Masks at the Peabody

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Masks are one of the most visual elements of a culture, often used to transform the wearer during rituals, ceremonies, or other events. The use of masks dates back thousands of years, at least to the Neolithic period some 9,000 years ago or much earlier. Many of our masks are believed to be from Mexico. Two years ago work duty students began researching some of the masks in our collection.  While not complete, their work has been invaluable for the classes we teach. Recently the Peabody pulled all the masks from our collection to share with students in Therese Zemlin’s art classes.

One class has an assignment to make a 3 dimensional clay gargoyle. By studying the Peabody’s masks students investigate how artist’s created expressions, developed the proportions of facial features, and how human and animal features were melded together. The other class is learning to perceive minute details that are otherwise missed when we assume we understand what we see.

After looking at the masks and talking with me, the students are given time to begin sketching a mask of their choosing. This helps them to focus their attention even more and to gain a more intimate appreciation of the object in front of them, which will in turn aid them with their art projects.

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A student sketches a mask of unidentified origin

To see some of the masks that the Peabody has visit our online catalog: http://peabody.pastperfect-online.com/40391cgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=5114D1BC-AAD1-4BF5-A8B7-271626649170;type=101

Blubber: It’s what’s for dinner

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

The end of Winter Term has arrived and with it the bitter New England cold, which is fitting given our most popular lesson during this time is our Inuit focused activity, Blubber: It’s What’s for Dinner.

The lesson is part of the History 100 theme related to nomadic people. In the fall 9th graders learn about the Bedouins who travel throughout a desert landscape. During winter term students continue that theme by learning about the Mongols, a nomadic group who live in the Asiatic steppe. Classes examine the Peabody’s arctic collections as a way to support their learning about nomadic societies, giving them a chance to apply concept they have learned in class and applying them to another nomadic culture.

The three extreme environments; desert, temperate grasslands, and the frozen north help to highlight the similarities of the three groups. This allows students to pick out important key aspects that are central to any nomadic group, no matter the landscape they inhabit.

Students move between four stations that are set up around the Peabody and work in groups to determine answers to the following questions:

  • What is each object? How was it used?
  • What is the object made from?
  • Why are the objects grouped together?

As class begins we review what it means to be nomadic and how that might be reflected in material culture. An initial activity emphasizes that everything a nomadic person carries has a purpose and the heavier an item, the more important it might be.

This is illustrated by the object depicted below. Students quickly determine that it is made from stone, which automatically demonstrates its importance.  The shape suggests that it was made to hold something, similar to a bowl. They know that whatever it held had to be extremely important. Some students notice that each bowl has some black markings around the rim. It is usually this revelation that helps students to work towards the correct assumption – the bowl held fire, which in the arctic is central to survival.

This stone blubber lamp was collected by William Duncan Strong in Hopedale, Labrador Canada. You can see charring along the edge as well as a hole in the center to hold the wick.
This stone blubber lamp was collected by William Duncan Strong in Hopedale, Labrador Canada. You can see charring along the edge as well as a hole in the center to hold the wick.

This is one of my favorite lessons to do because it gets students to look at objects as cultural markers and to understand how they can be “read” for information about the people who made and used them.

The class is also a source of enjoyment because of how deeply engaged students get, particularly when I give them frustrating answers. “Yes but no” or “no, but close” are two of the phrases I often tell students when they share with me their hypotheses about the objects.

To many students these answers are a challenge. However, the most enjoyable moment is when the entire group rushes across the room to conspiratorially whisper their new answers to me  – least their classmates hear – and jump around in joy to find out they are, in fact, correct.

Best. Part. Of. Teaching. EVER.

Lindsay Randall revealing to the entire class the names and uses of objects at one of the stations.
Lindsay Randall revealing to the entire class the names and uses of objects at one of the stations.

 

 

Race and Identity in Indian Country

The end of fall term means the (temporary) end to one of my favorite collaborations – Marcelle Doheny’s Race and Identity in Indian Country course.

During the fall 2015 term, 11 Phillips Academy students explored the complicated relationship between Native Americans, museums and archaeology. Topics included scientific racism, federal Indian policies, museum collection practices, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  The culmination of the course was to use the Peabody collection to re-present the stories in our main exhibit gallery with a more inclusive voice.

