Inside the Peabody Museum: March 2015
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Now visitors can discover Peabody Museum highlights on lunchtime tours led by Harvard students. "You'll see warrior art, life-size casts of Maya monuments, and a Tlingit suit of armor," said Kevin Hilgartner, a social anthropology concentrator and tour guide. "My favorite is the aztec stone knife that researchers believe may have been used in actual human sacrifice--if that's not too morbid to say." The tours are offered Fridays at 12:30, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 and 2:00 PM. They're free with museum admission.
"We encourage visitors to drop in for as little or as long as they like," said Peabody Museum Education Manager Polly Hubbard. "The tours can run up to 45 minutes, because there's plenty to experience and the guides like to promote conversations. I especially recommend these for alumni and community groups who want an engaging introduction to our wonderful collections. We have a reservation from a library book club group interested in Native America topics, and I think they will have a great time exploring with student guide."
You'll also find volunteers on Saturdays and Sundays at the connected Harvard Museum of Natural History. Every weekend volunteer docents are positioned in various galleries. Among the things you may encounter: minerals, mammal skulls, and furs to touch, live marine invertebrates and dinosaur fossils to examine, or a volunteer to answer your questions in the famous Glass Flowers exhibition.
The month of March is already packed with events--more on these below--and we've just added a new panel discussion on Monday, March 9 at 4:30 PM, Crossing Indigenous Boundaries, featuring three Harvard visiting faculty on the intersection of Indigenous cultures, comparative studies, colonialism, literature and history. The discussion will be followed by a reception in the Peabody Museum galleries.
On Thursday, March 12, the Hallam L. Movius, Jr. lecture is Volcanic Winter, Population Bottlenecks, and Human Evolution by Stanley Ambrose. And on Thursday, March 26, the Metropolitan Museum's Donald LaRocca talks about The Allure of Collecting Arms and Armor. And finally, the Peabody Museum's own Patricia Capone and Diana Loren talk about Life at Colonial Harvard: The Archaeological Evidence on Tuesday, March 31. See you there.
This January, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Harvard Semitic Museum teamed up to offer “Museum Collections Care,” a graduate level course in Harvard University Extension School’s Museum Studies program. Twelve students worked closely with museum professionals at both institutions, gaining hands-on experience with their diverse collections. “The real key to making this course successful is that the students work with the museum staff on actual projects that the museum would be doing anyway,” says instructor and Senior Collections Manager at the Peabody Museum, David DeBono Schafer. “We do not develop special projects for this course; instead we incorporate the students into our normal work cycle. This allows the students to learn how museums actually operate, not in a theoretical way but in a real life manner.”
At the Harvard Semitic Museum, four students worked with Adam Aja, Assistant Curator of Collections. moved and organized 40,000 Near Eastern artifacts stored there. They helped replace inadequate wooden storage with newly refurbished, metal. and glass front cabinets. Then the students recorded the new storage locations of the objects that they moved. For a glimpse into the type of objects that students were handling, check out the Semitic Museum’s digital collections online.
Photo Archives and African Ethnographic Collections
The remaining eight students worked across the street at the Peabody Museum. Students were grouped into pairs and each pair was assigned a collections-based project. One group worked in the Archives department with Archives Assistant Abby Cote. Students catalogued and digitized photographs from scenes of life in Guatemala during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. See high quality scans of these images. Another pair worked with Collections Assistant Martha Labell on the African and European ethnographic collection, reorganizing and consolidating space for collections, and tracking new object locations in the museum’s database.
Massachusetts Archaeological Collections
Collections Assistant Jennifer Poulsen guided two more students in cataloguing Native American archaeological artifacts from Eastern Massachusetts. Their work will soon be available in the museum’s Collections Online. The artifacts are part of the Museum’s first collections, accessioned by the Peabody in 1867. From locations spanning Newburyport to the Cape, they represent thousands of years of people living in the Bay State. Most are made of stone, including spearheads, arrowheads, pestles for grinding, and plummets used as weights for fishing nets. Students made observations about the material composition, style, use, and dimensions of each object and catalogued the information in the museum’s database. Each artifact was then carefully photographed and put back in storage.
Paleolithic Artifacts from Olduvai Gorge
Another pair of students worked with Collections Assistant Stu Heebner to re-house stone tools from the well-known archaeological site of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The site was excavated by the famous paleoanthropologist couple Louis and Mary Leakey around 1930, revealing stone tools from produced by early human ancestors such as Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens. The tools are some of the oldest known to exist in the world, dating back 1.5-2 million years. The students carved custom cavities in archival foam for each stone tool, ensuring the objects nestle in their trays safe from knocking into each other. They are clearly labeled and oriented so they can be easily viewed by researchers and classes without unnecessary handling.
“For many students, this is their first opportunity to work behind-the-scenes in a museum and to handle and work directly with museum objects and artifacts,” says Debono Schafer. The students in this section are handling tools that are well over a million years old and were created by some of our earliest ancestors -- truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
January’s collaboration between the Harvard Extension School, Peabody Museum, and Harvard Semitic Museum was not only a unique and enjoyable learning opportunity for the students who participated, but was also a successful and engaging project for the museum staff who worked with these prospective museum professionals.
--Jennifer Poulsen, Collections Assistant
See what's coming up in the Calendar of Events.