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Bell, Joshua A.

Curator of Globalization

As a cultural anthropologist I combine ethnographic fieldwork with research in museums and archive to examine the shifting local and global network of relationships between persons, artefacts and the environment. I am interested in materiality, the politics of representation, transforming political economies and ecologies, as well as issues around the production and understanding of history. To date my interests have involved me in fieldwork since 2000 with communities in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea documenting the social, economic and environmental transformations in the wake of regional resource extraction. Since 2011, I have been doing a collaborative project on the extraordinary intimate and global relations materialized in cell phones in Washington, D.C. and beyond.

This work is complemented with on-going archival and museum-based research in Australia, Europe, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. At NMNH, I am carrying out research on our Oceanic collections with a particular emphasis on our Melanesian materials (New Caledonia, New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanatau) as well as the 8,000 million feet of film that compose the Human Studies Film Archive in the National Anthropological Archive.

I am a founding member of the Recovering Voices Program, which connects communities to Smithsonian collections in the effort to support language and knowledge documentation, sustainability and revitalization. As part of Recovering Voices, I co-direct the annual Mother Tongue Film Festival which celebrates language and cultural diversity through showcasing films and filmmakers from around the world. I also am the Director for the Summer Institute of Museum Anthropology (SIMA), a summer course funded by the National Science Foundation which teaches graduate students how to effectively engage with museum collections.

I also work with interns and fellows, help supervise PhD theses, and teach at George Washington University.



Positions

Geographic Focus

Background And Education

Education And Training

Professional Biography

  • Joshua A. Bell is Curator of Globalization at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. As a cultural anthropologist Bell combines ethnographic fieldwork with research in museums and archive to examine the shifting local and global network of relationships between persons, artefacts and the environment. Since 2000 he has worked with communities in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea documenting the social, economic and environmental transformations in the wake of regional resource extraction. In 2011 he began a collaborative project on the extraordinary intimate and global relations materialized in cell phones in Washington, D.C. and beyond. He is also actively carrying out research on NMNH's Melanesian collections and the film collections of the Human Studies Film Collection. 

    Bell is a founding member of Recovering Voices, co-directs the Mother Tongue Film Festival and is the Director for the Summer Institute of Museum Anthropology. He is a Professional Lecturer at George Washington University. He serves on the editorial board of Anthropological Quarterly and Museum Worlds.

Awards And Honors

International Audience Summary Of Expertise

  • Joshua A. Bell is Curator of Globalization at the National Museum of Natural History. Examining shifting local and global networks between people, artifacts, and the environment, Joshua conducts ethnography in Papua New Guinea and on the culture of cellular phones in the United States. This work is complemented with on-going archival and museum-based research in Australia, Europe, and the United States.

    Since 2000, Joshua has worked with community members in the Purari Delta, an ecologically diverse tidal estuary on Papua New Guinea’s south coast. He studies how deforestation and extractive industries have transformed the social, economic and environmental character of this area, and the role of objects in these global entanglements.

    Working with local communities, Joshua documents their heritage and knowledge traditions. He has worked with Purari partners to publish a book of historical photographs in their language for the community’s use in schools and daily life. He has also worked with community members to create illustrated posters of local plants and basketry traditions to help support the transfer of ethnobotanical knowledge from generation to generation. He is currently working to create a CD of their musical traditions, which encode different aspects of their environmental and cultural knowledge.

    Joshua earned his BA from Brown University (1996), an MPhil (1998) and DPhil (2006) in Anthropology from Oxford University. Before joining the Smithsonian, he was an assistant professor at the Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the University of East Anglia.

