The Smithsonian in Popular Culture

How is the Smithsonian, with its museums full of specimens and research labs full of scientists, portrayed by popular media such as movies, television and books?  What does this tell us about how people outside of the museum/research community perceive museum curators, the collections they acquire, and the research questions they answer?   Often, those perceptions of museums are very different from how Smithsonian staff think about themselves.  Smithsonian staff have been portrayed in mysteries, romances, dramas, comedies, and science fiction.  Are there themes we can see about what the public thinks goes on behind the scenes?  Are the Smithsonian’s back halls really populated by mad scientists and obsessive collectors?  Did the curator really do it in the lab with the candlestick?  How has this changed over time?  This website will introduce you to the Smithsonian and popular culture.  We are also interested in hearing from you about your favorite books, films or TV programs.

The Smithsonian Institution, perhaps more than any other museum, has been the setting for fiction writing ranging from work by Gore Vidal to the TV series Bones to films including Night at the Museum.  There are some subtle differences in the portrayal of science, art, anthropology, and history.  Anthropology has been perhaps the most popular topic for fiction writers.  By asking the question, “Did the Curator Really Do It?” we’ll see how popular writers construct the characters of museum workers and research scientists and what they think of the Smithsonian’s world.  


The Smithsonian in Books

Book shelf including Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

Did the curator commit the crime in the museum or did the brave explorer make it back from their expedition? Find out how the Smithsonian and its staff have come to life in novels by clicking here.More

The Smithsonian in Movies

Filming Get Smart Outside the National Museum of Natural History

UFOs flying through the Castle and museums acting as secret spy headquarters are just some of the different ways the Smithsonian Institution has starred on the big screen. Discover how many close-ups the Institution has had by clicking here. More

The Smithsonian in Television

Still from The Simpsons

You know you have made it big when the Simpsons include you in their adventures. Find out where else the Smithsonian Institution has popped up on your small screen by clicking here.More