Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

Professorial Lecturer in Anthropology
Faculty: Adjunct
Smithsonian Anthropology Department, MRC 112
Phone: 202-633-1935
[email protected]

Areas of Expertise

Anthropology of material and visual culture, political economy and ecology, museums and cultures of collecting, anthropology of history; Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Hawai'i.

Joshua Bell is the Curator of Globalization at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.  His work includes Papuan ethnography, language preservation, and the culture of cellular phones.

For more on Dr. Bell, visit his webpage.

Current Research

Dr. Bell has conducted fieldwork since 2000 with communities in the Purari Delta, an ecologically diverse tidal estuary on Papua New Guinea’s south coast. Examining the social, economic and environmental transformations in the wake of regional resource extraction, I am also collaborating with I'ai communities to document aspects of their heritage and traditions. This work is complemented with on-going archival and museum-based research in Australia, Europe, Papua New Guinea, and the United States.

Ongoing Projects:

  • The Sweetness of the Stone-Age. Examines the narratives found in, and around, the dispersed collections made during the 1928 United States Department of Agriculture's Sugarcane Expedition to New Guinea.
  • Melanesian Networks. Survey of NMNH's Melanesian collections (New Caledonia, New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) to tease out the professional and personal relations, and histories, found in the Smithsonian's collections.
  • Recovering Voices: Documenting and Sustaining Endangered Languages and Knowledge. Interdisciplinary project that connects communities with collections to help document and sustain cultural heritage.
  • Political Ecologies of Cell Phones. Examines the extraordinary intimate and global relations materialized in cell phones through examining their use by communities in the DC metro region.


For Dr. Bell's CV, click here.

Ph.D. 2006, University of Oxford
M.Ph. 1998, University of Oxford
B.A. 1996, Brown University



2013  Bell, J.A., A. Brown and R.J. Gordon, eds. Recreating First Contact: Expeditions, Anthropology and Popular Culture. Book of 13 essays covering expeditions in North and South America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

Selected Articles and Book Chapters

2012  Bell, J. A. "Museums as relational entities: The politics and poetics of heritage," Reviews in Anthropology 41(1): 70-92.

2010  Bell, J.A.  "Sugar Plant Hunting by Airplane in New Guinea A Cinematic Narrative of Scientific Triumph and Discovery in the ‘Remote Jungles’," Journal of Pacific History, 45(1): 37-56.

2010  Bell, J.A. "Out of the mouth of crocodiles: Eliciting histories in photographs and string-figures," History and Anthropology, 21(4): 351-373.

2009  Bell, J.A. "For scientific purposes a stand camera is essential: Salvaging photographic histories in Papua." In C. Morton and E. Edwards, eds., Photography, Anthropology and History: Expanding the Frame. Surrey: Ashgate, p. 143-170.

2006  Bell, J.A. "Marijuana, guns, crocodiles and radios: Economies of desire in the Purari Delta," Oceania 76(3): 220-234.

Classes Taught

To see syllabi, click on the course title.

Anth 6302: Resources, Consumption, and the Environment
Anth 6591: Globalization and Its Discontents
Anth 6591: Anthropology of Art and Material Culture


Last updated March 9, 2015