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Extinct Monsters to Deep Time: Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian's Fossil Halls

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Volume 11

Museums and Collections

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Extinct Monsters to Deep Time

Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian's Fossil Halls

Diana E. Marsh
Foreword by Jennifer Shannon

334 pages, 54 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78920-122-2 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (February 2019)

eISBN 978-1-78920-123-9 eBook

Hb   Buy the eBook! $34.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®



“This book is an excellent contribution to our understanding of the history of the Smithsonian, of the representation of paleontology, of the changing dynamics of departments and disciplines over time, and of the shift in museums from an emphasis on research to public outreach. It is also an important contribution to the genre of museum ethnography.” • Jennifer Shannon, University of Colorado Boulder


Extinct Monsters to Deep Time is an ethnography that documents the growing friction between the research and outreach functions of the museum in the 21st century. Marsh describes participant observation and historical research at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History as it prepared for its largest-ever exhibit renovation, Deep Time.  As a museum ethnography, the book provides a grounded perspective on the inner-workings of the world’s largest natural history museum and the social processes of communicating science to the public.

Diana E. Marsh is a research anthropologist and museum practitioner who studies how heritage institutions communicate with the public. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where she is working to increase the accessibility of archival collections.

Subject: Museum Studies General Anthropology


List of Illustrations and Table

Jennifer Shannon

Prologue: Fieldnotes from the Badlands

List of Abbreviations

Chronology A: Lists of Relevant Leadership
Chronology B: Geologic Time Scale
Chronology C: Fossil Exhibits Timeline


Chapter 1. Increase and Diffusion: Early Fossil Exhibits and a History of Institutional Culture
Chapter 2. Group Dynamics: Exhibit Meetings and Expertise
Chapter 3. Group Dynamics: The Roots of Team Frictions and Complementarities
Chapter 4. Content Development: Debates about Interconnected Processes and Static Things
Chapter 5. Content Development: The Roots of Interpretive Frictions and Complementarities
Chapter 6. Diffusion and Increase: Shifts in Institutional Culture from Modernization to Now
Chapter 7. Conclusion
Chapter 8. Coda: The Nation’s T-rex

Appendix A: Consent Form
Appendix B: Interview Questionnaires

Sample Team Interview Questionnaire
Sample Oral History Interview Questionnaire


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