Creating the Exhibit

Student Curators
Danielle Charlap and Rachel Sayert, Student Curators of Digging Veritas, with Tobias Vanderhoop, July 2008

Reflections from Student Curators

Rachel Sayet reflects:

In the summer of 2008, I participated in an internship at the Peabody Museum in which my role was to co-curate an exhibit on the archaeology of Harvard yard alongside one other student, Danielle Charlap. As a Native graduate student studying anthropology, I was wary of what to expect. I knew I would learn a great deal by working at the museum due to its renowned reputation, but I was not well versed in archaeology or Harvard’s early history.

At first glance, the small objects that were uncovered in the Harvard Yard excavations did not mean much to me. A pipe stem? Print type? How do you make these things interesting to a museumgoer? However, my mentors, Patricia Capone and Diana Loren provided me with all of the readings that were required for the Harvard Yard course, as well as the final papers written by the students who took the class. These materials suggested ways to bring the objects to life. Danielle and I focused on four main components: The Harvard Indian College, Dining and Social Status, Rule Breaking, and Archaeology.

Throughout the summer, Danielle and I met with people of different backgrounds to gain insight for the exhibit. However, my favorite part of the internship was traveling to Martha’s Vineyard to meet with members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe. Tribal Administrator Tobias Vanderhoop provided us with stories about the Native students who attended the Harvard Indian College. Other tribal members were also able enlighten us with information regarding tribal history and traditions. I shared some of my own Mohegan Indian stories with them, and learned that the Aquinnah stories were very similar to my own. Meeting with the tribal members and sharing stories was very meaningful to me because my great-great-aunt Gladys Tantaquidgeon had come to Martha’s Vineyard to similarly collect stories and build positive relationships in the early twentieth century.

While dining at one of the tribe’s restaurants, Janette Vanderhoop from the Aquinnah Cultural Center pointed out a photo of Gladys on the wall. To know that I was continuing the work of my ancestors filled me with a sense of pride.

Danielle Charlap reflects:

When I opened the course catalog my junior year at Harvard (2007–2008), I never could have anticipated the exciting course of the subsequent months. The Archaeology of Harvard Yard, taught by Professors William Fash, Patricia Capone, Diana Loren, and Christina Hodge, looked like nothing I had ever seen -- a class that enabled students to explore their own pasts in a hands-on way. I immediately signed up and immensely enjoyed learning with my peers on and off the field. Yet from the get-go we knew we would be exploring multiple pasts – pasts that pertained to the Harvard, Cambridge, and Native American communities throughout New England. As this year's course focused on searching for the Harvard Indian College founded in 1655 we immersed ourselves in the relevant histories and used our new understandings to interpret the artifacts we found. When the first half of the course ended in January, I knew Harvard Yard would never look quite the same to me. 

Seasons and time also bring change to Harvard Yard, and as the summer began this entire project had new light shed on it. While the Archaeology of Harvard Yard had been a collaborative project from the start, as exemplified by its opening and closing ceremonies, I would truly appreciate this aspect during the summer. As June rolled in, I began an internship at the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and worked with Rachel Sayet, another student intern, under the guidance of Simone Monique Barnes and the course teachers to develop an exhibition on the Archaeology of Harvard Yard. Many of Rachel's and my responsibilities were your typical museum fare, from developing text for the exhibition to choosing which objects to display. Yet much of our time was spent meeting with people outside the museum who had important stories and advice to share. Whether we met with Shari Tishman and Vicki Jacobs from the Harvard School of Education, Bruce Curliss of the Nipmuc Nation, Elizabeth Solomon from Massachuseuk at Ponkapoag, or Charles Sullivan from the Cambridge Historical Commission, we paused to reflect on the artifacts with the additional insights we had gained through conversation. Our trip to Aquinnah in particular made me realize just how much mutual collaboration could benefit a project like ours. Meeting with tribal members at Aquinnah reminded us that history is not a thing of the past but a link to the future, that the people we studied at 17th century Harvard had left traditions still lived with passion and affection. A simple but perhaps too-overlooked truth in any historical endeavor and an important theme we wanted to highlight in the exhibit. This appreciation came in addition to important new details about Indian College students that the Aquinnah community shared with Rachel and me on our two separate trips to Martha's Vineyard. Our numerous discussions with so many different people outside the Peabody museum helped us see our materials from different perspectives, complicating an already nuanced story. It is our hope that the upcoming exhibition reflects the hard work and time so many people have put into this truly unique project.