Entering the majestetic old building of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History from the equally impressive National Mall in Washington D.C. you meet an elephant. A mounted African elephant greets you and the around 7 million visitors coming through the doors every year -and though it is not that old the scene looks as timeless as the museum itself.
After maybe taking your photo with the elephant you can go right to the classic Hall of Dinosaurs, left to the Hall of Mammals or straight ahead to the newer St Ocean Hall. Further a fields in this immense museum you meet live butterflies, giant gems, Egyptian mummies, an Easter Island moai statue and human ancestors like Lucy. Overall 1.5 million square feet of space and 325,000 square feet of exhibition and public space; the size of 18 football fields and over 1000 employees.
It is easy to get overwhelmed, and if you get into the office halls and backstage of the museum it seems you are supposed to loose your way. Like in the film ”Being John Malcowich” (1999) where an office building had a ”5th and ½” floor the NMNH building has more floors in the newer parts than in the oldest.
There are not many references to it in the exhibitions and getting there might involve several returns to the elephant in the rotunda, but the NMNH also holds a Department of Anthropology and an Artic Studies Center (ASC).
This was where my stay at the Smithsonian started and ended, with a long detour to ASC’s office in Anchorage, Alaska.
Now my preliminary report of this fellowship stay can be found as a separate page on this blog (see top menu). Yet, it feels like I’m still only barely grasping the tail of an elephant and the tale is slow to take form.