In my first few weeks at the Peabody, I’ve been surveying the museum’s archival material to gain a better sense of the collections before proceeding to more detailed cataloging and processing work. It’s been fascinating to begin to piece together the history of the Peabody through the materials I’m coming across, and to learn about 20th century American Archaeology in the process. For this first blog post, I thought I’d share a few items that illustrate the types of collections found here at the Peabody.
This 1916 budget and letter from Curator and subsequent Director Warren Moorehead to Director Charles Peabody discussing canoes are examples of routine records found in the museum’s organizational archives: they document the operation of the institution at a given time, and often provide as much information about the time period in question as they do about the institution. Organizational records can include correspondence, museum publications, annual reports, meeting minutes, grant files, and any other material produced in the course of the museum’s administration.
Another significant amount of archival material here is comprised of excavation and field records. The Peabody carried out and funded numerous projects under the curatorship and directorship of Warren Moorehead, Douglas Byers and Fred Johnson, and Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, from the museum’s founding up until the early 1980s. Some of these projects were carried out locally in New England (note the canoes mentioned above, and Fred Johnson with expedition gear below), while others were carried out in the Southwest, the Yukon, and under Scotty MacNeish, Mexico and South America.
As some of the museum’s artifact collections were accumulated during these excavations, the records provide contextual information about the finds through their documentation of the sites in question, in addition to their significance for archaeological research more generally.
Another critical component of museum records are collection and registrar files, which document objects and their provenance. The museum’s accession files contain acquisition or gift information, correspondence about the object/collection, and other relevant documentation. Object ID images also fall under this category, and the Peabody has over 10,000 slides of object images alone. Occasionally, supplemental materials accompany gifts or acquisitions by the museum, providing additional context of an object or a collection. One such example are the 500 or so color slides taken by Copeland Marks in Guatemala during the 1970s, where he collected textiles that are now part of the Peabody’s collection. These beautiful, bright images may include shots of these textiles being made or worn by their original owners.
Another colorful find are six small notebooks belonging to Stuart Travis, who painted the large “Culture Areas of North America” mural at the Peabody. These notebooks are full of illustrations and information Travis recorded about the indigenous communities represented in the mural. A collection like this offers a glimpse into how Travis presumably conducted research for the mural and conveys how meaningful this project was for him. Several other collections here were donated by individuals who carried out specific projects for the museum, or volunteered here, such as Eugene Winter, who donated his large collection of personal papers.
That’s all for now – I hope to delve more deeply into individual collections in the blog in the coming months. Thank you for following the project!
The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978 749 4493.