Special Relationship | The Smithsonian Showcase at the University of Glasgow

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The inaugural ‘Smithsonian Showcase’ held at the University of Glasgow in October 2019 celebrated the university’s strategic partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. Here Dr Allan Madden, lecturer in History of Art who helped coordinate the week-long series of events, shares the programme details and his experience of participating in this important next stage for the long-term collaboration.

From 7 – 11 October 2019, eight senior staff members from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. were invited to the University of Glasgow to participate in a series of talks, workshops and social events designed to celebrate and showcase existing collaborations between the university and the Smithsonian, and to raise awareness of future collaborative possibilities.

Over five days, 16 themed sessions open to all staff and students were organised by the university’s Smithsonian Institution Partnership Working Group with funding from the College of Arts and the Principal’s Discretionary Fund. My role was to assist Dr Anita Quye (Chair) and Professor Nick Pearce, as well as other colleagues across the university, to coordinate these events and to liaise between our staff, students and international guests. The enthusiasm of the working group and the great variety of existing collaborative projects meant that there was a packed programme of events for our guests to take part in, as well as plenty of people to meet, ideas and experiences to share.

Call and Response: The University of Glasgow and Slavery, Wednesday 9 October 2019

The opening event, ‘The Smithsonian Forum’, was an opportunity for the visiting scholars to introduce themselves and their research. They were:

Michelle Delaney, Assistant Director, History and Culture, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resource Center
Jane Milosch, Director, Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative
Robert Koestler, Director, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute
Corine Wegener, Director, Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative
Diana Baird N’Diaye, Cultural Specialist and Curator, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Mary S. Linn, Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization, Smithsonian Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Dawn Zimmerman, Director of Wildlife Health, Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute
Paul Gardullo, Supervisory Museum Curator, National Museum of African American History and Culture; Director, Center for the Study of Global Slavery

The range of specialisms and expertise of the visiting participants is indicative not only of the huge scholarly reach of the Smithsonian Institution – which spans 19 museums, 21 libraries, nine research centres, and a zoo – but also the variety of research and teaching collaborations already taking place with Glasgow, and the many opportunities and possibilities for new developments. This variety was also reflected in the themes which spanned the week-long programme: connections and collections; shaping the 21st-century museum; new educational developments; digital scholarship and scientific research; partnership development.

Dr Paul Gardullo delivers his keynote lecture: ‘Making a Way out of No Way: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture’, Friday 11 October 2019

During her introduction Michelle Delaney read a letter from Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to staff and students at the University of Glasgow:

The future of museums and cultural institutions rests with important community engagement, education, and strong partnerships. I appreciate Glasgow’s continued interest in working with Smithsonian museums, research centers, and our dedicated staff to pursue new or expanding transatlantic networks for the next generation of interdisciplinary projects and programs’.

Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution

This set the scene for a productive week which cemented existing relationships and sparked new teaching and learning links and activities.

As an early career academic, it is hugely rewarding to work on a project that brings you into regular contact with experienced academic staff and leading scholars in their field from across the university and from an organisation as prestigious as the Smithsonian. Getting a glimpse into the learning, teaching and research practices of colleagues across the university has been hugely beneficial in developing my own professional approach. I graduated in the summer of 2019 with a PhD in History of Art from the University of Edinburgh as part of the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD programme. This meant that while completing my doctoral research I was also based in the Library and Archive of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art where I worked with examples of the publications I was researching for my thesis. From cataloguing the collection to curating an exhibition based on my research, this time gave me first-hand experience of the benefits that collaborations between higher education and public institutions such as the National Galleries of Scotland could bring. Working with university staff on the Smithsonian Partnership has allowed me to continue to develop these collaborative relationships that I am passionate about. As a recent student, it was important to me throughout that students felt this was also an opportunity for them to meet the visiting scholars and to share their own ideas on what the future relationship might look like.

Call and Response: The University of Glasgow and Slavery, Wednesday 9 October 2019

The Showcase week closed with a keynote lecture by Paul Gardullo, introduced by the Principal of the University of Glasgow, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli. Gardullo’s lecture focused on the founding of the Smithsonian’s newest museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as some of the harrowing and heart-breaking stories behind objects within the collection. But, as he noted in his lecture, the purpose of the museum was not only to bring to light the horrors experienced by an enslaved people but also to celebrate the beauty, grace and perseverance at the heart of African American history. The honouring of these lives and this history through a long-term collaborative project to create the museum and to build its collections proved to be a humbling and inspirational end to the week.


Click here to listen to a recording of Paul Gardullo’s lecture
Making a Way out of No Way:

Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture


Since the Showcase there has been a concerted effort by staff and students alike to build on the conversations and collaborative possibilities that came to light. To that end, the Smithsonian Institution Partnership Working Group continues its work and is currently developing a number of strands of activity to follow up with our friends and colleagues at the Smithsonian.


Background to the Partnership

The university’s relationship with the Smithsonian dates back over two centuries to when James Smithson visited the University of Glasgow as a young man. While here, he met the Natural Philosopher John Anderson, an early promoter of the education of women and working men. This informed Smithson’s decision to bequeath funds to establish a cultural institution in the United States dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge.

Over the last three decades, the collaboration between the two institutions has grown to include staff exchanges and student internships as well as research projects, and a series of summer schools. In 2016, the Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions was signed and this was followed by a full Strategic Partnership agreement in 2018 which acknowledged existing collaborations between the University and the Smithsonian and marked their shared goal of developing further opportunities for academic and educational partnership. The inaugural Smithsonian Showcase marks the next stage in this long-lasting collaborative relationship.  

Marking the end of the inaugural Smithsonian Showcase: Dr Michelle Delaney and the visiting Smithsonian Institution cohort hosted at the Principal’s Lodgings by Prof. Sir Anton Muscatelli and Prof. Murray Pittock, with members of the Smithsonian Institution Partnership Working Group, Friday 11 October 2019

If you are a University of Glasgow student or staff member involved in collaborative research with the Smithsonian Institution please contact Allan.Madden@glasgow.ac.uk

For more information on developing a collaborative relationship with the Smithsonian Institution please contact Anita.Quye@glasgow.ac.uk


Allan Madden is a lecturer in History of Art at the University of Glasgow. He received his PhD in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh in 2019. As an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD student, Allan was able to complete his doctoral research on gallerist publishing of the twentieth century while also working in the library and archive collections of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Allan is a former student of the undergraduate History of Art course at the University of Glasgow and in 2011 he completed his MLitt in ‘Art: Politics: Transgression: Twentieth-Century Avant-Gardes’, also at the University of Glasgow. He has also worked on producing exhibitions at The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture and was previously Festival Coordinator at Glasgow International.

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