Monica M. Smith

Monica M. Smith

Head of Exhibitions and Interpretation

Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate, Georgetown University, 2016

B.A. in History, Pomona College, 1992

Monica M. Smith is the Head of Exhibitions and Interpretation for the Lemelson Center. She oversees planning for exhibitions, including serving as project director, project manager, co-curator, and principal investigator for the NSF-funded Places of Invention exhibition project. Previously, Monica was the project historian and the second project director and principal investigator for the Center’s NSF-funded Invention at Play traveling exhibition, and has served on many other exhibition teams. Monica helps develop and manage Lemelson Center activities, including public programs, publications, educational resources, and research initiatives about the history of invention and innovation in America.

Research Specialties: 

U.S. history and process of invention and innovation, including the role of place and community networks and the relationships among invention, creativity, and play.

Projects: 

Project Director and Co-curator, Sporting Invention exhibition (in development)

Project Director and Co-curator, Places of Invention exhibition, opened 2015 (ongoing)

Curatorial team member, Making a Modern MuseumCelebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the National Museum of American History, 2014

Interpretive Planner, Time and Navigation, a joint NMAH-National Air and Space Museum exhibition, NASM, opened 2013 (ongoing)

Project Historian and second Project Director, Invention at Play traveling exhibition (two touring versions), 2002-2011

Educator, Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson’s Legacy exhibition, 2006

Curatorial team member, Who Invented the Environment? exhibition, 1998, and Color Sells exhibition, 1997

Co-curator, From Frying Pan to Flying V: The Rise of the Electric Guitar exhibition and complementary web site, 1996; curator of redesigned web site, 2007

Awards, Honors, and Special Recognition: 

Places of Invention won the Smithsonian's inaugural 2017 Excellence in Exhibitions Award.

Places of Invention won the international Society for the History of Technology's 2016 Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits.

As a member of the Lemelson Center team, Monica received the 2013 NMAH Peer Award for Risk-Taking.

In 2010 the Smithsonian Channel film "Electrified: The Guitar Revolution," featuring Monica as a speaker, won a CINE Golden Eagle Award.

Invention at Play won the American Alliance of Museums' 2003 Excellence in Exhibition Award and also won a 2003 MUSE Gold Medal Award for its companion website.

Professional Affiliations: 
  • American Alliance of Museums and its National Association for Museum Exhibition
  • Museum Education Roundtable (Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Museum Education, 2005-2008)
  • National Council on Public History
  • Rotary Club of Washington, DC (Board of Directors, 2014-2017) 
  • Society for the History of Technology

Publications

"Spencer, Percy LeBaron." In American National Biography, April  26, 2018.

Online biographical profile of inventor Percy Spencer (1894-1970), who is best known for his discovery of microwave cooking but also earned the US Navy's Distinguished Public Service Award and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his magnetron research at Raytheon.

"Why There? Why Then? Examining Places of Invention." Dimensions 18, no. 3 (May-June 2016): 30-35.

This article in the bimonthly journal of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) provides an overview of the  Places of Invention (POI) project, including the exhibition and public programs at NMAH and with Smithsonian Affiliate project partners, as well as POI-related questions that could be adapted by other museums for public programs and oral history projects.

"Playful Invention, Inventive Play." International Journal of Play 5, no. 3 (July 2016): 244-261.

This peer-reviewed article shares the Lemelson Center's primary and secondary research behind the award-winning Invention at Play exhibition regarding connections among play, child development, creativity, and invention.

“Medical Alley, Minnesota (1950s): Tight-Knit Community of Tinkerers Keeps Hearts Ticking.” In Places of Invention, edited by Arthur P. Molella and Anna Karvellas, 86-109, Washington, DC Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2015.

Places of Invention tells the stories of people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, took risks, solved problems, and sometimes failed--all in the pursuit of something new. It dispels the myth of the lone inventor and shows that invention and innovation abound--not just in the Silicon Valleys of America but in hometowns across the country.

"Places of Invention Project." With Arthur P. Molella. Inventors Digest 31, nos. 2-3 (February and March 2015).

Provides an overview of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History and its Places of Invention exhibition project. Reprinted from Technology and Innovation 16, nos. 3-4 (2014): 175-185.

"The Lemelson Center's Places of Invention Project" With Arthur P. Molella. Technology and Innovation 16, nos. 3-4 (2014): 175-185.

This peer-reviewed article provides an overview of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History and its Places of Invention exhibition project. Reprinted in two parts in Inventors Digest  31, nos. 2-3 (February and March 2015).

"Invention at Play: An Award-winning Traveling Exhibition" In Museums at Play: Games, Interaction and Learning, edited by Katy Beale, 440-58. Edinburgh, Scotland: MuseumsEtc., 2011.

This chapter examines how the Lemelson Center's first major exhibition evolved into an exhibition focused on play, and the research, implementation, and evaluation processes along the way, to hopefully provide inspiration for future play-related museum initiatives.

"The Electric Guitar: How We Got From Andres Segovia to Kurt Cobain." In Regional Cultures in American Rock 'N' Roll: An Anthology, edited by David Stuart and Scott Anderson, 29-37. San Diego, CA: Cognella, a division of University Readers, Inc., 2011.

Provides a brief history of the invention and early development of the electric guitar in America. Reprinted from the American Heritage of Invention and Technology 20, no. 1 (summer 2004). 

Journal of Museum Education Co-published by the Museum Education Roundtable and Left Coast Press.

Monica Smith served as the Editor in Chief of  the Journal of Museum Education from 2005 to 2008.

"The Electric Guitar: How We Got From Andres Segovia to Kurt Cobain." American Heritage of Invention and Technology 20, no. 1 (summer 2004): 12–21.

The magazine's cover article about the invention and development of the electric guitar and how it changed the world of music during the 20th century. Features guitarists, makers, and innovators who played important roles in the evolution of the instrument and helped influence popular music styles including rock and roll. Reprinted iRegional Cultures in American Rock 'N' Roll: An Anthology, edited by David Stuart and Scott Anderson (2011).

"Irons," "Stoves," and "Washing Machines." In Facts on File Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Society, edited by Rudi Volti. New York: Facts on File, 1999.

Entries in specialized science and technology encyclopedia about the invention and development of irons, stoves, and washing machines in America, with links to other inventions featured in the publication.

"From Frying Pan to Flying V: The Rise of the Electric Guitar" With Gary Sturm. Original website 1997; redesigned 2014.

This virtual exhibition features instruments that illustrate how innovative makers and players combined the guitar with a pickup and amplifier to create a new instrument and a new sound that profoundly changed popular music—blues, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll—in the 20th-century. From an exhibition produced by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, November 1996 through October 1997.