The 2012 Michael M. Ames prize for innovative museum anthropology is awarded to Dr. Candace Greene of the American Museum of Natural History in recognition of the innovative contribution to the field of the Smithsonian Summer Institute for Museum Anthropology, or SIMA as it is better known.
Dr. Greene conceived of the Summer Institute as a vehicle for training graduate students in the use of museums and collections as significant resources for anthropological enquiry. As director of the Institute she recruited other professionals to help develop the program—notably Dr. Nancy Parezo who has been a faculty member from the beginning. Dr. Greene has also secured consecutive National Science Foundation grants to support the implementation of the SIMA program. In his nomination letter Dr. Joshua Bell describes SIMA as a timely initiative “poised to serve current developments in anthropology that make collections more central than in recent decades.”
The SIMA program provides graduate students interested in material culture with an unparalleled opportunity to engage in intensive training in collections-based research under the direction of faculty members with a wealth of research and teaching experience. The curriculum for the program is succinctly described on the SIMA promotional poster as “putting theory and things together.”
Each year since its inception in 2009, SIMA has hosted 12 aboriginal and non-aboriginal students from across North America and beyond. The Ames prize committee was greatly impressed by the range and depth of projects described in the student research abstracts included with the nomination. The projects draw widely on the Smithsonian’s incredible collections. They analyze historical contexts of collecting and curation, and they bring forward the voices and agency of indigenous peoples.
The Summer Institute demonstrates the enormous potential of museums as sites for the production of anthropological knowledge. As graduates return to their home universities, and as they enter the professional work force, they will further disseminate the innovations in museum practice and the development of critical theory fostered by SIMA. They will be well equipped to contribute to academic enquiry, to enhance public engagement with museums, and to facilitate ongoing collaborations between indigenous communities and museums.
In sum, the Summer Institute for Museum Anthropology at the Smithsonian fulfills all of the criteria set out for the Ames award—creativity, timeliness, depth, and impact—to an outstanding degree. SIMA is a significant achievement that will have widespread and longstanding influence in museum anthropology. The Ames award for 2012 recognizes both the innovative contribution of the Summer Institute, and the vision and leadership provided by Dr. Candace Greene that underlie its origins and continued success.
Trudy Nicks for the Ames Prize Committee