Work Duty: a Sign of Nearly Normal

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

The arrival of COVID in March 2020 brought abrupt changes to the Peabody. Suddenly, we were working from home. We also canceled our volunteer program, and stopped hosting researchers, classes and work duty students. Gradually, a few staff started coming back in to the museum to continue (and finish!) the important collections inventory and rehousing project. To keep safe, we each had a floor to ourselves.

The library became my new workspace while we de-densified. It was a great location to inventory the very full drawers of material from the Mandan. Windows and a giant table, who could ask for anything more?

Vaccinations meant the return of our remaining staff and last summer we had volunteers and researchers back. This year’s fall term saw a return to nearly normal with classes and work duty students returning.

The return of students has been the single greatest change since we pulled back at the start of the pandemic. The building is periodically alive with the sounds of students again. Apparently, a place where students could gather and learn about archaeology were two of the conditions purportedly laid out by Robert S. Peabody when he founded the institution (source: Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, page 4). In addition to our regular collections work, there is much more bustle as we pull items for classes and prepare for work duty students.

This year we have welcomed 16 work duty students back into the fold at the Peabody. They are currently engaged in several important projects, including revisiting items from the earliest stage of the inventory project. The students are adding a greater degree of detail to their descriptions, documenting additional notes and rehousing items per our updated standards. Others are learning how to write condition reports for the items pulled from collections for class lessons. Finally, work duty students have uploaded to our database nearly two-thousand slides from Copeland Marks’s travels that were digitized during our work-from-home phase.

Example of two drawers (left) before rehousing, (right) after rehousing.

We appreciate the help we receive from Andover students and are grateful that circumstances and planning have allowed them to return to us at the Peabody.

Work Duty students preparing to throw atlatl for a bit of end of term stress relief.

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