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Accepted paper:

John Durand, museum reconnaissance & exchange negotiation: A view into the dynamics of transatlantic specimen exchange


Catherine Nichols (Loyola University Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

As specimen exchange between French museums and the Smithsonian Institution increased in the nineteenth century, this paper consider the role of exchange agent John Durand, whose letters allow for a more nuanced understanding of the contexts of anthropological specimen mobilities via exchange.

Paper long abstract:

As natural and cultural objects flooded into the US National Museum (USNM) over the latter half of the nineteenth century, Smithsonian Institution administrators implemented a system of specimen exchange, especially with European museums, in order to diversify and refine their collections. Transatlantic exchange negotiations were oftentimes conducted through epistolary means, and delayed post resulted in communication lags. Forwarding agents in major European cities were instrumental to the success of publications exchange but these agents functioned more as centralized clearinghouses for national scientific establishments, specializing in international shipping and local distribution. The Smithsonian developed a relationship with art critic John Durand, who spent much of his later life in Paris, and worked on behalf of the Smithsonian to negotiate exchanges in France. This paper considers the relationship between Durand and Smithsonian administrators, particularly USNM Director George Brown Goode. Exchange correspondence ranges from 1883 to 1896 and addresses the broad internal dynamics of Smithsonian collecting and exchange priorities, as well logistical, personal, and financial particularities. These letters offer a richness of historical detail so often omitted from official exchange correspondence, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of the contexts of anthropological specimen mobilities via exchange in the late nineteenth century. This relationship also reveals internal dynamics at the USNM within the anthropology department, as Goode's influence in exchanges and collections development was gradually leveled with that of ethnology curator Otis Mason. Durand's role in exchanges calls attention to the role of intermediaries and acts of brokerage within transatlantic museum exchange networks.

panel AM01
Transatlantic museum mobilities: convergences of objects, people and ideas