All posts by Irene Gates

Back in the Peabody archives

I was so pleased to learn this summer that the Oak River Foundation had decided to fund another year of the archives project at the Peabody! This continuation of the project will allow me to focus on the photographic and map collections, excavation records from the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project and the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project, among others. I also hope to begin developing sustainable digitization workflows for some of the archival material, help with reference requests, and continue an oral history project about Scotty MacNeish. I am very happy to be back at the Peabody, continuing this work.

This black and white photograph depicts two sons of Hugh Raup, who participated in the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition of 1944.
A photograph from the archives that caught my eye: Karl and David Raup (sons of Hugh Raup) with fish caught in stream. Big Arm, Kluane Lake. 8/21/44. Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition.

Since starting back up here in early September, I have mostly been working on organizing and inventorying internal museum records like loan, exhibition, and NAGPRA records. These records might not have huge interest for outside researchers (and, as is common for institutions, are typically restricted for 25 years after creation for privacy concerns), but are important for staff members in the course of day-to-day collections management and ongoing repatriation efforts. Now that I am more familiar with the museum’s institutional history, I am finding that I can categorize material more quickly – I don’t have to repeat the learning curve of my first year.

On a personal note, I spent most of the summer between Boston (where I live) and western Massachusetts, where my sister and I own what used to be our grandparents’ house. My French, North African-born grandmother met my American grandfather (from a Scottish family who emigrated to the Boston area in the 1920s) during World War II while he was stationed in Algeria. The house is full of photographs, letters, books, and interesting objects documenting their lives – essentially, my family’s archives. I also spent two weeks working at the Phillips Academy Archives and Special Collections, helping Director of Archives and Special Collections Paige Roberts prepare for an upcoming move of the collections associated with the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library renovation. So, I didn’t stray too far from the work I do here, even while I was away.

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 rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

Archives collection records now online, and MacNeish archives open for research

Collection records for the Peabody’s archival collections are now online, via the museum collections management database’s online portal: take a look.

I am also very happy to announce that the processing work on the MacNeish archives is complete and that this material is now open for research. These archives have been processed as two collections, the Richard S. MacNeish papers and the Richard S. MacNeish records. The papers were donated by MacNeish in 2000, shortly before his death, while the records resulted from his directorship of the Peabody, 1968-1983, and had not left the museum since then. A finding aid with a folder-level inventory can be accessed via the link at the bottom of each collection record. There is parallel content in the two collections, so researchers are advised to consult both.

Here is one of my favorite photographs of MacNeish, from his papers – I think it exemplifies what an adventurer he was.

Richard MacNeish in canoe in the MacKenzie River, Canada, during his survey work in the 1950s
Richard MacNeish in canoe in the MacKenzie River, Canada, during his survey work there in the 1950s

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 rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

Processing the Richard S. MacNeish papers

Since October, I’ve been focusing on the largest collection at the Peabody, the Richard S. MacNeish papers. MacNeish donated about 220 linear feet of his papers and books to the museum in 2000, soon before he died. These papers span the length of his life and career, from childhood scrapbooks on the Maya to his MA and PhD theses, to field records and administrative files from his Tamaulipas, Ayacucho, Pendejo Cave and China projects, to research files on a variety of geographical regions and subjects, to records from his positions at Boston University, as head of the Andover Foundation for Archaeological Research (AFAR), and as director of the Peabody Museum itself. MacNeish, known as Scotty, was such a significant figure in American Archaeology in the 20th century that his papers are likely to have a high research value.

Color photograph of Scotty MacNeish, taken around 1980
Scotty MacNeish, around 1980

An extensive amount of work was already carried out on this collection since it arrived at the museum. An item-level inventory was done, and about half of the boxes had their contents rehoused into acid-free folders (papers) and mylar sleeves (photographs). More recently, the museum decided to separate out the large number of books from the papers, many of which will be added to the Peabody library. Volumes that were annotated by MacNeish or bear a personalized dedication to him are being retained in the archives. After separating books from the archival materials the remaining papers now measure only 90 linear feet – a huge difference in terms of storage space.

I’m now working on a few remaining steps: foldering loose items in boxes, determining date ranges for folders, updating the inventory to reflect those changes as well as the removal of the books, rearranging the materials into logical groupings, and rehousing contents into acid-free record cartons. Lastly, I’ll integrate within the guide to this collection the other Scotty MacNeish materials we have at the museum, his director’s records. MacNeish left about 20 linear feet of material at the museum at the end of his directorship in 1983. To preserve the provenance of these two groups of material, we decided to process them as separate collections – even though there is a lot of overlap between the two. I’m looking forward to having all of this material be easily accessible to researchers soon, and anticipate that this work will be completed and the collection guide available by mid to late January 2017.

