Curator of North American Ethnology, the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution
Gwyneira Isaac is Curator of North American Ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution. Her research investigates the dynamics of and intersections between culturally specific knowledge systems. Central to this study is her fieldwork and ethnography of a tribal museum in the Pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico, where she examined challenges faced by Zunis operating between Zuni and Euro-American approaches to knowledge.
Through the book Mediating Knowledges: Origins of a Museum for the Zuni People (2007), she argues that the Zuni museum worked to reconcile internal and external expectations about Zuni history. Her explorations into these knowledge intersections (either culturally or disciplinarily distinct) include how technology and media are used within the discipline of anthropology. The ethnography of media has led her to study values attributed to the reproduction of knowledge as explored through replicas and models, resulting in the paper entitled “Whose Ideas Was This? Replicas, Museums and the Reproduction of Knowledge” in Current Anthropology (2012). Bridging the study of knowledge systems and the history of anthropology has also resulted in her interest in developing theories that integrate anthropology, history and visual studies to form interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches. Currently, her collaborative work at the Smithsonian as part of the Recovering Voices initiative has created a methodological platform focused on the applied synthesis of research as a means to integrate knowledge that is co-produced through these interdisciplinary and collaborative research projects.