Mission: through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, we explore the infinite richness and complexity of American history. We help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future.

The National Museum of American History opened to the public in 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology, and was renamed in 1980 to more accurately reflect its scope of interests and responsibilities.  It was the sixth Smithsonian building on the National Mall and since its opening some four million visitors a year have passed through the doors to enjoy the museum’s National Treasures, exhibitions, public programs, educational activities, collections, and research facilities.

The museum is responsible for the acquisition, care and preservation of more than 3 million objects and archival materials, representing the nation’s heritage and devoted to its scientific, cultural, social, technological, and political development. The collections include the Star- Spangled Banner, First Ladies gowns, a Samuel Morse telegraph, Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, Julia Child’s Kitchen, Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, Duke Ellington’s sheet music and presidential artifacts.

The Museum contains 300,000 square feet of exhibition, programming and public space. Current exhibitions explore major themes in American history and culture, from the War of Independence to the present day. The Price of Freedom: Americans at War surveys the history of U.S. military conflicts and examines ways in which wars have been defining episodes in American history. America on the Move immerses visitors in the sights, sounds and sensations of transportation in the United States from 1870 to the present.  Other popular exhibitions on view include The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, Within These Walls, The First Ladies, American Enterprise, The Value of Money, and several new educational spaces for children, including Wegman’s Wonderplace for young historians. A schedule of temporary and traveling exhibitions offers visitors something new on almost every visit.

The museum has an innovative and successful digital outreach program. From its websites to its blog and social-networking presence, millions of visitors experience the museum on-screen. Digital interaction has become increasingly integral to the museum’s outreach activities, and a natural extension of its educational goals and philosophy.

The transformation of the National Museum of American History (NMAH) continues with a major project to renew the building’s 120,000-square-foot west exhibition wing. The plans feature new galleries and exhibitions on American ideals and ideas, including innovation, democracy, diversity and culture. The first floor re-opened in 2015, with the following two floors planned to open in 2017 and 2018.  Total renovations costs for the full building will exceed $600 million and take 15 years.

The Office of Curatorial Affairs (OCA), and its dedicated staff of approximately 100 interprets, documents, preserves and makes accessible the collections and scholarship of the museum in support of the museum’s mission and in accord with standards of quality and practice that maintain the museum’s leadership in the field. The office provides vision for the museum’s exhibition development activities, collections, research; coordinates and integrates activities in the departments of history and collections management services; ensures responsible and coordinated management of resources within and between these two departments; and aids all of curatorial affairs in prioritizing projects and program activities.

Through research, exhibitions, professional and public outreach, the OCA has a substantial impact on the NMAH core mission of making American history relevant and engaging to all of the museum’s local, national and international visitors and on the museum’s extensive educational initiatives and public programs. OCA accomplishes this with staffing supported by the federal government, donated and grant funding (“trust” staff), and contracts.


Working closely with and in direct partnership with the Director, John Gray, the Associate Director will be primarily responsible for the museum’s Exhibitions, Collections and Research functions. The Associate Director will provide dynamic and thoughtful leadership, vision, support and direction to the OCA in the planning, development and implementation of exhibitions, collecting, research publication and programming. The Associate Director will take the lead in articulating the intellectual framework for short- and long-term planning, actively engaging the public in museum activities and developing a wide range of future exhibits and programs including on-site, traveling and digital initiatives.

The Associate Director will nurture the intellectual life of the museum. As the curatorial representative on the Director’s Council, he/she will develop and balance broad guidelines and objectives for scholarly and collections activities, and leverage his/her knowledge of professional standards, best practices and issues related to historical research, material culture and museum management, including collections management, exhibitions and public service. The Associate Director will work collaboratively with other members of the Council; and serve as key advisor to the Director on scholarly and collections programs and issues.

The Associate Director will maintain an active public profile, representing the museum in a wide variety of contexts including public presentations, tours for dignitaries and government officials, professional meetings and conferences, within the Smithsonian Institution and with the media. In addition, the Associate Director will actively assist in fundraising and donor development activities, working closely with the Director and the Development staff as needed.

The Associate Director will inspire and motivate the curatorial team and serve as their advocate; engage curatorial staff in the development of new exhibitions; lead and manage a smooth transition to the next generation of curators, including not only new civil service staff, but also new endowed positions, joint appointments post-docs, and consultants.

