Inside the Peabody Museum March 2017

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Watch a Photographic Essay

Peabody Collections Featured in New Scale Exhibition

Lectures Highlight Piltdown Man Hoax, Preview Upcoming Exhibition  

Popular Class Benefits Both Students and Museums   

Boston's Top Four Attractions: Discounted Admission

Photo essayWatch the Photographic Essay

We mark our 150th anniversary with a photographic essay. Most of the photographs are by Mark Craig, who was given the run of the museum, and he found much to capture, from the craftsmanship of the Victorian staircase and the detailed views of precious artifacts to the admittedly odd wooden flush toilet on the fourth floor.

Japanese kitchen model

Peabody Collections Featured in New Scale Exhibition

As part of the Harvard Museum of Science & Culture, the Peabody Museum will loan several objects to one of its partner museums, the nearby Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments in the Science Center for an upcoming exhibition. Scale: A Matter of Perspective will explore the concept of scale from multiple perspectives, including investigation of the cosmos with telescopes and microscopes, models that scale things up (e.g. molecular models, glass flowers, embryological models) and those that scale things down (e.g. celestial and terrestrial globes, or ethnographic dioramas of village life), scale in literature (such as Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland), and social scale (Just how large was that crowd on the National Mall?). 

The Peabody will contribute a Micmac (Native American) coat and several models, including a fully furnished pre-1879 Japanese kitchen and a group of Yup'ik (Alaska Native) dancers.

The central focus object will be the optics of the 125-year-old Bruce photographic telescope, recently discovered and restored. Accompanying the Bruce lenses will be astronomical photographs on glass plates taken in Peru that were annotated by Henrietta Leavitt, a “computer” at Harvard College Observatory, and her logbooks.  Leavitt’s discovery of the period-luminosity relationship of Cepheid variable stars fundamentally altered our view of the scale of the universe.

Scale: A Matter of Perspective examines the concept of scale and its power to transform perceptions of the universe and our place in it, inviting visitors to make connections to the world in surprising new ways. Opens Friday, March 10 at Harvard's Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Science Center 251, 1 Oxford Street.

Race, Representation, and Museums

Lectures Highlight Piltdown Man Hoax, Preview Upcoming Exhibition  

In 2016, a 100-year-old hoax was in the headlines again. Researchers finally identified the creator of an infamously fraudulent "missing link" between apes and humans, Piltdown Man. In one of next month's Race, Representation, and Museums lectures, one of the researchers, Christopher Dean of University College, London, will discuss the history of the hoax, the modus operandi of the forger, and why Piltdown Man continues to be studied a century later.  
Event details Monday, March 27, 6:00 pm

The other lecture in the series will offer insights into the museum's next big exhibition about the Peabody Museum and its role in the birth of American anthropology. One of the Peabody Museum’s earliest directors, Frederic Putnam, played a key role in establishing anthropology as a scholarly field. He was also a driving force behind the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he aimed to present authentic exhibits about Indigenous cultures. His vision, however, was compromised by both the Exposition’s administration, which framed the exhibition of Indigenous people as entertaining freak shows, and by “friends of the Indian,” who wanted to show their “progress” toward civilization.  Anthropologist Lee Baker will discuss how anthropology became publicly mired in racial politics and the contested arena of Indigenous representation.
Event details  Tuesday, March 21, 6:00 pm
Exhibition details Exhibition opens to the public Saturday, April 22, 9:00 am

Casting at Harvard Semitic Museum


Popular Class Benefits Both Students and Museums

Only ten minutes after registration began, the January term course  was filled to capacity with a wait list. This was the fourth time MUSE E-117 Museum Collections Care has been offered and it continued to be a popular graduate course as part of Harvard’s Museum Studies Program.  Taught by David DeBono Schafer (Senior Collections Manager, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology), Adam Aja (Assistant Curator of Collections, Harvard Semitic Museum) and Michaela Schmull (Director of Collections, Harvard University Herbaria) the course provided 21 students with intensive hands-on training in managing collections. Students had a choice of eight different projects among the three institutions. Adam Aja explained, “these are important projects and it shows students this is the way things get done. This is the practical side of museums.”

