The “How Does a Curator Work?” Edition

Museum specialist Mary Elliott talks about preparing a major installation for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Mary Elliott.
Mary Elliott.

Photo illustration by Sofya Levina. Photo by Michael R Barnes/Smithsonian.

Listen to this episode of Working with guest Mary Elliott:

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Mary Elliott is currently co-curating an exhibition at the soon-to-open National Museum of African American History and Culture. In that exhibit, she and her colleagues aim to complicate some of the received narratives about slavery, even as they aspire to anticipate visitors’ questions and enrich existing understandings.

Elliott talked to us about gathering objects for the museum—from a protective amulet the size of a fingernail to an entire slave cabin. She also discussed the work of putting these artifacts on display and framing them in a historical context, including collaborating with scholars.

In a Slate Plus extra, she tells us about exploring her own family’s history and the ways that their stories intertwine with the national narrative. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at

Twitter: @Jacob_Brogan

Podcast production by Mickey Capper.