African American History Curatorial Collective

Four quilt blocks depicting scenes from the Bible

The African American History Curatorial Collective (AAHCC) promotes the research and interpretation of African American history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Members of the AAHCC are curators, based in divisions across the museum, who specialize in African American history. They work to fulfill the museum’s mission: “Empowering people to create a just and compassionate future by exploring, preserving, and sharing the complexity of our past.” Since its founding in 2019, the AAHCC has collected objects, delivered presentations, developed relationships with communities throughout the country, and worked on exhibitions.

African American history is integral to American history, and the narrative of the United States cannot be responsibly or accurately rendered without critical attention given to the Black experience.  The AAHCC members’ work complements that of our colleagues at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Anacostia Community Museum, and at other Smithsonian museums, libraries, and archives, all of whom focus on sharing this complex history. 


Krystal Klingenberg
Division of Culture and the Arts

Research interests: 

  • African American music
  • popular music
  • African music
  • American music abroad

Dr. Krystal Klingenberg is a curator of music in the division of Cultural and Community Life at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Previously she held professorial positions at Swarthmore College and the University of Hartford. She received her PhD in May 2019 from the Music Department of Harvard University, with a secondary field in African and African American Studies. Her dissertation-turned-book project is on the creation and distribution of Ugandan popular music. It tackles questions of national identity in music, the status of copyright in Uganda today, and the growth of the Ugandan music industry. Klingenberg’s interests include global Black popular musics, African American music, digital media, and social justice. She is a member of the Society for Ethnomusicology and the African Studies Association and has held leadership positions in each. She is part of the curatorial team for Entertainment Nation and is the host of the museum’s Collected podcast on African American History.

Modupe Labode
Division of Cultural and Community Life and Division of Political and Military History

Research interests:

  • African American social justice history
  • African Americans in the Midwest and West
  • public art
  • monuments

Dr. Modupe Labode has been a curator at the National Museum of American History since August 2019. She works in two divisions—Political and Military History and Cultural and Community Life—and her area of concentration is African American social justice history. Labode earned her doctorate in history at Oxford University and taught for several years at Iowa State University, her alma mater. Throughout her career she has worked at museums in Colorado and taught history and museum studies at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, where she was also a public scholar of African American history and museums. Labode serves on the board of the National Council on Public History.

Tony Perry
Division of Work and Industry

Research interests:

  • environmental history, race, and the environment
  • the environmental history of slavery
  • energy history

Dr. Tony C. Perry is Curator of Environmental History and specializes in African American history as well as early American environmental history. Before coming to the National Museum of American History, he was a professor at the University of Virginia in the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies. He researches the environmental history of American slavery and how this history has informed broader issues around race and the environment. His forthcoming book focuses on enslaved people’s relationship to the environment and how they leveraged this relationship to reckon with being enslaved in early America. He continues work on a digital archival project that documents the perils and promise of water in African American life from the period of slavery to the present.

Fath Davis Ruffins
Division of Cultural and Community Life

Research interests:

  • African American cultural history
  • African American material culture
  • race and identity formation
  • history of the preservation of African American objects, books, and visual arts

Fath Davis Ruffins is the Curator of African American History and Culture. She was head of the Collection of Advertising History at the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center from 1988 to 2001. Ruffins has curated or consulted on major African American exhibitions, and on community history projects around the country. She served as the original project director for Many Voices, One Nation, which opened at NMAH in 2017. Her publications include “Contesting the Nation” in Many Voices, One Nation: Material Culture Reflections on Race and Migration in the United States (2017). She has published on Black public history including “Revisiting the Old Plantation: Reparations, Reconciliation, and Museumizing American Slavery” in Museum Frictions and “Mythos, Memory, and History: African American Preservation Efforts, 1820–1990” in Museums and Communities. In 2018 her essay “Building Homes for Black History: Museum Founders, Founding Directors, and Pioneers, 1915–1995” won the G. Wesley Johnson Award from the National Council on Public History.