Inside the Peabody Museum: November 2014
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"This exhibit does not glorify warfare," says curator Steven LeBlanc with emphasis about the newly opened Arts of War: Artistry in Weapons across Cultures. "For most of human history people worried about warfare and their safety daily. We have to think about a world where peoples’ lives were like that. People didn’t like warfare, and yet they decorated their weapons."
LeBlanc, who has written extensively on ancient warfare and did a stint in the Peace Corps, acknowledges it's a conundrum at the center of the exhibition. "Anthropology is the cross-cultural study of cultures," he says, "and what we’re really asking ourselves is why societies solve problems in similar ways." The exhibition features elaborately crafted and decorated warfare-related objects from many cultures and every continent except Antarctica. "Humans are picky about what they decorate; they don’t just decorate everything," LeBlanc muses. "And one of the things that they decorate to an enormous degree are things that have to do with warfare." He admires the variety and ingenuity of the array, from the pufferfish or porcupinefish helmet worn by a Gilbert Islands (South Pacific) warrior and the precious gems on an Indian prince's dagger, to the 18th-century feathered helmet from Hawaii that was worn in a procession on State Street and later gifted to George Washington.
For all the time LeBlanc has spent researching the weapons, he still wonders why would people would decorate them. "This exhibit is a giant question mark, and I do not know the answer to that," LeBlanc says, but he invites visitors to explore the question too. The exhibition will be on view through 2017.
Anthropological and archaeological research has been published by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology since 1888, when the first volume of the Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology & Ethnology appeared. In 2014 the Peabody Museum Press initiated a collaboration with Harvard Library Preservation and Digital Imaging Services to scan classic out-of-print Peabody Museum publications and make viewable files available online.
The museum is very pleased to launch this initiative with the posting of Harvard African Studies, Volume X: Varia Africana V. This 487-page volume has been digitized thanks to a generous gift made in honor of the memory of Dr. Lyndon Marcus Hill and Dr. Marjorie White Hill by their children.
This three-part volume was published in 1932, with a foreword and notes by Harvard anthropology professor Earnest A. Hooton.
In Part 1, An Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Shari Basin, Frederick R. Wulsin reports on the archaeological and anthropological research of his 1928 expedition to central Sudan.
Part 2, A Study of Some Negro-White Families in the United States, contains groundbreaking research on multiple generations of mixed-race families conducted by Harvard alumna Caroline Bond Day (Radcliffe 1919, 1929)
Part 3, Walter Cline’s Anthropometric Notes on the Natives of Siwah Oasis incorporates travel photos, portraits, and measurements to study the people of the Libyan Desert.
Harvard African Studies were first published between 1917 and 1932, and all ten volumes are now online. As funds become available, the digitization project will provide online access through the Peabody website to classic works in other monographic series. More about historic Peabody publications online.
The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and the Harvard Film Archive honor the late filmmaker Robert Gardner with a special tribute on Saturday November 1. Gardner had a long relationship with the Peabody Museum, including sponsoring the Robert Gardner Fellowships in Photography, which resulted in several books published by the Peabody Museum Press and exhibitions in the museum. The Tribute will include screenings of multiple Gardner films, all free and open to the public. Also this month, the Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead Family Event will be a colorful and fun afternoon on Sunday, November 2, featuring traditional snacks, crafts, dance, and music in specially decorated museum galleries. A favorite activity is decorating sugar skulls ($5 extra). Regular museum admission rates will apply, and free event parking will be available at the 52 Oxford St. Garage starting at 11:30 AM.
See what's coming up in the Calendar of Events.