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 rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

The art of collecting

“Briefly stated, the history of archaeology in the Northeast has been in no way different from the history of archaeology elsewhere: its birth was as relic collecting, for the pure and simple interest of the objects recovered. It was soon recognized that without supporting data such objects were little more than curios, and that even with supporting data as to provenience – all too frequently so vague as to be of little value—they still were closely akin to curiosities and the undertaking little more than antiquarianism.” (Douglas Byers, Peabody Annual Report, 1948)

Since beginning my project at the Peabody, I’ve been intrigued by how American Indian artifacts were collected in the first few decades of the 20th century. At the time, the practice ranged from small-scale hobby collecting to commercial-minded efforts to acquire and sell artifacts for profit, to museums collecting for “scientific study.” The Peabody archives offer a glimpse of how artifact collecting, mostly on a small scale, was conducted, documented and perceived. That distinctions were made between “collectors” and professional archaeologists seems clear, even in the early 1900s. And yet, as the quote from Byers above indicates, relic collecting is part of the story of archaeology in the United States. What role did it play in this story, and what common purposes and/or divides developed between the various actors interested in archaeology and artifacts?

I first noted documentation of avocational artifact collecting in Warren K. Moorehead’s records (1890s-1930s). Moorehead, the Peabody’s first curator and subsequent director (1901-1938), was well known to amateur collectors; he wrote publications catered to them, such as Prehistoric Relics (1905), purchased artifacts from them, sold artifacts to them, and included images of collector artifacts in his two-volume The Stone Age of North America (1910) (which he then marketed back towards those same collectors). Collectors wrote him, seeking his expertise, as well as those seeking to sell larger collections. He was criticized by his professional peers for being overly focused on artifacts and not exercising rigorous archaeological science. Years later, in 1973, retired Peabody Curator Fred Johnson wrote in a letter to a graduate student: “Moorehead was very definitely not an archaeologist even in the frame of reference of his times. He has never published an important archaeological book or paper. He was a collector, a confirmed looter of archaeological sites and he had no other purpose in life than to secure by any means, regardless of any kind of ethics, specimens which were the ‘best,’ unique, unusual, etc.”

A small card bearing the following text: "Save your Indian relics. When you find tomahawks, pipes, spear heads, drilled stone or other things, write me. I buy all such relics. W.K. Moorehead, Andover, Mass."
Warren Moorehead’s “Save your Indian relics” card, circa 1900-1920

Despite those accusations, and the appearance he gave at times of being a salesman, Moorehead denounced those who destroyed sites to acquire artifacts, and had advocated for the preservation of archaeological sites in the past. In “Commercial vs. scientific collecting” (1905) he wrote: “.. [commercial collectors] have ransacked the graves, mounds and cliff houses, dragged forth the humble arts of simple aborigines long dead and sold them for a few paltry dollars. The destruction of archaeological testimony wrought by these vandals is something beyond compute” (114). In contrast, he describes the simple joys of avocational collecting: “For the local student who collects for his own pleasure, we should have nothing but commendation, for at some future date his cabinet may be preserved. His expenditures, his trips to favorite localities that he may personally roam over freshly ploughed fields, his hours spent in arranging his cabinet during winter evenings are all labors born of love” (114). He also notes that these small collections are “gradually drifting to the permanent museums,” rejoining collections obtained through professional excavations.

While looking through the photographs of artifacts sent to him, I was struck by the “arrangement of the cabinet,” how collectors artfully arranged their artifacts into patterns or staged them to be photographed. Current Peabody Director Ryan Wheeler told me the practice continues to this day. It’s almost as if the deliberate act of collecting is put on display through these creative arrangements: the hand of the collector in accumulating these collections is manifest.

Black and white photograph of of American Indian artifacts arranged into a pattern
Photograph sent to Warren Moorehead of American Indian artifacts from the collection of Inez A. Hall, Pennsylvania, circa 1900-1910
Black and white photograph of American Indian artifacts arranged to be photographed on a white cloth
Photograph of artifacts sent to Warren Moorehead by F.P. Graves, Missouri, circa 1900-1910

A fuller portrait of one such collector emerges in the Peabody archives. Massachusetts native Roy Athearn, born in 1895, began collecting artifacts as a boy in the early 1900s. He collected over 13,000 artifacts during the course of his lifetime, within a five mile radius of his home in Fall River. He took extensive notes on the circumstances of his finds, ensuring  his collection was well documented. He was a member of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. Below is a photograph of his home, taken in conjunction with an analysis and assessment of his collection carried out by the Massachusetts Historical Commission in 1982.