At the Semitic Museum under Aja’s supervision, six students worked on creating resin casts of portions of the Assyrian Lachish reliefs for an upcoming exhibition. Each cast takes several hours to make, patience, and a bit of skill to get the resin spread quickly. This work, done in one of the galleries, was also part of a live demonstration in which Semitic Museum visitors could watch Aja and the students create these extraordinary wall reliefs.

Read more about the ongoing casting project in the Harvard Gazette.
Watch a video of the casting in progress

Meanwhile at the Harvard University Herbaria, Michaela Schmull’s students inventoried, organized, and labeled archaeologically excavated plant material from Romero’s Cave located in Tamaulipas, Mexico. The collection was excavated in the 1950s under the supervision of Richard “Scotty” MacNeish and represents one of the most important archaeological projects on early agriculture and the evolution of maize.  DeBono Schafer, who is also an archaeologist, said, “The students are working on what I consider to be one of the most significant collections we have at Harvard. I wasn’t aware the Herbaria had this collection and as an archaeologist, seeing it was awe inspiring.”

With over a million objects in the collection there are always things to be done at The Peabody Museum which hosted six projects focusing on inventory, rehousing, and integrated pest management. Teams of students were paired with eight Peabody Museum collections staff members to work on collections that spanned the globe and covered tens of thousands of years of human history. 

Conducting inventories is one of the important jobs museum collections staff do. At the Peabody inventories include photographing, labeling, describing, measuring, and making objects more accessible. Peabody Museum collections are available to the public online and these inventories help provide more information to researchers and anyone with a question about museum objects. One group of students inventoried and improved storage for archaeological ceramic and lithic (stone) material from the Maya site of Chichen Itza (Mexico) which was excavated by Edward Thompson in the early-20th century. A second group of students focused on Native American lithic, ceramic, and faunal (animal) artifacts from the state of Maine primarily collected in the early-20th century.  Another student researched and photographed Paleolithic material from Ksar Akil (Lebanon). 

Proper collections storage is critical to the long-term care and preservation of the objects. Two teams worked to improve the storage for some of the Peabody Museum’s archaeological material. One group of students created archival quality boxes and supports for the Mimbres (New Mexico) pottery collection. The boxes provided a clean and protected environment for this significant collection and also saved valuable storage space. Another team of students rehoused many of the Peabody’s Central American textiles to increase safe handling and long-term storage. They also photographed the objects and updated location and other information in the Collections database. 

The Peabody’s final project focused on integrated pest management (IPM), a program favored by museums to protect collections from insects and other pests. Students helped prepare South American ethnographic objects for treatment and learned best practices for implementing IPM in an ethnographic collection. 

During the final class, all of the students shared their work with the group and talked about what they learned. The experiences they shared with museum staff and each other were meaningful and deepened their understanding of what museum work looks like on a day-to-day basis. For student Karla Kaneb it was valuable to “see how you adapt what we learn in class to real life”. This hands-on training is what makes MUSE E-117 Museum Collections Care such a popular class. As Museum Studies student Charlene Briggs summed it up, “it is way more than a normal class!”  

--Meredith Vasta, Collections Steward

 Lakota Images of the Contested West

Boston's Top Four Attractions: Discounted Admission

The Peabody Museum and Harvard Museum of Natural History are pleased to announce that the museums will again be part of the multi-attraction CityPASS program. Starting March 1st,  2017, visitors can purchase a booklet of passes to give reduced admission to Boston’s four top attractions, New England Aquarium, the Museum of Science, the Skywalk Observatory and together, the Peabody Museum and Harvard Museum of Natural History. Perfect for out-of-town guests, or your next staycation!

More about CityPASS...

Image credits:  Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University. Model of a furnished kitchen. Japan, pre-1879. Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University PM# 80-21-60/22465 (digital file #98540128). Still from Casting Ancient Wall Reliefs at the Harvard Semitic Museum © President and Fellows of Harvard College. 

See what's coming up in the Calendar of Events.