Current Institutional Affiliation
Research Associate, Anthropology, California Academy of Sciences

Adrian Van Allen is a sociocultural anthropologist who studies museums as technologies for organizing relationships between people, places, materials, and interests. Currently an Abe Fellow of the Social Science Research Council, she is conducting a comparative study of museum genomic collecting practices and policy in the USA, France and Japan. Her previous research has focused on connecting ethnographic objects and scientific specimens in natural history collections, examining their shifting value and the material practices in their remaking as cultural and ecological resources in the context of the Anthropocene. She holds a Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, and was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at U.C. Berkeley from 2010-2013, a Rome Prize Fellow in Design at the American Academy in Rome in 2011, a Peter Buck Predoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History from 2014-2015, a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Research Grant recipient from 2015-2016, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris 2017-2018. She is an Associate Researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the California Academy of Sciences and at U.C. Berkeley. She serves on the Advisory Boards for the Hearst Museum of Anthropology (U.C. Berkeley), and the Council for Museum Anthropology (CMA), part of the American Anthropological Association.

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University of California / Berkeley
Biobanking for the Future in Japan, France and the USA: A Comparative Study of Preserving Biodiversity in an Age of Extinction

PROJECT RESEARCH QUESTIONS o This project is an ethnographic case study of how genomics is reshaping the collection and exchange of natural history specimens as scientists attempt to preserve dwindling biodiversity in the face of massive and continuing losses in biodiversity. o The number of individuals of all wild animals on Earth has decreased by 50% since the 1970s that "underscores the vital inherent value of museum collections today, tomorrow, and into the future" (Kress 2014: 3010). o Natural history museums are situated as a key component in configuring our understanding, and preservation, of life itself. However, this raises several key questions: (a) What forms of life are being preserved, what are the details of these methods, and their capacities and limitations? (b) How does the evolving field of museum genomics influence the on-the-ground practices of archiving life? (c) What cultural orientations are embedded (and naturalized) within the individual, institutional and transnational conservation and benefit-sharing policies that govern the collection, analysis and exchange of global biodiversity across borders? POLICY RELEVANCE o My research analyses the ways scientific communities in museums, inheritors of both scientific and colonial histories, now find themselves caught up in changing global domains of collecting and exchanging biodiversity. o These include the genomic life sciences, biodiversity policy, and the increasingly fraught activity of collecting and transporting specimens across international borders–now categorized as "national biowealth" after the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, the Nagoya Protocol (2014) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (1973). RESEARCH SITES To answer these questions I will conduct ethnographic fieldwork in three national museums in the USA, France and Japan: o Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington D.C., USA) o Muséum Nationale d' Histoire Naturelle (Paris, France) o National Museum of Nature and Science (Tokyo, Japan) o This research reflects the Abe Fellowship research agenda through examining: (i) 'Threats to Personal, Societal, and International Security' analyzes policy impacts on museum genomics and resulting biosecurity implications. (ii) 'Growth and Sustainable Development' of "national biowealth," examines the protocols for sustainable use as species are preserved for museum collections. (iii) 'Social, Scientific, and Cultural Trends and Transformations' uses hands-on fieldwork in museum laboratories to explore the benefits and potential risks of genomics for species preservation and the policies regulating those efforts. METHODS o At these sites I will conduct interviews with administrators, curators, geneticists, lab technicians and policy-makers, and as a participant-observer in the laboratories and workrooms of the museums I will continue my hands-on methodology of learning to extract DNA and assemble genomic data. o Mapping the genomic collecting workflows in these three sites will provide a comparative case study across international sites and stakeholders, making the capacities and limitations visible to policy makers. EXPECTED RESULTS The collected data will result in two peer-reviewed papers: (1) An analysis of the theoretical and ethical concerns of museum genomics and global biobanking. (2) A policy review of museum genomics relevant policies and conventions, providing insight into the movement and global exchange of specimens and genomic collecting workflows for policy-makers and wider public audiences.