Inside the Peabody Museum: March 2010

The Map Collection Just Keeps Getting Better

ann axtell morris watercolor
opening rolled document

The maps and drawings were rolled, crowded in drawers, or just plain hard to access. It was the kind of storage that worries archivists and conservators. Would the materials deteriorate? Would repeated handling by researchers and others lead to damage? The conservators and archivists started looking for help, and they found it.


This year, the Museum is improving teaching and research access, preservation, and storage for its Map Collection of nearly 4,000 unique, hand-drawn and annotated documents dating as early as the 1840s. The work has already begun, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

The unique historic maps and other documents from research expeditions are associated with the Museum’s collections and with Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology fieldwork of the past 140 years. They include ethnographic and linguistic field maps, site plans, large-sized watercolors and sketches of archaeological sites and artifacts from North, Central and South America, and beyond. There are also architectural drawings documenting American anthropological history as well as vital records of the Peabody Museum, the oldest museum dedicated to anthropology in the Western hemisphere.

Jeffrey Quilter, Deputy Director and Curator of Intermediate Area collections, offers an example of one the collection’s important highlights. “Alfred V. Kidder's work at Pucara, Peru was path-breaking. As in so many cases of Peabody Museum research, the investigations there were in the vanguard of research for its day and the materials remain highly important today. The Pucara work has been under-published and access to these materials is vital for ongoing scholarship.”

Peabody Map Collection Highlights

  • Early 20th century watercolor drawings of archaeological sites in the American Southwest and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula by archaeologist Ann Axtell Morris (shown above)
  • Maps and illustrations from Abri Pataud region in France
  • The work of accomplished illustrator and Maya researcher Tatiana Proskouriakoff
  • Hard-to-find maps of UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site Chan Chan, Peru
  • Unpublished maps and drawings from the Lower Mississippi Valley Survey


The funds will partially support project staff and costs for rehousing supplies and cabinetry. Peabody Museum conservators T. Rose Holdcraft and Judy Jungels and archivist India Spartz are pleased that the grant will enable major organizational improvements and upgraded environmental conditions. The collection will be processed by site and updated information will be entered into the museum’s collection management database. Museum staff will document, condition-assess, and rehouse in protective enclosures about 3000 flat documents, and conserve and rehouse 750 currently inaccessible rolled items. Digital images of selected items, uploaded to the Peabody Museum website, will provide increased public access and support preventive conservation efforts by limiting unnecessary physical retrieval and handling of oversized fragile documents.

The Peabody Museum has won generous support from The Institute of Museum and Library Services in the past to preserve the Museum’s collections and create better access to it. IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. Previous IMLS awards to Peabody Museum supported reformatting and rehousing original catalogue and accession records (1996) and environmental improvement for photographic archives (1992) along with several other conservation projects for selected at-risk collections.

Students Curate New Exhibition

Student curators“I’m in love with the crossbow we have,” declares Stephanie Krysiak with a smile. “It’s one of the original objects I picked out. Everyone should come see my crossbow.” 

Krysiak (right) and fellow student Emily Pierce (left) teamed together to transform Stephen Greenblatt’s English 127 and English 220: Travel and Transformation class research into a new exhibition titled Translating Encounters: Travel and Transformation in the Early Seventeenth Century. Krysiak is an English concentrator. “We were studying Shakespeare through the lens of his time, discovering how people of his time read his work, understanding how people of that time understood each other.” During the class, every student picked out a few Peabody Museum objects of the period to research, then wrote labels describing their objects for the upcoming exhibition.

Pierce, an archaeology concentrator, hadn’t taken the class, but she had previous Peabody Museum experience and was looking for more. She joined forces with Krysiak in the fall. “We worked the objects into three themes: global mobility, encounter and exchange,” says Pierce. “We edited the object labels even more, developing the themes and figuring out how the objects related to each other.”

Supervised by Associate Curator Diana Loren and Senior Curatorial Assistant Christina Hodge, the young student curators also got to work in the Conservation Lab and even helped decide the exhibition’s wall colors. The most fun part? “I really liked finding maps and engravings to supplement materials that we had,” says Pierce. The two scoured the Library of Congress website for images to add to the exhibition. But that led to the most challenging part: getting the images in the correct size and the permission to use them. “That was difficult, but it will make it even more rewarding at the end,” Pierce says.

For Stephanie Krysiak, curating the exhibition has been a personally transformative experience. “This has really helped me figure out what to do with my life. I think this is what I want to do: curate exhibits.”

Translating Encounters: Travel and Transformation in the Early Seventeenth Century opens Thursday March 25, with a reception from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. Expect to see the two student curators and their fellow students from the Travel and Transformation class touring the new gallery installation.

Last Call for Summer Internship Applications

Intern Meg Rampton

Dreaming of working among the Peabody Museum collections this summer? Internships are available for Harvard undergraduate (or recent 2010 graduates) and graduate students. Applications from outside Harvard University may also be considered.

Students gain experience in curatorial research, collections management, archives, museum education, public programming, publications and/or conservation. Interns will be matched with available projects based on their interests as expressed in the application.

Past projects have included:
• Conservation treatment and re-housing of North American beadwork
• Inventory and analysis of archaeological fauna from Swiss lake dwellings
• Student exhibit curation -- research and writing
• Research on Japanese ethnographic photographs
• Publication research and production assistance

The Harvard University Native American Program will be co-sponsoring some museum interns again this year.

Interns work under the supervision of a museum staff mentor. Internships are for 8 weeks (20 hours/week) beginning Tuesday, June 1, 2010. The deadline for summer internship applications is March 1, 2010.