Johanna, congrats on your new position! What is your official title with the Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative? What are your primary responsibilities?
Johanna: My official title is Program Manager for Scholarly and Public Engagement, Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow in the Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative (SPRI). Provenance is the history of the ownership of objects, and my job title nicely sums up what my role entails—I am responsible for communicating the results of and educational value of provenance research, both within the Smithsonian and also to the wider public.
My day-to-day responsibilities vary with the projects that we are currently working on. Right now, we are deeply involved in the first international exchange program for museum professionals engaged in World War II-era provenance research, called the “German/American Provenance Research Exchange Program (PREP) for Museum Professionals.”
I am also responsible for creating a new website that describes SPRI’s projects and collaborations and also developing public programs that help inform the public about provenance. I hope I can spark the interest of the public both by showing how objects came to be in the Smithsonian collections and also by describing what we can learn from studying the objects themselves and their unique ownership histories.
I also have been thinking about ways to expand SPRI’s collaboration with the scholarly community. For example, I am planning a second provenance-focused issue of the journal Collections, which I hope will draw upon my background in archaeology, and developing an internship program in partnership with the University of Glasgow’s “Art History: Collecting and Provenance in an International Context” MSc program.
What is the Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative? How does SPRI relate to the wider institutional mission of the Smithsonian? What sort of challenges do you face as program manager of SPRI?
Johanna: The Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative’s primary goals relate directly to the core mission of the Smithsonian, which is “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” SPRI was started in 2009 when the Smithsonian wanted to expand its commitment to provenance research, in particular to World War II-era provenance research. While SPRI continues to focus on World War II-era provenance research, the Smithsonian collections include a vast array of objects—everything from space shuttles to pandas. SPRI’s primary missions are to foster in-depth provenance research among all Smithsonian collections, to help develop a national and international network of provenance researchers, to share provenance research in meaningful ways with a variety of audiences, and to train the next generation of provenance researchers.
As a member of the team at SPRI, I face many interesting challenges, but I think the greatest is tackling how we can make provenance research accessible and meaningful to the general public.
Reflecting on your time at Bryn Mawr, how has your training prepared you for your current position?
Johanna: My training in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, both in the field and in the classroom, required in-depth research, attention to detail, and looking critically at objects to see what they can teach us. Beyond academic skills, Bryn Mawr also prepared me for the administrative and outreach aspects of the position. At Bryn Mawr, I was encouraged to take advantage of opportunities in the Ella Riegel Memorial Collection to get hands-on museum experience. Bryn Mawr faculty also encouraged me to pursue my interest in educational outreach by supporting a National Endowment of the Humanities grant to develop a website for children about an ongoing excavation at the Ayia Sotira Excavation, co-directed by Bryn Mawr faculty member Jim Wright and two Bryn Mawr alumni, Angus Smith and Mary Dabney.
I feel that my path at Bryn Mawr balanced rigorous academic training with encouragement to follow the interests I had in outreach and education, all of which prepared me for the work that I do now that the Smithsonian.