This black and white photograph depicts several cabinets in the home of Massachusetts native Roy Athearn, whose 13,000 object collection was significant.
Artifact cabinets from Massachusetts collector Roy Athearn’s 13,000 object collection, circa 1982, photograph by T.C. Fitzgerald

To learn more about avocational and professional archaeology in the United States in the early 20th century, Ryan pointed me to a few books, one of which was Setting the Agenda for American Archaeology : The National Research Council Archaeological Conferences of 1929, 1932 and 1935 (2001). Within the NRC, the Committee on State Archaeological Surveys was founded in 1920 under the Division of Anthropology and Psychology. One problem the committee sought to address was “.. the fact that a nation’s fascination with the past was leading to a rapid destruction of archaeological sites and the commercialization of antiquities.” This had less to do with individual collectors than with state-level museums and historical societies, who carried out excavations with little training or expertise, and “had no guiding voices on how to explore the past without destroying the very record being examined” (x). The committee decided that one solution to this problem might be in reaching out to and educating non-professional archaeologists in standards-based archaeological method, through distribution of instructional literature and organization of seminars on the topic. To really appreciate these efforts, one must read the rest of the book, but a common purpose between disparate actors begins to take shape through the idea that avocational archaeologists could be enlisted in preserving contextual information of sites. How did this play out over the rest of the century? And what was the position of museums during this time, such as the Peabody? What divides continued to exist and what relationships evolved? These are all questions I’m curious to investigate further.

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 rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

 

 

 

 

 

Reorganizing the archives storage alcove

For the past two weeks, the museum staff (and one volunteer — thank you Quinn Rosefsky!) all pitched in to make the archives storage area neater and more manageable. This physical reorganization had been anticipated and discussed since I began my work here in May. At that time, many materials were still in filing cabinets, with boxes piled on top.

Though most of these cabinets and boxes were labeled, the exact nature of the materials and the period of the museum’s history to which they belonged were not necessarily obvious. Related materials could be spread out among different boxes and cabinets without that intellectual integrity being apparent. If a museum staff member was looking for a specific piece of information in the archives, say when a particular exhibit was on display at the museum, it could be challenging to find it!

As I reached the end of my collections survey, I began to understand which materials belonged together as collections. I boxed up several collections that were in filing cabinets, carefully labeling them as discrete groups of material: the Warren K. Moorehead records (1890s-1930s), the Douglas S. Byers and Frederick Johnson records (1920s-1960s), the Richard S. MacNeish records (1950s-1980s), the Tehuacan Archaeological-Botanical Project records (1959-1960s) and the Coxcatlan Project records (1960s-1970s). Other record groups such as the museum’s Education Department files were physically grouped together, and consolidated into fewer boxes. Empty filing cabinets were removed, new shelving was set up and boxes were arranged deliberately on the shelves.

Panorama of one side of the rearranged archives storages area.
West wall of the rearranged archives storage area.
Panorama of the east wall of the rearranged storage area.
East wall of the rearranged archives storage area.

Records that are still being consulted regularly by museum staff such as accession files and site files were left in filing cabinets. Other material, such as the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project records (1969-1980s), was left in filing cabinets because we don’t have enough shelf space to accommodate more boxes at this time. There are also a few stray boxes that don’t yet have a home. Further tinkering of the space and rehousing of material will likely occur throughout the year. For now, the focus of the archives project will turn to creating inventories for individual collections, so that the material within them is easily findable for museum staff and outside researchers.

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 rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

 

 

 

 

Folders full of Scotty MacNeish's Tehuacan survey records from the 1960s

Dipping a toe into the Peabody’s archives

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.

Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology budget, 1915-1916
Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology budget, 1915-1916
Letter from Warren K. Moorehead to Charles S. Peabody, February 16, 1916
Letter from Warren K. Moorehead to Charles Peabody, February 16, 1916

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.

Fred Johnson in front of the Peabody Museum, 1948
Fred Johnson in front of the Peabody Museum, 1948
Folders full of Scotty MacNeish's Tehuacan survey records from the 1960s
Folders full of Scotty MacNeish’s Tehuacan survey records from the 1960s

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.

Coban, Guatemala, color slide by Copeland Marks, 1970s
Coban, Guatemala, color slide by Copeland Marks, 1970s
Coban, Guatemala, color slide by Copeland Marks, 1970s
Coban, Guatemala, color slide by Copeland Marks, 1970s

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.

Stuart Travis notebook, 1942
Stuart Travis notebook, 1942
Stuart Travis notebook, 1942
Stuart Travis notebook, 1942

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 rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.