Sarah Clunis Named Director of Academic Partnerships and Curator of African Collections

sarah clunis.

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University is pleased to announce that Dr. Sarah Clunis has accepted the position of Director of Academic Partnerships and Curator of African Collections to start on August 30, 2021.

Dr. Clunis is originally from Kingston, Jamaica and received her PhD in art history in 2006 from the University of Iowa. She joins the Peabody Museum from Louisiana's Xavier University where she is director of the Xavier University Art Gallery, supervisor of the Art Collection team, and assistant professor of art history. Dr. Clunis has taught art history for over twenty years at public universities and historically Black colleges and universities. Her research and classes have focused on the history of African art and the display of African objects in Western museum settings. She also studies the influence of African aesthetics and philosophy on the arts and religious rituals and cultural identities of the African diaspora. Her work examines gender, race, and migration in multiple contexts. She has published in both national and international magazines and journals. 

"The Peabody’s collection offered me a mirror when I was studying in Boston as a teenager and later as a college student. As both an immigrant and a woman of color, the collection gave me important insight into how the material culture of underrepresented communities can be a key factor in promoting more diverse and inclusive perspectives," says Dr. Clunis.

The extensive African collection comprises approximately 16,000 ethnographic and 11,000 archaeological objects that were collected largely between 1867 and 1940. A large percentage of the ethnographic collections came from missionaries working in Africa during the early twentieth century. This collection comprises nineteenth- and twentieth-century cultural material such as masks, textiles, and utilitarian objects from multiple countries, including Nigeria, Liberia, Cameroon, and Uganda. Included in the archaeological collections are artifacts excavated from sites in Egypt and Sudan by Oric Bates and George Reisner, as well as Paleolithic material from East Africa, including Olduvai Gorge.

"The Peabody's collection and its history reflect the museum’s ongoing efforts to promote the material culture of underrepresented cultures as fundamental aspects of understanding our global human experience,” says Dr. Clunis. “These collections speak of transformation and healing, and encourage social justice efforts through a multitude of voices that contribute to the human story. I am so honored to now be a part of that story.”

As Director of Academic Partnerships, Dr. Clunis will oversee the museum’s work as a center for collections-based teaching and learning at Harvard and the site of the museum as a place for student and faculty engagement and critique. "The museum’s current efforts in ethical stewardship to look honestly at our past and the legacies of colonialism and imperialism found in the collections highlights the urgent need to reimagine museum practice, especially in our engagement with the Harvard curriculum in partnership with students and faculty,” says Senior Curator Dr. Diana Loren. “Dr. Clunis was extremely successful in making the Xavier galleries into a dynamic space and resource for students and we’re excited to see how she will envision this work to build community at the Peabody Museum. We are grateful for the creative energy, expertise, and scholarship that Dr. Clunis brings to the Peabody."