Two weeks ago, representatives from Yale and the Smithsonian Institution met to discuss a University-wide collaboration on research projects and exchange programs for faculty, curators and graduate and undergraduate students. Coordinators said they hope the collaboration will help both institutions maximize research potential in the areas of study the other specializes in.
Yale and the Smithsonian hold similar missions — the University’s mission is the collection, preservation and dissemination of knowledge, among others, an objective the Smithsonian accomplishes through the careful curation of restored artifacts, said Pamela Schirmeister, the dean of strategic initiatives for Yale College, the Graduate School and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In addition, the reach of the Smithsonian — with its many media channels, countless visitors per year and significant influence on international debates — will pair well with Yale students looking for opportunities to get involved with the public humanities and benefit from a high level of cutting edge research, said Cyra Levenson, curator of education and academic outreach at the Yale Center for British Art.
“I feel pretty confident we are going to be able to grow this partnership and it’s going to be an enormous benefit between Yale and the Smithsonian at every level from undergrad to faculty,” Schirmeister said.
The Smithsonian owns an estimated 138 million objects. While Yale has a vast collection as well , it is not nearly as varied. Through the collaboration, Yale personnel may now do research on all the material in the Smithsonian’s many museums. Because the vast majority of the museum’s artifacts are never put on exhibit, this collaboration makes available artifacts that might never have been seen otherwise.
The collaboration will have four areas of focus: the preservation of cultural heritage in inhospitable environments, digital and public humanities, race and diversity and the environment and planet.
Students also stand to benefit from Smithsonian leaders, who will visit Yale’s campus in the coming months. For example, Levenson and Anne Underhill, professor of anthropology and curator for the Peabody Museum, who are teaching a course this semester called “Landscapes for Meaning: Museums and their Objects” will host the director of the National Museum for African-American Culture on campus this December.
Levenson said her students are excited to learn from leaders in the field and have the opportunity to apply their learning to real-world situations, adding that she expects that opportunities like this will come more often in the future.
“I think it’s a matter of staying in tune to how this relationship can benefit constituents of both institutions and how ultimately we can make cutting-edge research and knowledge available within the public discourse on an international scale,” Levenson said.
In April, Yale will be hosting the 2016 Global Colloquium of University Presidents — an annual meeting of international university presidents and vice chancellors to discuss global public policy problems through research and teaching. Allison Coleman, director of communications for the Office of the President, said the summit exemplifies the type of concerns that underlie the partnership between the Smithsonian and Yale.
“The focus of this year’s program is ‘Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Strategies,’ and there are a number of planning activities being undertaken by members of the Yale campus community and the participating universities leading up to the colloquium itself,” Coleman said.
The Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846.