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Research And Grants

Publications

Selected Publications

  • Article

  • Chapter

    • Urwin, Chris, David, Bruno, Delannoy, Jean-Jacques, Bell, Joshua A., and Geneste, Jean-Michael. 2022. "Aboriginal monumental stone working in Northern Australia during the Pleistocene." In Megaliths of the World. Laporte, Luc, Large, Jean-Marc, Nespoulous, Laurent, Scarre, Chris, and Steimer-Herbet, Tara, editors. 241–256. Oxford: Achaeopress Publishing Limited. 1 2022
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2021. "Circuits of accumulation and loss: intersecting natural histories of the 1928 USDA New Guinea Sugarcane Expedition's collections." In Mobile Museums: Collections in Circulation. Driver, Felix, Nesbitt, Mark, and Cornish, Caroline, editors. 71–95. London: UCL Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv18kc0px.10. 2021
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2020. "The Beginnings and Ends of Basketry in the Purari Delta." In Basketry and Beyond: Constructing Cultures. Heslop, Sandy and Anderson, Helen, editors. 132–140. Norwich: Sainsbury Center for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia. 2020
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2019. ""Check out that gold plated board!": The Performance, Poetics and Dirty Realities of Scrapping Cellphones and Electronics in North America.'." In The Anthropology of Precious Minerals. Ferry, Elizabeth, Vallard, Annabel, and Walsh, Andrew, editors. 43–68. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press. 2019
    • Kuipers, Joel, Bell, Joshua A., Hazen, Jacqueline, Kemble, Amanda, and Kobak, Briel. 2018. "Intimate Materialities in Cell Phone Repair: Performance, Anxiety and Trust in DC Repair Shops." In Linguistic and material intimacies of cell phones. Bell, Joshua A. and Kuipers, Joel C., editors. 235–263. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315388380-11. 2018
    • Kuipers, Joel and Bell, Joshua A. 2018. "Introduction: Linguistic and Material Intimacies of Cell Phone Communication." In Linguistic and Material Intimacies of Cell Phones.. Bell, Joshua and Kuipers, Joel, editors. 1–30. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315388380-1. 2018
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2017. "1 Lot Magic Sticks 6 Bundles: Mimetic Technologies, Their Intimacies and Intersecting Histories." In Mimesis and Pacific transcultural encounters: making likenesses in time, trade, and ritual reconfigurations. Mageo, Jeannette Marie and Hermann, Elfriede, editors. 257–273. New York: Berghahn Books. In ASAO studies in Pacific anthropology. 2017
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2016. ""Everything Will Come Up Like TV, Everything Will Be Revealed: Death in a Age of Uncertainty in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea." In Lipset, D. and Silverman, E. eds. Mortuary Dialogues Death Ritual and the Reproduction of Moral Community in Pacific M." In Mortuary Dialogues Death Ritual and the Reproduction of Moral Community in Pacific Modernities. Lipset, David and Silverman, Eric, editors. 208–233. New York: Berghahn. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvpj7hc4.16. 2016
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2015. ""Bird Specimen, Papua New Guinea."." In Trophies, Relics and Curios? : Missionary Heritage from Africa and the Pacific. Jacobs, Karen, Knowles, Chantal, and Wingfield, Chris, editors. 57–62. Leiden: Sidestone Press. 2015
    • Kemble, Amanda, Kobak, Briel, Bell, Joshua A., and Kuipers, Joel. 2015. ""How to Be a Cell Phone Repair Technician."." In A World of Work: Imagined Manuals for Real Jobs. Gershorn, Ilana, editor. 179–193. Ithaca: University of Cornell Press. https://doi.org/10.7591/9780801456428-014. 2015
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2015. ""You cannot divide a tomahawk as you can a stick of tobacco": Currencies of Conversion and History in and from the Papuan Gulf of Papua New Guinea." In Art, Artifact, Commodity: Perspectives on the P.G.T. Black Collection.. Foster, Robert J. and Leacock, Kathryn H., editors. 25–34. Buffalo: Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. 2015
    • Bell, Joshua A., West, Paige, and Filer, Colin. 2015. "Introduction." In Tropical Forests Of Oceania: Anthropological Perspectives. 1–21. Canberra: ANU Press. https://doi.org/10.22459/TFO.08.2015.01. 2015
