Summer Reading List: Our Peabody Staff Picks

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Ah, summertime. The Andover Summer session has ended, students have left campus, the weather is warm (too warm at times), and it’s time for some relaxation and rejuvenation before we start the new school year. What better way to enjoy the rest of your summer than with a good book! But with so many books out there, how do you choose?

Thankfully, members of the Peabody staff are here to share their “Peabody Picks” with you dear readers! Below are some of our favorite reading recommendations based on what our staff is currently reading or has read this summer. Enjoy!

Ryan Wheeler, Director – Decolonizing “Prehistory”: Deep Time and Indigenous Knowledges in North America

Decolonizing “Prehistory” combines a critical investigation of the documentation of the American deep past with perspectives from Indigenous traditional knowledges and attention to ongoing systems of intellectual colonialism. It’s a 2021 collection of essays edited by Gesa Mackenthun and Christen Mucher. I was initially pointed to the first chapter by a colleague—that’s by the late Annette Kolodny and titled Competing Narratives of Ancestry in Donald Trump’s America and the Imperatives for Scholarly Intervention. The other essays are equally provocative and engaging! It can be read online for free here!  

“This book packs a double revelation and, with it, an important message for the environmental movement.” – Heather Menzies, Watershed Sentinel

Marla Taylor, Curator of Collections – The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

In a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live a life of freedom.  But, the deal is not what she expected.  Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

“Completely absorbed me enough to make me forget the real world.” – Jodie Picoult, Washington Post

John Bergman-McCool, Assistant Curator – The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack

The Universe had a beginning, and it will have an end. Modern cosmology — the study of the nature and evolution of the cosmos itself — has allowed physicists to explain the history of the Universe from the first tiny fraction of a second until today. But what’s next? We now have the tools to extend our knowledge into the distant future and speculate about the ultimate fate of all reality.

“A thrilling tour of potential cosmic doomsdays….Mack’s infectious enthusiasm for communicating the finer points of cosmological doom elevates The End of Everything over any other book on the topic.” –The Wall Street Journal

Lindsay Randall, Curator of Education and Outreach – STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

While it has no right to be – given the topic – Mary Roach has written a book that is hilariously funny as she takes the reader on a tour of what can happen to human bodies after death. I enjoyed 99.99999% of the book, with the only downside being the part that describes what maggots sound like when feeding… Now I am forever like Ron, the poor unsuspecting media relations guy who was only trying to be nice as he drove Mary around, as I too used to like Rice Crispies.

“One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year….Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting.” Entertainment Weekly

Emma Lavoie, Administrative Assistant – The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room returns with a thrilling reconstruction of one of the most notorious events in literary history: Crime novelist, Agatha Christie’s mysterious 11-day disappearance in 1926. History and true crime lovers, this book is for you!

“A stunning story… The ending is ingenious, and it’s possible that Benedict has brought to life the most plausible explanation for why Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926.” – The Washington Post

Beth Parsons, Office of Academy Resources, Director for Museums and Educational Outreach – The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

A remarkable novel about J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white in order to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation. An interesting tie to Andover, she is the daughter of Richard T. Greener (Andover alumnus, ‘1865), the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality.

“Historical fiction at its best…The Personal Librarian spins a complex tale of deceit and allegiance as told through books.” Good Morning America

David Spidaliere, Collection Project Assistant – Engaging Archaeology: 25 Case Studies in Research Practice by Stephen W Silliman

Bringing together 25 case studies from archaeological projects worldwide, Engaging Archaeology candidly explores personal experiences, successes, challenges, and even frustrations from established and senior archaeologists who share invaluable practical advice for students and early-career professionals engaged in planning and carrying out their own archaeological research.

“Unique and thoughtful, Stephen W. Silliman’s guide is an essential course book for early-stage researchers, advanced undergraduates, and new graduate students, as well as those teaching and mentoring. It will also be insightful and enjoyable reading for veteran archaeologists.” Wiley-Blackwell Publishing

Jessica Dow, Collection Project Assistant – Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man by Nina Lyon

Who, or what, is the Green Man, and why is this medieval image so present in our precarious modern times? An encounter with the Green Man at an ancient Herefordshire church in the wake of catastrophic weather leads Nina Lyon into an exploration of how the foliate heads of Norman stonemasons have evolved into today’s cult symbols.

“Lyon’s search for the meanings of the folk image and symbol of rebirth take her from neopagan Cornish festivals to the forests of south-west Germany. She is both political and sardonic.” The Guardian

Richard Davis, Peabody Volunteer – Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson by Peter C. Mancall

The English explorer Henry Hudson devoted his life to the search for a water route through America, becoming the first European to navigate the Hudson River in the process. In the winter of 1610, after navigating dangerous fields of icebergs near the northern tip of Labrador, Hudson’s small ship became trapped in winter ice. Provisions grew scarce and tensions mounted amongst the crew. A story of exploration, desperation, and icebound tragedy, Fatal Journey vividly chronicles the undoing of the great explorer, not by an angry ocean, but at the hands of his own men.

