Join our Email List Berghahn Books Logo

berghahn New York · Oxford

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Instagram
Extinct Monsters to Deep Time: Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian's Fossil Halls

View Table of Contents

Volume 11

Museums and Collections

Email Newsletters

Sign up for our email newsletters to get customized updates on new Berghahn publications.

Click here to select your preferences

Extinct Monsters to Deep Time

Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian's Fossil Halls

Diana E. Marsh
Foreword by Jennifer Shannon

334 pages, 54 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78920-122-2 $145.00/£107.00 / Hb / Published (February 2019)

ISBN  978-1-80073-201-8 $24.95/£19.95 / Pb / Published (September 2022)

eISBN 978-1-78920-123-9 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit  Buy the eBook! $24.95info on epub formatRequest a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®



“Marsh’s work makes a significant contribution to museum ethnography; it provides and invites detailed inquiry into the ways in which museums work to develop public displays within their own changing histories, values and processes. Relevant to anyone engaged in museum anthropology and institutional ethnography, Extinct monsters to Deep Time will also be of interest to those within the discipline of museum studies, as well as museum and heritage professionals.” • Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale

“Findings in this work are new and useful, presenting evidence showing the benefits to ‘friction and complementarity’ whilst offering insights that can be used by other institutions and collaborative projects to achieve more balanced results in their work…[It] contributes significantly to museum ethnography by delivering a thorough study to the existing body of work…The aspect of practical museology is crucial for museum studies as well as for other disciplines that examine informational institutions that serve and are responsible to the public. For museum researchers the work serves as a fascinating example of multidimensional research in the field.” • Museological Review

“This book is an excellent contribution to our understanding of the history of the Smithsonian, of the representation of paleontology, of the changing dynamics of departments and disciplines over time, and of the shift in museums from an emphasis on research to public outreach. It is also an important contribution to the genre of museum ethnography.” • Jennifer Shannon, University of Colorado Boulder


Via the Smithsonian Institution, an exploration of the growing friction between the research and outreach functions of museums in the 21st century.

Describing participant observation and historical research at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History as it prepared for its largest-ever exhibit renovation, Deep Time, the author provides a grounded perspective on the inner-workings of the world’s largest natural history museum and the social processes of communicating science to the public.

From the introduction:

In exhibit projects, the tension plays out between curatorial staff—academic, research, or scientific staff  charged with content—and exhibitions, public engagement, or educational staff—which I broadly group together as “audience advocates” charged with translating content for a broader public. I have heard Kirk Johnson, Sant Director of the NMNH, say many times that if you look at dinosaur halls at different museums across the country, you can see whether the curators or the exhibits staff  has “won.” At the American Museum of Natural History in New York, it was the curators. The hall is stark white and organized by phylogeny—or the evolutionary relationships of species—with simple, albeit long, text panels. At the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Johnson will tell you, it was the “exhibits people.” The hall is story driven and chronologically organized, full of big graphic prints, bold fonts, immersive and interactive spaces, and touchscreens. At the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where Johnson had previously been vice president and chief curator, “we actually fought to a draw.” That, he says, is the best outcome; a win on either side skews the final product too extremely in one direction or the other. This creative tension, when based on mutual respect, is often what makes good exhibitions.

Diana E. Marsh is a research anthropologist and museum practitioner who studies how heritage institutions communicate with the public. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where she is working to increase the accessibility of archival collections.

Subject: Museum StudiesAnthropology (General)


Download ToC (PDF)

Back to Top

Library Recommendation Form

Dear Librarian,

I would like to recommend Extinct Monsters to Deep Time Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian's Fossil Halls for the library. Please include it in your next purchasing review with my strong recommendation. The RRP is: $145.00

I recommend this title for the following reasons:

BENEFIT FOR THE LIBRARY: This book will be a valuable addition to the library's collection.

REFERENCE: I will refer to this book for my research/teaching work.

STUDENT REFERRAL: I will regularly refer my students to the book to assist their studies.

OWN AFFILIATION: I am an editor/contributor to this book or another book in the Series (where applicable) and/or on the Editorial Board of the Series, of which this volume is part.