    • Hasinoff, Erin and Bell, Joshua A. 2015. "Introduction. The Anthropology of Expeditions." In Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, Afterlives.. Bell, Joshua A. and Hasinof, Erin, editors. 1–32. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2015
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2015. "The Structural Violence of Resource Extraction in the Purari Delta." In Tropical Forests Of Oceania: Anthropological Perspectives. 127–153. Canberra: ANU Press. https://doi.org/10.22459/TFO.08.2015.06. 2015
    • Bell, Joshua A. and Hasinof, Erin. 2015. "“The Sticky After-Lives of “Sweet” Things: Performances and Silences of the 1928 USDA Sugarcane Expedition Collections.”." In The Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, Afterlives.. Bell, Joshua A. and Hasinof, Erin, editors. 207–241. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2015
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2014. ""The Veracity of Form: Transforming Knowledges and their Forms in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea."." In Museum as Process: Translating Local and Global Knowledges. Silverman, Raymond, editor. 105–122. London: Routledge. 2014
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2013. ""Expressions of Kindly Feeling": The London Missionary Society Collections from the Papuan Gulf." In Melanesia: Art and Encounter. Bolton, Lissant, Thomas, Nicholas, Bonshek, Liz, and Adams, Julie, editors. 57–63. London: British Museum Press. 2013
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2013. "Dancing A Forest of Relations: Barkcloth Masks of the Central Papuan Gulf of Papua New Guinea." In Made in Oceania: Art and Social Landscapes. Mesenhöller, Peter and Lueb, Oliver, editors. 98–113. Cologne: Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum Kultren Der Welt. 2013
    • Gordon, Robert,, Brown, Alison, and Bell, Joshua A. 2013. "Introduction." In Recreating First Contact: Expeditions, Anthropology and Popular Culture. Bell, Joshua A., Brown, Alison, and Gordon, Robert , editors. 1–30. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. 2013
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2013. "Mistaken Gods and other Misnomers of First Contact of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 1928 Sugarcane Expedition to New Guinea." In Recreating First Contact: Expeditions, Anthropology and Popular Culture. Bell, Joshua A., Brown, Alison, and Gordon, Robert , editors. 109–128. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. 2013
    • Isaac, Gwyneira and Bell, Joshua A. 2013. "Smithsonian Institution." In Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology: An Encyclopedia. McGee, R. Jon and Warms, Richard L., editors. 781–785. London: Sage Publications, Inc.. 2013
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2013. "The Sorcery of Sugar: Intersecting Agencies within collections made by the 1928 USDA Sugarcane Expedition to New Guinea." In Reassembling the Collection: Indigenous Agency and Ethnographic Collections. Harrison, R., Clark, A., and Byrne S., editors. 117–142. Santa Fe: School of Advanced Research. 2013
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2011. "Transforming basketry traditions in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea." In Basketry: Making Human Nature. Heslop, Sandy, editor. 38–43. Norwich: University of East Anglia. 2011
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2010. "Ensamblando relaciones: la materialización de la jerarquía y el poder en Oceanía." In Moana: Culturas de las Islas del Pacífico. Mondragón, Carlos, editor. 45–56. México: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. 2010
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2009. "For Scientific Purposes a Stand Camera is Essential: Salvaging Photographic Histories in Papua." In Photography, Anthropology and History: Expanding the Frame. Morton, Chris and Edwards, Elizabeth, editors. 143–170. Surrey: Ashgate. 2009
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2009. "Masque éharo." In Musée du quai Branly. La colletion.. Le Fur, Yves, editor. 232–233. Paris: Skira-Flammarion/Musé du quai Branly. 2009
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2009. "Rhombes." In Musée du quai Branly. La colletion.. Le Fur, Yves, editor. 236–237. Paris: Skira-Flammarion/Musé du quai Branly. 2009
  • Review

