The William Duncan Strong Collection

This blog represents the twelfth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Institute through objects in our collection.  A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!

The Peabody Institute holds many collections from across North America. In the early 20th century, institutions often traded objects with one another in order to expand holdings and develop more diverse collections. One of the collections the Peabody received in trade is the William Duncan Strong collection, which consists of objects from Labrador. Strong was a prolific archaeologist and anthropologist who was known for his direct historical approach to studying Indigenous cultures of North and South America.

William Duncan Strong was born in Portland, Oregon in 1899. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he initially studied zoology before switching his focus to Anthropology. While at Berkeley, he studied under Alfred L. Kroeber, a well-known American anthropologist who Strong considered a mentor and friend. Strong received his Ph. D. in 1926. His dissertation, titled “An Analysis of Southwestern Society,” was subsequently published in American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. Throughout his career, Strong conducted ethnographic and archaeological studies throughout southern California, Nebraska, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, Peru, and Labrador.

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William Duncan Strong. Photo Source: Alchetron.com/william-duncan-strong

The Labrador collection is one of the largest collections housed at the Peabody. It was given to the Peabody by the Field Museum in Chicago in exchange for materials from Pecos Pueblo. The Labrador collection contains many interesting artifacts from the Arctic region. Strong assembled the collection as part of a 1927-28 expedition to the Arctic led by Commander Donald B. MacMillan. MacMillan was known for his arctic cruises, which often included a variety of scientists and observers. Most of Strong’s time was spent in ethnographic research with the Montagnais-Naskapi, but he also found time to excavate several Inuit villages—this is where the Peabody collection originated.

One of the artifacts that I found the most intriguing was what looked like a boat carved out of stone. I asked about what this object was since I had never come across anything like it.  I thought perhaps it was some kind of kettle but I was informed that it was actually a lamp called a Kudlik.

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One of the Kudliks present in our collection.

These lamps were typically used by people in the Arctic to light and heat their dwellings, to melt snow, and to cook. They were usually made out of soapstone, which was carved into a dish-like object with a shallow perforation in the center. This is where the wick, which was fashioned from cottongrass or moss, would be placed. The surrounding dish was then most commonly filled with seal blubber, although whale blubber was also used in whaling communities. The wick would soak in blubber, which would then allow it to remain lit and provide people with light.

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A picture of a Kudlik in use. Photo Credit: elfshotgallery.blogspot.com

It is always very interesting to see how people in the past used various objects from their environment to create tools that we still use to this day!

Party’s not over – volunteering at the Peabody

Contributed by Quinn Rosefsky ’59

No one invited us to the party but we’ve stayed for over nine years. And the desserts keep getting better. Not that what we do would come under the category of party. What should be obvious to readers of this blog is that I am talking about what it is like to volunteer at the Peabody Institute. First of all, who can volunteer? Being a graduate of Phillips Academy helps in passing the rigorous entrance examination but there are exceptions, such as my wife, Susan, whose qualifications, while many, started with marriage. This automatically reduces the interview process (but does not eliminate the background check.) And what do volunteers do?

Some of you might get the wrong impression that all we do is what the staff shy away from. Far from it. There have been plenty of occasions where it was all we could do to pry staff apart from a project to allow us to either dig into the unknown (such as categorizing about one hundred yards of unclassified photos) or finish it off (such as one hundred yards of labels.)

Of course, I am exaggerating. (No point in frightening you.) I have handled (and often read) documents from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; paleolithic artifacts from 10,000 B.C.E; ledgers with tens of thousands of entries. I can picture specific bifaces, sherds and feathers.

What my wife, Susan, and I have been doing has varied considerably over the years as staff have come and gone, priorities have shifted, and time frames have expanded. I like to think that volunteering has allowed the Peabody to think in terms of decades, not centuries. This might come as a surprise until you consider that the Peabody is home to somewhere in the vicinity of 600,000 artifacts.

For quite a number of the past nine years, Susan and Leah (another spectacular volunteer) have been inspecting, vacuuming and protecting textiles from Guatemala. Although the end of the project has been in their sights for the past year, Einstein’s theory of special relativity keeps getting in the way (time slowing, distances shortening…easy stuff.) Eager to try my own hand at a multitude of projects, my time has been slowed as well. Despite Einstein’s slowing of time as we operate at the speed of light, sadly, all of us working as an extended family inside the Peabody’s walls have grown somewhat older (but not by much and not at the same rate.)

Most recently, I had the task of filling out labels to put on a few of the 1,500 drawers containing a variety of artifacts. It was a matter of necessity, not just my dexterity and eye coordination. When I completed that task, it was my honor to look for the “absence” of items. It all started with the discovery that an item had been “mislabeled.” That’s akin to looking through a haystack and saying you didn’t find the needle. And winning means you did not find the needle.

Sometimes I write blogs. I’ll stop here because my limit is 500 words. (Only staff can do more!)

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Quinn after volunteering for 9 years