Kirk Johnson Appointed Director of Natural History Museum




Date: October 29, 2012


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  • Kirk Johnson, the Vice President of Research and Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, becomes the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), on October 29, 2012. The Sant Directorship was created through a 2012 gift from Smithsonian Regent and donor, Roger W. Sant. As a Vice President of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Dr. Johnson was part of a team that lead the museum and managed its $40 million annual budget. The museum, which receives 1.4 million visitors per year and has a staff of 400, launched a $170 million strategic plan in 2005. As Director of the NMNH, Dr. Johnson will oversee more than 460 employees, an annual federal budget of $68 million (museum's federal budget in FY 2012) and a collection of more than 126 million specimens and artifacts-the largest collection at the Smithsonian. The NMNH welcomes an average of 7 million visitors a year, and its scientists publish about 500 scientific research contributions each year.
  • In Denver, in addition to his role as Vice President of Research and Collections, Dr. Johnson also served as the museum's Chief Curator, a position he held since 2004. He oversaw the 70-person research and collections division (including curators, registrars, librarians, archivists, conservators, technicians, administrators and assistants) and managed its $3.5 million annual budget. Dr. Johnson was responsible for the museum's collections, and he led the completion of the museum's first comprehensive long-term collections and research plan. He served as a curator of paleontology since he joined the museum in 1991. From 2001 to 2006, Dr. Johnson was the Chair of the museum's Department of Earth Sciences. From 1989 to 1990, he was a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Botany at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He was a marine geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey from 1982 to 1983, and he has been a research associate at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle since 1991. Dr. Johnson's research includes the study of the geology and fossil plants of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains from 34 to 145 million years ago. He also studies the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary extinction event and the origin of major ecological communities known as biomes.
  • Dr. Johnson is on the steering committee for Earthtime, a community-based scientific initiative aimed at improving the resolution of geologic time, and he serves as the associate editor for Cretaceous Research. His professional memberships include the American Association of Museums, the Geological Society of America (fellow since 2002), the Botanical Society of America, the Paleontological Society and the International Organization of Palaeobotany. Dr. Johnson is the author of numerous scientific papers, and he has edited seven scientific volumes. He has written nine books, including his most recent, Digging Snowmastodon: Discovering an Ice Age World in the Colorado Rockies, published by the museum and the People's Press in 2012. Dr. Johnson has a bachelor's degree in geology and fine arts from Amherst College, a master's degree in geology and paleobotany from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in geology and paleobotany from Yale University.
  • Dr. Johnson succeeds Cristián Samper, who announced his departure from the NMNH in January 2012. Dr. Samper left the Smithsonian to become president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered in New York City. During his tenure as Director of the museum, Dr. Samper oversaw the renovations of several exhibitions, including the Behring Family Hall of Mammals (2003), the Sant Ocean Hall (2008) and the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins (2010). He also upgraded collections storage facilities, developed new digital outreach efforts, established the Buck Fellowship Program to train the next generation of scientists, raised more than $150 million in gifts for strategic priorities and served as co-founder of the Encyclopedia of Life, a Web-based global partnership to provide online access to knowledge about life on Earth. Dr. Samper also served as Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian from 2007 to 2008. Jonathan Coddington, Associate Director for Research and Collections, served as Acting Director of the museum between Samper's departure in August and Johnson's arrival in October 2012.


  • Samper, Cristián
  • Johnson, Kirk R
  • Coddington, Jonathan A
  • Sant, Roger W
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • Denver Museum of Natural History


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • SI Email Announcements, Message from the Secretary, 7/26/2012
  • SI E-Torch, "Kirk Johnson Named Director of National Museum of Natural History, 7/26/2012

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


October 29, 2012


  • Directors
  • Appointments
  • Paleobotany
  • Museums
  • Paleoecology
  • Paleobotanists
  • Endowments
  • Museum directors

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