Dr Joshua A. Bell

Joshua Bell (D.Phil 2006) is a cultural anthropologist and the Curator of Globalization at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Combining ethnographic fieldwork with research in museums and archives, Bell examines the shifting local and global network of relationships between persons, artefacts and the environment. Since 2000 he has been working with communities in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea to document transformations in the wake of regional resource extraction, as well as communities’ heritage traditions. In 2011 he began an ongoing collaborative project on the material, social and linguistic dimensions of cellular telephony in Washington, D.C.. This work is complemented with ongoing collections based projects on anthropology and natural history collections with a particular focus on Oceania.

At Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) he curates the Melanesian collections and the 8 million feet of film that compose the National Anthropological Film Collection at the National Anthropological Archives.  He directs the Summer Institute of Museum of Anthropology, a summer course funded by the National Science Foundation which teaches graduate students how to effectively engage with museum collections. He is a co-director of the Mother Tongue Film Festival which celebrates language and cultural diversity through showcasing films and filmmakers from around the world. The festival is an annual outreach event of the Recovering Voices program, which connects communities to Smithsonian collections in the effort to support language and knowledge documentation, sustainability and revitalization. Bell has edited several books and written articles on materiality, expeditions, the politics of heritage and history, visual return, history of collecting, media and cell phone repair.


Selected Publications: 

  • Bell, J.A. and E. Hasinof, eds. 2015. The Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, Afterlives. New York: Bard Graduate Center.
  • Bell, J.A., P. West, and C. Filer, eds. 2015. Tropical Forests of Oceania: Anthropological Perspectives. Canberra: Australian National University Press.
  • Bell, J.A. 2015. A View from the Smithsonian: Connecting Communities to Collections. Practicing Anthropology 37(3): 14-16.
  • Bell, J.A. 2015. Bird Specimen, Papua New Guinea. In Trophies, Relics and Curios? Missionary Heritage from Africa and the Pacific. Karen Jacobs, Chantal Knowles and Chris Wingfield, eds. Pp. 57-62. Sidestone Press.
  • Kemble, A., Kobak, B., Bell, J. A. and J. Kuipers 2015. A Day in the Life of a Cell Phone Repair Technician in the Digital Age. In A World of Work. I. Gershorn, ed. Pp. 179-193. University of Cornell Press.
  • Bell, J.A., 2014. The Veracity of Form: Transforming Knowledges and their forms in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea in Museums as Process: Translating Local and Global Knowledge. R. Silverman, ed. Pp. 105-122. London: Routledge.
  • Bell, J.A., K. Christen, and M. Turin, eds. 2013. After Return: to Digital Return and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge. Special Issue, Museum Anthropology Review 7(1-2):1-263.
  • Gershorn, I. and J. A. Bell, eds. 2013. Newness of New Media. Special Issue, Culture Theory and Critique 54(3): 259-393.
  • Bell, J. A., A. Brown and R. J. Gordon. Editors. 2013. Recreating First Contact: Expeditions, Anthropology and Popular Culture. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.
  • Bell, J. 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. R. Harrison, A. Clark, and S. Byrne, eds. Pp. 117-142. Santa Fe: School of Advanced Research.
  • Bell, J.A. 2012. Museums as Relational Entities: The Politics and Poetics of Heritage. Reviews in Anthropology 4(1):70-92.