Inside the Peabody Museum: January 2015
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Curators had a question: could letters from 17th-century texts printed at Harvard—including some of the earliest books printed in North America—be matched with pieces of early metal print type excavated from Harvard Yard? In the 1980s, excavated printing types in the form of the letter “o” and “l” were matched to the "Eliot Bible" (2nd edition 1685) and The Indian Grammar Begun (1666) The museum recruited two interns to test the idea with the rest of the types, more than two dozen, including those excavated more recently. Sean Guynes and Lindsey Ward measured the type pieces’ dimensions and used XRF (x-ray fluorescence), an analytical method which can identify metals' elemental compositions. The interns helped produce epoxy casts of the types to match with books printed at Harvard in the 17th century. They also researched early printing in Cambridge to situate the type in the larger social context of Harvard's Indian College, where two printing presses were located for a number of years starting in 1659. [Read more about the Indian College, the excavations in the Yard, and the accompanying exhibition Digging Veritas.]
A museum cast-maker assisted Ward and Guynes in creating individual casts of each piece of print type. "They looked like epoxy popsicles," said Ward. Under the guidance of Hope Mayo (Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts at Harvard's Houghton Library), she and Guynes then inked the letter casts by hand using a stamp pad, and made multiple prints. They then carefully compared the prints to various 17th-century texts.
Due to time constraints, it was not possible to identify any exact matches of letters in the printed material to the specific pieces of type. But Ward and Guynes were able to confirm that the same fonts and sizes were used in a number of different volumes, including John Norton's The Heart of N-England rent at the Blasphemies of the Present Generation (1659), John Eliot's The Indian Grammar Begun (1666), and the famous Bay Psalm Book (1640), the first book printed in America.
In the photograph, a long primer “s”, roughly equivalent to a size 10 font, matched an “s” found in the introduction to Psalm 18 in the Bay Psalm Book.
In The Legacy of Penobscot Canoes: A View from the River exhibition, videos show how a traditional canoe is constructed. Now you can watch the videos on the Peabody Museum website and discover the cultural significance of the canoes, and key steps in canoe construction.
Wabanaki communities in the U.S. and Canada are renewing their traditional practices of birchbark canoe building and use. A pivotal event occurred in 2002, when Barry Dana, then chief of the Penobscot Nation, invited master builder Steve Cayard to lead a canoe-building workshop on Indian Island, ME, the tribal headquarters. Participants included Penobscot, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy men, and Cayard later conducted additional workshops among all three tribes. Filmmaker D’Arcy Marsh, who documented several of those events, recorded this footage at the first workshop on Indian Island.
Each semester, we welcome Harvard faculty and students to teach and learn from the Peabody’s vast collection. Collections-based learning provides students with unique moments of hands-on learning that will stand out in their Harvard experience. Using original materials helps to make classroom concepts concrete, provokes questions, and animates discussions, providing a valuable tool toward creating an inspiring classroom. Classes that visit the Peabody participate in a wide range of activities designed to explore various time periods, practices, and histories represented through museum collections.
Here is a small sampling of the many students and faculty who worked with Peabody collections in Fall 2014:
Anthropology 1210: Archaeology of Ancient China (taught by Rowan Flad). A survey of the archaeology of China from the origins of humans during the Palaeolithic into the Bronze Age (ca. 220 BCE), with an emphasis on the origins of agriculture and the emergence of complex society during the late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Students in the course worked with Academic Partnerships museum staff and faculty over the course of the semester to research, design, and install a small public teaching exhibition as part of their final project. The display is currently on exhibition through January 2015. (Shown here: bronze bells dating from 1600-256 BCE)
Studies of Women and Gender and Sexuality 1424: American Fetish: Consumer Culture Encounters and the Other (taught by Caroline Light). The seminar addressed the 19th-century emergence of certain racist ideologies and their impact on different disciplines, such as anthropology. During the semester, students used the Peabody Museum and its collections to investigate knowledge production about fetish and race, and to challenge conventional modes of describing and displaying human culture. Students worked on two projects with museum collections during the semester. First, they individually researched and presented on North American ethnographic objects from the collection. Later in the semester, the students worked collaboratively to consider ethical display of sensitive museum collections.
Psychology 1502: Cultural Psychology: Exploring Social Identities in the U.S. and Beyond (taught by Sasha Y. Kimel). This course explored how cultural background shapes self, emotions, motivation, decision-making, and relationships. Students visited museum galleries and storage to learn about and discuss early anthropology and museum histories.
--Diana Loren, Director of Academic Partnerships and Museum Curator
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