Past Exhibitions

collage of stamps, scanned book images and sheet music

Documenting Diversity

Drawing on the collections of the National Anthropological Archives and Smithsonian Libraries, this exhibtion examines the ways anthropologists have recorded and shared their observations in the field, both past and present.

A collage of faces, books, the wright flyer, a squid and a background of leaves and plants.

Magnificent Obsessions

This exhibition highlights the personal motivations and enduring impact of the passionate book collectors who were compelled to collect, preserve, and share their “magnificent obsessions” with the nation. Through April 11, 2022.
Drawing of an Elephant

Game Change

Once seen as objects of prey, elephants are today the focus of global conservation efforts. Rare books, photographs, manuscripts, artwork, and objects from our collections illustrate this change in attitude from the era of big game hunting to the modern day.
Through March 5, 2020.

illustration of a large winged beetle

Dazzling Diversity

What is the most diverse group of animals on the planet? Insects! They constitute more than two-thirds of all described animal species—and there are more waiting to be discovered!
The Smithsonian Libraries' Dazzling Diversity exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History celebrates the insect world through the pages of historic natural history books.
August 8, 2017 - September 2018

Science and the Artist's Book

List of past exhibitions

The Libraries has been creating exhibitions since the late 1980's. The list below includes exhibitions held from 1989-2006 that have appeared in our main exhibition gallery located in the National Museum of American History, and other sites around Washington, DC and New York, NY.

Come Together- American Artists Respond to Al-Mutanabbi Street

Come Together: American Artists Respond to Al-Mutanabbi Street

Opens February 1, 2016 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery Library

Color in a New Light

Color in a New Light

Name a topic that links science, history, art, and culture. How about color? Let’s follow the theme of color through the vast collections of the Smithsonian Libraries, and make a few unexpected connections and discoveries. Color in a New Light launched in January 2016 and will run for 14 months in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Hull of a wooden ship being carried by one large balloon and many smaller balloons filled with people on the deck and dressed in 19th formal clothing.

Fantastic Worlds

Travel with us to the surface of the moon, the center of the earth, and the depths of the ocean — to the fantastic worlds of fiction inspired by 19th-century discovery and invention. Now open at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Trade card of seed company depicting a carrot with top hat and cane

Cultivating America’s Gardens

Smithsonian Libraries and Smithsonian Gardens have partnered to bring you a snapshot of the history and culture of the American Garden from the colonial era to the present day. Visit the exhibition in the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC through August 2018.

Once There Were Billions- Vanished Birds of North America

Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America

Once an amazing diversity of birds–some in breathtaking abundance–inhabited the vast forests and plains of North America. But starting around 1600, species began to disappear, as humans altered habitats, over-hunted, and introduced predators. The story of the last Passenger Pigeon and the disappearance of the Great Auk, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen reveal the fragile connections between species and their environment. 

Whales- From Bone to Book

Whales: From Bone to Book

The Smithsonian Libraries opened its new exhibition "Whales: From Bone to Book" in the National Museum of Natural History on May 25, 2013. This exhibition is a joint production of the Libraries and the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History. "Bone to Book" will be on display on the ground floor through April 2014.

Photo of a page of an artists book depicting a stylized drawing of people, animals, and flowers.

Artists' Books and Africa

Since artists’ books are not normally associated with African art, our goal in this exhibition is to introduce the genre and survey its “African” manifestations. Opens September 16, 2015 at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC.

Underwater Web- Cabling the Seas

Underwater Web: Cabling the Seas

A century and a half ago, the world suddenly became smaller when an underwater telegraph cable joined two nations divided by the sea. From that first link, a vast web spread across the globe.