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Susannah Poland, AAA Intern at Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Today’s guest blog post is by one of two AAA Summer Interns. This is the second year of the AAA Summer Internship Program. Learn more and support the program today!

My name is Susannah Poland, and I am an intern for the American Anthropological Association (AAA). I divide my time between the AAA offices in Arlington, VA, and the curatorial department of the Smithsonian National Museum for African Art, located on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

I have a background in cultural anthropology, with an emphasis in studies of arts and creativity. I graduated this spring with a Bachelors of Arts from Stanford University, for which I completed an Honors thesis on beaded body adornment of the Chagga culture group in northern Tanzania. Under the mentorship of Dr. Barbara Thompson, curator at the Cantor for the Arts at Stanford University, I explored museum collections and colonial archives in England, and conducted ethnographic research among the Chagga people. This work over the last 18 months exposed me to many of the methods and stores of information used by cultural anthropologists, and gave me a taste of the long, solo process of reflecting and writing on personal experience. Though my product was a thesis and an academic paper, independent curatorial work under Dr. Thompson and another Africanist curator in Stanford’s department of Art History helped me learn about alternative ways of interpreting and representing knowledge.

Emerging from this intense research and writing phase, I hope to take a step back and gain perspective on the breadth of anthropological work today. At the AAA, I am helping to expand their membership base, particularly in student communities. I will help the AAA better reach and address the needs of youth like me – those who are curious and excited about anthropology, still searching for their niche, and still developing a sense of the extent of the discipline and the possible reach/impact of its many applications. I am lucky that the AAA affords the perfect vantage for these explorations.

At the National Museum for African Art, I work under Christine Kreamer, the Chief Curator and Deputy Director of the museum. She is just starting the brainstorming phase for an exhibition and book on work by contemporary African women artists that address current issues in gender and feminist studies. As her research assistant, I am compiling and digesting literature on these topics to identify past and emerging themes,both in academic study and artistic practice.Together, Dr. Kreamer and I will choose a few important thinkers and artists to invite to a meeting in September, to further develop this project. My background research will help us frame and structure the forthcoming conversations, and I will help Dr. Kreamer begin to weave narratives between objects, performances, and writings. In this stage of early development, I will be exposed to the guiding principles which shape the creation of museum exhibitions and publications. My everyday process is unstructured, my research goals fairly abstract, and I have enormous resources to explore at the Smithsonian. I am honored by the autonomy and trust placed in me, and very eager to immerse deeply in this learning process.

Outside of the workplace, I am exploring DC and its environs. The AAA provides housing for interns on Capitol Hill, and I am lucky to be situated just behind the Supreme Court, on Constitution Ave NE. I am living with other interns from around the country, many of whom are working for senators or representatives. The AAA is involved in the regulation of ethical and human rights concerns in much legislation, and I have had very interesting conversations with my housemates about the intersections of our respective fields. I am learning about the value of anthropological thought as a source of social critique and deep inquiry, particularly in the rapid but impactful decision-making on the Hill.

I am fortunate to have this privileged view into professional worlds where anthropological thought is applied in meaningful ways. I feel very young in my studies, and am humbled by the earnest work of my mentors at the AAA and Smithsonian. Their warm welcome has made this transition smooth, and I am very excited about the coming five weeks.

I will reflect this internship experience again in late July, then at its conclusion in mid August.

Susannah Poland
Susannah.poland@gmail.com

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