All posts by Rachel Manning

Back to Class!

As part of my work at the Peabody, my supervisor suggested that I take an online class in Collections Management. Throughout school, I had never been offered classes that pertained to museum studies or collections management, so I thought that this was a great idea considering it is directly related to my current and hopefully future line of work. Therefore, over the past 6 weeks, I have been enrolled in an online class on Collections Management Policies for Cultural Institutions through museumclasses.org.

Over the period of the course, I learned a great deal about what it takes to create and implement a collections management policy at an institution such as the Peabody. For cultural institutions, these policies are very important to have because they set up guidelines for almost every aspect of the institution. These guidelines are good to have on file should any issues arise within the institution. For example, if an institution received a collection that does not fit within the scope of the collections, the museum staff could refer to their collections management policy for information on how to handle the situation. The policy also helps to establish consistency in practices regarding the proper management of collections associated with cultural institutions.

Throughout the course of the class, I have been tasked each week with writing various portions of a policy. My classmates and I would upload our segments to the online forum so that we could read and critique each other’s documents before turning them in for grading. The feedback was incredibly helpful and I feel it helped strengthen my policy. An additional part of the class was to participate in a chat room discussion for an hour once a week. These chats were always very interesting and everyone was very engaging. It was really interesting to see how different cultural institutions are run and how similar institutions can end up with very different policies tailored to their individual needs. I think that this class was an excellent decision, and one that will be very useful as I continue to pursue my career in collections management!

In other news, I have recently started cataloging drawers in the South Bay Storage area of the Peabody’s collections space! These bays primarily consist of sites from the American Southeast and Southwest, but also contain sites from Missouri, Kentucky, and even as far away as Labrador. I am very excited to continue working with artifacts that I don’t get to see as often as I would like!

Fossil!
Here is a cool fossil I found in South Bay Storage. I’m not a plant expert, but it looks like a type of fern.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’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 Peabody goes to the Annual SAA Meeting!

Last week, members of the Peabody staff made their way down to Washington D. C. to attend the 83rd annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology! This society is the largest organization for archaeologists who conduct work in North and South America. It was founded in 1934 and had its very first meeting at Phillips Academy in December 1935. Today, the SAA is comprised of over 7000 members. The annual meeting of the SAA lasts for four days. Archaeologists from all over the Americas get together to present papers and posters pertaining to their research, conduct symposiums related to current issues in and directions for the field of archaeology, and many institutions and vendors rent space in the book room to promote their organizations.

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Dr. Wheeler and Rachel behind the Peabody’s table.

 

This was my primary task at the SAA meeting this year. The Robert S. Peabody Institute had a table in the exhibition hall manned by Peabody staff members. This is a great way for other conference attendees to stop by and talk to us about what is going on at the Institute, find out whether or not we have collections that researchers are interested in, and learn more about our online collections, Cordell Scholarship award and the Journal of Archaeology & Education. There was also an order form for anyone who interested in purchasing our new book, Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. All in all, working the table was a great experience. It was awesome getting to talk to fellow archaeologists who might not have ever crossed my path if not for the Peabody table.

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Dr. Wheeler and his former advisor Dr. Barbara Purdy

 

In addition to the educational and networking benefits that come along with attending conferences, the SAA is also a great place to get to see former colleagues and friends who have gone their own ways. I had the chance to see so many people that I never get to see anymore because in the world of archaeology, people can work with you one year and then go work halfway across the world the next! People I know came from St. Louis, Albany, New York City, Virginia, New Mexico and even Hawaii! I saw colleagues from my very early days as an archaeologist in New York, as well as friends that I had made working on projects all the way down in Virginia. It was very enjoyable to have my multiple spheres of friends finally collide in one space.

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Dr. Ryan Wheeler with Ted Stoddard, whose collections are housed at the Peabody!

Because the conference was in Washington, D.C., it also provided the opportunity to see museums in the area. The main museum I had wanted to see was the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Unfortunately, everyone else in the city wants to go there too, and even though we tried to grab tickets at 6:30 AM, there were none to be had. I walked the mall with some friends anyway. The weather was gorgeous, passing 80 degrees! The cherry blossoms and sun were out and it was a great day to walk around outside and see the various monuments (which look much better in the sun and heat than they did the last time I was in D.C. in January 2016 with clouds and rain).

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Check out those cherry blossoms blooming!

I finally made my way to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I’ve somehow never been to this one before, and I’m very glad that I went. The museum had numerous exhibits, including precious gems and rock formations, dinosaurs, a human origins exhibit, an osteology exhibit and even an exhibit showcasing mummies from Egypt. The collection of faunal skeletons in the Osteology Hall was particularly fascinating. It’s amazing to see how similar many creatures are when they are stripped down to just bone.

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The Hope Diamond housed at the National Museum of Natural History.

The four days spent in D.C. for the SAA were amazing and I hope a good time was had by all who attended. It was a nice break from the daily routines I have here at the Peabody!

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’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.

Identifying Patterns!

