a studio art major then moved to art history and psychology added linguistics and anthropology and ended up deciding to do an ad hoc interdisciplinary major which combined my interest in all of these fields United around indigenous North American topics about which I wrote my senior thesis about Native art and ritual on the northwest coast after graduation I worked in a museum I got a BFA in studio arts I did some curatorial projects I ended up doing in master's degree in anthropology all of which as a means to explore possible career paths with my set of interests in the end I chose PhD in anthropology but I made sure I went to a department that was very supportive of interdisciplinary work and I wrote a dissertation on a masked dance on the northwest coast and along the way I made a documentary film about my work so my training has been very eclectic in terms of disciplines in terms of the media that I both focus on in terms of research and also the media that I use to express my research here we have the remarkable benefit of being able to study the history of anthropological musialogy five blocks from where Franz Boaz revolutionized the field at the American Museum of Natural History and then to walk across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum to study the history of interest in primitive art the reclassification of indigenous materials as fine art or to go downtown to Battery Park to the National Museum of the American Indian so look at the rise of indigenous museums and cultural centers and yet again that kind of reclassification of that material in addition to giving our students the benefit of using the collections and all of the amazing museums in New York, New York is a great site for budding ethnographers of the museum contemporary modern cultural institution and at that level living in New York is a great place to be an anthropologist where the cultural diversity in the city means that you can do fieldwork with people all over the world just by getting on the subway so one of the reasons that I chose anthropology as a discipline to focus on is that it provides a set of theoretical and methodological tools to approach just about any aspect of human cultural activity here at the BGC we tend to focus on one subset of that kind of activity which is the production and engagement with material creation but aside from theory and Method I think anthropology brings something to the BGC that's very important in addition to approaches to indigenous cultures around the world there's also an emphasis of on working with people in the present living communities and the particular kinds of research ethics and responsibilities that attend to working today as a curator one of the great things that I found about being in the BGC is our transdisciplinary orientation a few years ago when my students and I curated the first focus gallery exhibit that we did here which was called objects of exchange and which was based on a set of northwest coast objects borrowed from the Natural History Museum up the block we were freed from the pressures to frame the material as either fine art or as ethnographic artifact free from this very stale binary which really liberated us as curators to tell more complicated and I think interesting stories through the objects that we put on display I did my master's degree at the University of British Columbia in the 90s at a time when the museum became a very exciting site for the renegotiation of relationships between indigenous people or source communities and anthropology the discipline that had famously studied their cultures and their art forms like sort of came of age in Museum anthropology in a place and at a time where the museum was a really dynamic place to work and also a really dynamic tool to think with and think about in terms of what it might mean to be an anthropologist working with indigenous people today partly because of my training and the communities that I work closely with I've become very dedicated to developing a kind of shared anthropology developing collaborative projects and thinking about public venues for the dissemination of anthropological work today so a lot of my projects have outputted not only in publications in the scholarly venues but also films websites digital databases exhibits other kinds of public presentational formats and I'd also note working today with indigenous people there's a kind of convergence of interest in recuperating the ethnographic archive whether it's through museum collections or archival film field notes and dipping back into this historic this history of ethnographic representation I'm just now wrapping up a big collaborative project on the film that Edward Curtis made with the Kabuki walk in 1914 the film called in the land of the headhunters and this project is really the result of just such a convergence between scholarly and indigenous interest in revisiting historic materials and a project with a division of labor between academic film and music restoration and indigenous public presentation but our project was really driven by new archival discoveries that I made that some of my colleagues have made including original nitrate reels with lost seems that nobody knew about and perhaps most importantly I found the sheet music for the original musical score which is now thought to be the earliest surviving original musical score for a feature-length American film period regardless of the fact that it was also the first film to be made with an entirely indigenous cast at a basic level this project was a continuation of my dissertation research into the history of ethnographic representation of the ku-ku-ku walk and also the history of their own participation with anthropologists in both the production and consumption of resulting representations theoretically it's part of a larger project of mine to try to craft an intercultural history of knowledge production which looks both at the conditions of ethnographic representation through museum collections film photography writing and other media but also to recover a history of indigenous agency in participating with these kinds of projects and to go beyond a simple critique of colonial representation to try to understand some more specifics about the dynamic of historical and cultural encounter in North America between indigenous peoples and the settlers and foreigners who came to their lands
“Here we have the remarkable benefit of being able to study the history of anthropological museology five blocks from where Franz Boas revolutionized the field at the American Museum of Natural History…”
—Aaron Glass is associate professor and teaches courses on the Native peoples of the Northwest Coast and museums and anthropology.
Past BGC-AMNH fellows include:
Shawn C. Rowlands (Fall 2014–Summer 2016)
Focus Project Exhibition: Frontier Shores: Collection, Entanglement, and the Manufacture of Identity in Oceania, April 22–September 18, 2016
Erin Hasinoff (Fall 2010–Summer 2012)
Focus Project Exhibition: Confluences: An American Expedition to Northern Burma, 1935, April 4–August 4, 2013
Aaron J. Glass (Fall 2008–Summer 2010)
Focus Project Exhibition: Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast, January 26–April 17, 2011