Cultural Anthropologist and Curator of Globalization

medium shot of anthropologist Dr. Joshua A. Bell at a table with a blue cloth and cell phones on it. His hands are open.
Dr. Joshua A. Bell explaining the natural history of cell phones. Smithsonian image by Jennifer Renteria.

Dr. Joshua A. Bell is a research anthropologist and Curator of Globalization in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Growing up in Philadelphia, he developed a passion for art and anthropology through visits to the city’s museums. At Brown University, he created his own undergraduate degree that merged anthropology, art history, and religious studies, and participated in archaeological excavations in Mexico, Jordan and Tunisia. He came to realize that what he most enjoyed was talking and interacting with people about their culture and objects. At the University of Oxford for his graduate degree, Joshua was encouraged by passionate professors to work in Papua New Guinea, a country known for its biological, cultural and linguistic diversity. He spent 19 months living with, and learning from, communities in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea.

Combining fieldwork with research in museums and archives, Joshua examines the shifting local and global network of relationships between persons, artefacts and environment. In the Purari Delta, his research has focused on transformations in the wake of resource extraction, as well as how communities have engaged with outsiders. He continues to work with communities in the Purari Delta through the Recovering Voices program to record their heritage and knowledge traditions. At the museum, Joshua studies collection objects to discover the global histories they contain. More recently, he has become intrigued by the role of cell phones in our everyday lives. In 2011, Joshua began a collaborative research project to explore the extraordinary, intimate, and global relations materialized in cell phones. He considers how cell phones are, and perhaps are not, changing the way we speak to one another and understand ourselves.