“Mancall’s account of the doomed voyage is exciting, tense, and tragic…. This is an excellent re-examination of [Hudson] and his final, sad effort.” – Booklist Magazine

Michael Agostino, Peabody Volunteer – Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes

A wonderful non-fiction book where the author assembles many decades of Neanderthal research into a clear description of how they lived, survived challenges, and created art. I especially like the detail she provided on how the many stone artifacts were sourced and created. This fueled my imagination as I work with the many pieces in the Peabody collection.

“‘Kindred’ is important reading not just for anyone interested in these ancient cousins of ours, but also for anyone interested in humanity.” The New York Times

Gearing Up for Human Origins

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The fall 2022 term at Phillips Academy is a little less than a month away and this time every summer my thoughts turn to Human Origins. Human Origins is the interdisciplinary science elective that I have been teaching since 2016 (the course originated with Jere Hagler and Peabody Institute staff in 2007).

Hands on activities are a mainstay of Human Origins, including work with our collection of fossil human casts and models, spear throwing, ancient paint making, fire making, and stone tool making. Many of these activities explore ancient human technologies and give students a glimpse into life in the Upper Paleolithic.

Human Origins student crafting a stone tool during fall 2020.

Stone tool making—or flint knapping—requires a little preparation each summer to make certain that we have the necessary safety gear, equipment, and raw stone for the students in the fall. In fall 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic when all courses moved online, we continued to flint knap in Human Origins by sending out kits with all the needed materials. This gave students a few weeks to familiarize themselves with the tools and techniques (after watching my safety video), rather than just one class period. Pedagogically this seemed like a good shift, so I’ve kept this as part of the course.

Knapping safety gear and tools for Human Origins.

I’ve also had a few colleagues ask about how I assemble the flint knapping kits. It is possible to find ready made kits online, these often don’t have the greatest materials, and lack safety gear like gloves, goggles, and leather pads. Here’s a list of some of the items that we typically put together in a Human Origins flint knapping kit:

  • Safety goggles
  • Leather gloves or cut proof gloves
  • A six-inch leather pad (helps protect legs and grip the flint spall)
  • An antler billet as a soft hammer
  • A river cobble as a hard hammer
  • A copper topped “bopper” for percussion flaking
  • A deer antler flaker (for pressure flaking)
  • A copper tipped flaker (for pressure flaking)
  • Large spalls of dacite and Georgetown flint (I’ve found these two materials work best for students—they knap uniformly, have few irregularities or inclusions, and can be readily obtained on online)
Dacite (left) and Georgetown flint spalls are good raw materials for beginners.

A variety of YouTube videos are available that introduce the techniques, which we also discuss in class. Students are encouraged to experiment with both percussion and pressure flaking, the different tools and materials, and making tools solo or in a group. As an instructor, I consider it a success if students are able to produce flakes (and name the different parts of a flake)!

Bifacial stone tools made by Human Origins students in fall 2020.

An Archaeologist and a Museum Professional walk into a basement…

Contributed by David Spidaliere and Jessica Dow

Hello! We are the new temporary collections project assistants for the Peabody’s upcoming collections move. Our combined knowledge of archaeology and museum studies helps us assess the needs of the collection and to find efficient ways to track the collections. Here’s a little about each of us:

My name is David Spidaliere. I am currently pursuing my master’s in Historical Archaeology at UMass Boston, finishing up my thesis on trade in Plimoth Colony. I was drawn to this role at Robert S. Peabody because my background is in seventeenth and eighteenth century New England archaeology and history, but I have very little knowledge of Indigenous archeology. This position has afforded me the opportunity to work with Native materials and to learn more about the importance of repatriation legislation.

My name is Jessica Dow, I recently completed my Masters in Museum Studies at Harvard’s Extension School, with a focus on collections management, Indigenization and public service. I currently work in the Visitor Services Department of the Harvard Art Museums, and I was drawn to this role because it offered me a chance to learn more about Archaeology and the care and planning that goes into Archaeological collections management. I’m passionate about ethical stewardship and repatriation, and Marla has been a fantastic resource as I continue to learn more about this field!

Dave and Jess hard at work

We were brought on to help the Peabody create a system by which they could track collections as they move throughout the building. This type of system is crucial for day-to-day movement of collections for research and teaching purposes, as well as for larger projects that require the collections to be moved, such as construction or pest and mold remediation. Our work is concerned with the types of data that determine risk factors such as vibration, and factors that dictate how objects are stored, such as size, weight, and cultural sensitivity.

To track this data, we are using software that was designed for retail use and allows us to barcode boxes and items and assign information to each barcode using iPads. We can then review all of that data on a desktop computer in order to help Peabody staff assess collections needs on a larger scale.

In the picture below you can see the desktop view that we use to review the data we have collected as we barcode the collection. We can easily see which boxes have lids, the dimensions of items that are too large to be boxed, and other factors like weight and cultural sensitivity.

Example Orcascan screen shot

While our roles here at the Peabody are temporary, the work we are doing will continue to be useful to Peabody staff in the future. We are honored to be a part of this stage of the Peabody’s growth and hope to continue our relationship with the museum and its staff as we step into whatever is next in our respective careers!