Specific responsibilities include:


  • Provide leadership for completing the museum’s West Wing renovations and planning and executing the East Wing project; play an active role in exhibition development and implementation, engaging and inspiring the curatorial and design teams involved;
  • With the Assistant Director of the OCA, oversee the development of projects for the museum’s expanding number of temporary exhibition spaces.


  • Thoroughly understand the museum’s collections and provide for their long-term stewardship and accountability; provide leadership for major offsite projects including high- quality storage, decontamination, inventory and digitization efforts; articulate a clear vision for the museum’s digital collection;
  • With heads of Collections Management Services and the Archives Center, update collections management systems and procedures, ensuring appropriate staffing and efficient workflow.


  • Encourage scholarly activities throughout the museum; support and lead the effort to create major publications for all long-term exhibition projects;
  • Encourage and direct independent and exhibition-related research, leading to presentations at professional meetings, publications, and collaborative projects with other institutions.

Management/External Relations

  • Oversee, motivate and direct OCA personnel, who comprise half the museum’s staff, providing financial and administrative guidance; maintain a collegial environment and delegate appropriate responsibility; establish clear performance goals and expectations, optimize personnel productivity and ensure that staff is aligned with NMAH and Smithsonian priorities;
  • Maximize the appropriate use of technology and digital media in promoting the museum, reaching new and diverse audiences and creating innovative and engaging exhibitions and programs; lead the transition of NMAH in the areas of effective use of new technology, improved internal coordination and communication.
  • Establish a close partnership with the museum’s Executive Team; encourage cross- departmental collaboration internally, among the museum’s curatorial, collections, exhibitions, education and communications staff, and externally, among other SI museums and collections;
  • Encourage, participate and approve staff participation in Smithsonian Institution, national and international conferences, meetings and symposia; serve on national and international museum committees; explore and develop joint programs in cooperation with universities, other museums and community groups; provide expert advice and consultation to professional and other organizations;
  • Analyze financial and human resource needs and manage the allocation of financial resources; develop, implement and monitor policies and practices to achieve NMAH and SI objectives in staff development, employee relations, diversity and equal employment opportunity;


The ideal candidate will be fundamentally committed to public history and to the preservation, exhibition, and use of material culture in historical research and presentation. He or she will have a deep interest in and passion for the current and future role of the NMAH, and should have or be the following:

  • Strong academic training and credibility in American History, ideally with a terminal degree; an understanding or interest in social and cultural history as well as history of science and technology—the two major areas of scholarship and collections at the museum;
  • Senior level management and leadership responsibility with a complex institution known for quality and excellence; a record of success in managing people, operations and budgets; experience working within a collecting institution, while not required, is desirable;
  • A record of achievement in bringing about change in exciting and creative ways;
  • Enthusiasm and talent for fundraising with successful results in identifying, cultivating and soliciting major donors, foundation grants and corporate sponsorships;
  • A track record as an effective communicator; the presence and credibility to serve as an effective and enthusiastic spokesperson for the NMAH with outside communities, the media, supporters and donors and the public.


Being fully aligned with the mission, vision, and intellectual direction of the museum, the ideal candidate will exemplify a high degree of integrity and will also have or be:

  • A creative and collaborative leader, able to articulate and implement a vision; committed to the mission of the NMAH; willing to engage and be highly visible internally and externally;
  • Persuasive and resourceful, with the instincts to anticipate and act on events that may create opportunities for raising funds, expanding visibility and promoting the museum;
  • Politically savvy and diplomatic; a person who can negotiate and navigate change graciously while remaining clear, decisive, proactive and fair; an understanding of the subtleties of motivating, directing and working with others;
  • A practiced and committed team builder with sound judgment and a patience for process when appropriate, yet the ability to push through to action; one who feels and communicates pride in his or her team;
  • Mature, with good judgment and a sense of humor in order to maintain perspective and balance.
Job Information
  • Washington, Dist. Columbia, 20001, United States
  • 26759818
  • February 4, 2016
  • The National Museum of American History
  • Curator
  • No
  • Full-Time
  • Indefinite
  • Ph.D.