Contributed by Rachel Manning

Out of all the artifacts that I have worked with over the course of my career, one of my favorite types has always been historic ceramics. There are so many different ceramic types and beautiful decorative patterns that it’s easy to see why ceramics can often become collector’s items. Transferware has always been particularly interesting to me. Maybe it’s because there is such a wide array of images and scenery that can be depicted on this type of ceramic.

One of my previous jobs dealt heavily with colonial and antebellum artifacts, so transfer printed ceramic fragments would come through the lab on a regular basis. One of my favorite things to do there was to identify the specific patterns on the fragments as best I could. In order to do that I had many resources, including a Powerpoint with typologies found at the site and access to the Transferware Collectors Club website.

Last week, I decided to inventory a drawer which has historic ceramics in it. I rarely see historic ceramics here, so I figured it would be a good way to keep them fresh in my mind. When it came time to catalog the ceramics, I organized them in my workspace by colors, and then further broke these groups into design patterns.

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Organizing ceramics!

I had kept the aforementioned Powerpoint on a flash drive in case I ever ran into historic ceramics again. It was open on my computer while I was going through this particular drawer and it proved to be a valuable resource once again. I had a few fragments of transfer printed ceramics in front of me and noticed that even though they were tiny sherds, I was able to see that they contained images of grain, a foot, and a window with some shrubs.

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The foot of a gleaner
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Ceramic fragment with a window and shrubs
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Ceramic fragment with gathered wheat

Going through the Powerpoint, I immediately recognized that these match up with a transfer pattern that is known as “Gleaners.” The rim pattern also was a dead giveaway, but that didn’t make it any less exciting to see that from a few tiny pieces of ceramic, I could get a vision of what the entire vessel once looked like!

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An entire vessel with the “Gleaners” pattern.

Finding fragments of transfer printed ceramic is always exciting and can be like having pieces of a puzzle that you need to put together. Many antique transfer printing patterns are still used and reproduced to this day. If you have any in your possession, or know anyone else who does, I’d encourage you to look it up online and see what you can learn about something you might have once thought was just a cool decorative piece.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’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.

A Move Around the Country

This job is awesome, but sometimes the material I work with can get pretty repetitive. I have been working on cataloging a bay full of artifacts from sites throughout Massachusetts. This allowed me to see what had been discovered throughout the state in which I now live. While there were a few ground stone tools, the vast majority of artifacts I cataloged were modified stone and bifaces. Drawer after drawer, box after box was filled to the brim with fragments of stone that had been worked by someone, but never fully formed into a usable tool such as a projectile point or a blade, and while it is still incredible to see these artifacts and be able to hone my skills identifying worked stone, it started getting very redundant.

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A completed box of modified stone – more layers under the ethofoam

Luckily for me, when I need a change of pace, I can walk over to another bay and choose drawers from almost anywhere in North America. After cataloging hundreds, if not thousands, of modified stone fragments, I decided to take a break from the Northeast and I moved to a bay containing artifacts from Idaho, Kansas and Iowa. So far these drawers have been amazing! While there are still amorphous fragments of modified stone, the number of finished tools far outweighs them. This particular drawer has many finished projectile points.

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Tiny projectile points!

Not only are they finished points, some of them are seriously tiny! A couple haven’t been much bigger than my pinky nail, and I have pretty small hands. It is incredible to see how small they are and think about the craftsmanship that must have gone into making such a tiny specimen. The level of precision and the skill that must have been required to craft these projectile points without them breaking must have been tremendous. Getting to see final products such as these has the power to make counting all the other fragments of modified stone worth it.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’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.

A Day in the Life of Boxing Boxes

Contributed by Rachel Manning

Hi, my name is Rachel and I was hired in August as the Inventory Specialist at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. I am originally from upstate New York although for part of 2016 and the majority of 2017 I did work primarily in Virginia. For my first blog post I wanted to give a brief overview of my daily activities.

The main goal of the project I was hired to do is to conduct a complete inventory and rehousing of the collections at the Peabody. This is a task that has never been done before. Currently, the majority of the collections are housed in the wooden drawers that were brought into the Peabody in the 1930s. In each drawer, collections objects are housed in tan artifact boxes.

This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.
This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.

Every day I take the objects out of the tan box and record information about them such as what the object is, what its catalog number is, how many there are and their current location. I then record all of this information into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, put the objects back into their tan box and put them into the new gray (or blue, depending on who is asked) archival box. Currently I am working on drawers containing collections from Massachusetts.

These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.
These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.

This type of work is something I have done since 2013 when I was a graduate student at SUNY Albany. It is work that I genuinely enjoy doing, which makes getting up in the morning and coming to the Peabody a whole lot easier. It is always amazing to handle various collections. Doing so has helped me to learn so much more than I ever thought I could about material culture from all over the United States. I know working at the Peabody will help push that knowledge even further. It’s such a great experience to be able to work on a collection from Massachusetts one day, then move to a collection from Ohio or Indiana or even the Yukon the next day.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’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.