    • Bell, Joshua A. 2017. [Book review] "The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna L.Tsing." Anthropological Quarterly, 90, (1), 277–282. https://doi.org/10.1353/anq.2017.0011. 2017
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2012. [Book review] "Lines That Connect: Rethinking Pattern and Mind in the Pacific. By Graeme Were." Pacific Affairs: An International Review of Asia and the Pacific, 85, (2), 460–461. 2012
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2010. [Book review] "Photography and Australia. By Helen Ennis. London: Reaktion Books, 2007." Pacific Affairs: An International Review of Asia and the Pacific, 83, (3), 62–63. 2010
    • Bell, Joshua A. 2008. [Book review] "Clay, Brenda Johnson (2005) Unstable Images: Colonial Discourse on New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, 1875-1935." Journal of Pacific History, 43, (1), 129–130. 2008

Editor Of

  • Book

    • Bell, Joshua A. and Kuipers, Joel C., editors. 2018. Linguistic and material intimacies of cell phones. New York: Routledge. 2018
    • Bell, Joshua A. and Hasinof, Erin, editors. 2015. The Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, Afterlives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2015
    • Bell, Joshua A., West, Paige, and Filer, Colin, editors. 2015. Tropical Forests Of Oceania Anthropological Perspectives. Canberra: ANU Press. https://doi.org/10.22459/TFO.08.2015. 2015
    • Bell, Joshua A., Christen, Kim, and Turin, Mark, editors. 2013. After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge. Bloomington: Indiana University Bloomington Libraries. In Museum Anthropology Review. 2013
    • Bell, Joshua A., Brown, Alison, and Gordon, Robert , editors. 2013. Recreating First Contact: Expeditions, Anthropology and Popular Culture. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. 2013

Activities

Responsible Collections Areas

  • I am responsible for the Melanesian collections of our Oceanic holdings - namely materials from New Caledonia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. I am also the acting Curator for the National Anthropological Archives with a specific focus on our film holdings. As Acting Director of the National Anthropological Archives, I have responsibility over its holdings.

Outreach Overview

  • The main focus of my outreach activities is co-chairing the annual Mother Tongue Film Festival, which I founded in 2016.  An outreach activity of the Recovering Voices program, Mother Tongue  celebrates language and cultural diversity by showcasing films and filmmakers from around the world. Opening the United Nations International Mother Languages Day (February 21), Mother Tongue is one way Recovering Voices works to transform public understanding and discourse around the value of language, knowledge, and culture. From 2016 to 2018 I hosted a weekly ethnographic film series at NMNH. In 2017 I helped to host at Smithsonian's NMNH Tuku Iho | Living Legacy (July 22-30). This exhibit featured more than 70 pieces of art using wood, bone, stone and flax mediums, handcrafted by students and teachers at New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI). The exhibition is supported by an array of other art forms including kapa haka, in situ wood carving and tā moko (Māori tattoo) in NMNH's Q?rius theater. As part of my ongoing work on the anthropology of cellphones and technology, since 2015 I have been a Nifty-Fifty speaker which has involved me in annually speaking to middle and high school studies in Washington DC about science. In 2015 I participated in a webcast talk for Smithsonian Science How at NMNH. Entitled “Unseen Connections - A Natural History of the Cellphone" I examined the role of cellphones in our lives(http://qrius.si.edu/webcast-unseen-connections-natural-history-cellphone).

Teaching Overview

  • I have taught cultural anthropology and the anthropology of art and material culture since 2005 when I worked at the University of East Anglia (2005-2008). Since 2011, I been a Professional lecturer (adjunct) for the Anthropology Department of George Washington University. To date I have taught a range of graduate and undergraduate courses that make use of the Smithsonian's collections and exhibit: Anthropological Histories (2018, 2019 & 2020), Visual Anthropology (2016, 2017 & 2020), Cultures of Oceania (2015), Anthropology of Art & Material Culture (2013 & 2018), Globalization and its Discontents (2012 & 2014)  and Resources, Consumption & the Environment (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2017). Alongside this work I also carry out independent reading courses for PhD students: Materiality (2015, 2017) and Anthropology of Photography (2014).

    Since 2009 I have been involved as faculty for the Summer Institute of Museum Anthropology (SIMA) and became Director of the program in 2018. As part of the my involvement in SIMA I strive to convey to students the dynamics of collecting, how different media possess their own silences and that studying making is a critical aspect of understanding objects. I also work to convey the need, complexities and ethics of working with communities of origin. In all of my teaching I strive to connect theory to things in and outside of museums. I work to get students to see how anthropology is not just defined by the texts that we read but the objects, places and communities we engage with.



Teaching Activities

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Has Knowledge Of

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