SAN MARINO, Calif.—The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today the appointment of Josh Garrett-Davis as the H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western American History. Garrett-Davis, who joins the Huntington staff on Oct. 31, 2023, has served for the past seven years as the Gamble Curator of Western History, Popular Culture, and Firearms at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.
The curatorial position at The Huntington oversees 400 manuscript collections that pertain to the American West, along with hundreds of thousands of printed and graphic items, including photographs and maps, as well as rare books, ephemera, and other related materials.
Garrett-Davis joins a curatorial team of 14 responsible for organizing, interpreting, and stewarding some 12 million items, and making them available to researchers, as well as developing exhibitions and other forms of public outreach showcasing their significance in history and relevance to current issues, events, and diverse communities.
At the Autry, Garrett-Davis curated the redesign of the museum’s core pop culture exhibition, “Imagined Wests,” funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and opened in June 2023. The exhibition brings together various forms of storytelling about the West, including film, art, fashion, and archives from diverse perspectives. He has also been involved in creating and interpreting displays on the Standing Rock water protectors, gold rush firearms, Gene Autry fan art, and mass incarceration. He was an associate producer on the KCET documentaries Imagined Wests and Tending the Wild. The latter, about Native Californians’ traditional ecological knowledge, won a Los Angeles–area Emmy Award.
“We are tremendously pleased to welcome Josh,” said Sandra Brooke Gordon, Avery Director of the Library. “His ability to weave narratives together in a way that makes complicated histories come alive and resonate deeply is precisely what we were seeking. We look forward to seeing what he does with the endless possibilities here.”
The Huntington’s Western American collections have a geographic range that extends from Alaska and the Canadian Northwest, south to the U.S.-Mexico border, and west from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Rim. Chronologically, they span the 17th to early 21st century. Collection strengths relate to missionary practices among Indigenous populations, immigrant diasporas and populations, overland migration and settler colonial endeavors, warfare and violence, and migrations of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The collections also include materials on mining, water, the gold rush, railroads, and the growth of urban and suburban centers in the West, among other topics.
“The Huntington’s Western American materials are extraordinary by any measure,” Garrett-Davis said. “I look forward to diving in, finding great stories to tell from them, and making them come alive through researchers, partnerships, and creative work. The West’s many histories, especially as they intersect with The Huntington’s other global collections, can provide crucial context for our most urgent questions today. I can’t wait to learn from the conversations that emerge when communities engage with such tremendous collections.”
Garrett-Davis earned a B.A. in American studies from Amherst College, an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in history from Princeton University.
He has written about the American West and Native America for scholarly and popular audiences. He is the author of two books: What Is a Western? Region, Genre, Imagination (The University of Oklahoma Press, 2019), which won the Outstanding Western Book award from the Center for the Study of the American West; and Ghost Dances: Proving Up on the Great Plains (Little, Brown, 2012), a personal geography of his home region (he was born and raised in South Dakota). Garrett-Davis is currently finishing his third book, Resounding Voices: A History of Native American Sound Media (under contract with Yale University Press), based on his doctoral dissertation.
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About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is a cultural and educational institution of global significance. Building on Henry E. and Arabella Huntington’s renowned collections, The Huntington supports research and promotes education in the arts, humanities, and botanical science through the growth and preservation of its collections; the development of a community of scholars, school programs, and partnerships; and the display and interpretation of its extraordinary resources for diverse audiences. The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, California, 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Visitor information: huntington.org.