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March 2, 2022 35 mins

In this episode, museum curators challenge the status quo and connect their ancestry to advance how history is told in cultural institutions. Mary Elliot brings listeners behind the scenes into the Slavery and Freedom exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. And Dr. Sven Haakanson helps re-create an angiaaq, which is like a kayak, at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington.


  • (00:01:24) Meet Mary Elliott, the curator of American slavery at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
  • (00:06:46) Introduction.
  • (00:07:20) How Mary Elliott began tracing her own ancestral roots.
  • (00:11:43) How Dr. Sven Haakanson begins his studies of the Alutiiq people.
  • (00:15:57) A year of ethno-archaeology with the Nenets.
  • (00:20:49) resurrecting the Angyaaq.
  • (00:26:47) Sven and Mary share best practices and protocols for being museum curators.
  • (00:33:13) Credits.


SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human, is produced by House of Pod and supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is also part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library. This season was created in collaboration with the Indigenous Archaeology Collective and Society of Black Archaeologists, with art by Carla Keaton, and music from Jobii, _91nova, and Justnormal. For more information and transcriptions, visit


Additional Sponsors:

This episode was made possible by the Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute of Archaeology and Columbia University’s Center for Archaeology and the Imago Mundi Fund at Foundation for the Carolinas


Additional Resources:




Dr. Sven Haakanson Jr. is Sugpiaq and was born in Old Harbor on Kodiak Island, Alaska. He is a curator of North American anthropology at the Burke Museum, and an associate professor in anthropology at the University of Washington. 

Mary Elliot is a curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Follow her on Twitter @Mne7829.

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