Curator of education Lindsay Randall and I co-taught the class with Ms. Doheny. We were able to join most of the class discussions and provide perspective from our archaeology and museum experiences. I also enjoyed making the collection accessible to the students as they worked to create their final projects.

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Students examine a headdress from Lakota Chief Rain in the Face

Watching the final presentations of the student’s revised exhibitions during assessment week was the perfect culmination to the term. Every group succeeded in reimaging how Native Americans are traditionally presented in an archaeology museum, moving beyond stone tools and ceramic pots. The students highlighted the continuity of native cultures despite the history of racism and dispossession.

I loved being a part of this course and look forward to being involved again next year!

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Final presentations!

History Class Meets Wampanoag Leader

Contributed by Lindsay Randall5db7be91c83fdc0a56e7800a9944a838

Image of Edith Andrews taken from patch.com http://patch.com/rhode-island/bristol-warren/massasoit-memorial-takes-step-forward 

On November 6, students in Marcelle Doheny’s Race and Identity in Indian Country course met with Edith Andrews of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

That morning, I left my house early to pick up Edith at her home in North Dartmouth. The two-hour drive back to Andover was full of laughter as Edith has a wicked sense of humor. After we arrived, the entire museum staff, along with some of our colleagues from the OWHL, joined Edith and me for lunch at Paresky Commons, where she regaled us with stories about her family, including the fact that her children had attended private school and that her grandchildren were studying at Dartmouth and the University of Southern New Hampshire. We also laughed over her story about her husband’s attempt to clear out clutter during a move, inadvertently leaving behind a first edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. We were all instructed to keep an eye out for the gray, clothbound volume in used-book stores on Cape Cod.

Edith’s conversation with students gave them a firsthand look at NAGPRA—the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act—from the American Indian perspective. The passage of NAGPRA in 1990 signaled a shift in the disciplines of archaeology and museology. Not only did the Act create a process for tribes to claim the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred items, and objects of cultural patrimony, but also it caused museum personnel and archaeologists to start changing how they think about and interact with descendant communities. Collaborative projects and indigenous archaeology are now fairly common. Despite that, there are significant challenges to compliance with NAGPRA, including difficulties in affiliating museum collections with contemporary tribes, lack of land for reburial of human remains, divergent interpretations of the law, and the sheer volume of human remains and funerary objects in museum collections. For example, a 2010 Government Accountability Office audit concluded that many federal agencies had not complied with the Act.

Students listened to Edith talk about her experience as a former Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs in the 1980s—the days just before the passage of NAGPRA, when every local law enforcement agency was storing human remains that could be repatriated and reburied under state law—as well as the use of the term “Native American” instead of “American Indian.” We all were particularly struck when Edith discussed the reluctance of museums to return funerary objects and items of cultural patrimony, even though these are clearly covered by the Act. She talked about the significant loss of Wampanoag material culture that began in the 17th century when Puritan colonists raided native graves for “pretties” (essentially grave goods and burial offerings) and how this continued throughout King Philip’s War, when trophies were taken by colonists and sent back to England. Most notable was a wampum belt, composed of white and purple shell beads, that is thought to be in the British Museum. Edith asked why the Wampanoag couldn’t expect the return of some of these items for display in their tribal museum.

Students in Race and Identity in Indian Country spent the fall term confronting the fraught history of American Indians. Major themes covered were scientific racism, government policy, and the role of museums in the near genocide of Native people. Edith’s visit was a reminder that American Indians are still here—as individuals and vibrant communities—and that repatriation is more than a fight over property, but one that cuts to the core of personal and community identity, health, and well-being.

After the students departed for sports and other commitments, Edith and I began our return trip to North Dartmouth. When I was pulling into her driveway she remarked that although she was glad to be home because it was home, she was sad that the day was done as she had very much enjoyed our wonderful students.

For more information on the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah): http://www.wampanoagtribe.net/Pages/index

Peabody Offers New Activity Focused on New England Slavery

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

This week saw the debut of the Peabody Museum’s History 200 lesson, “The Little Spots Allow’d Them: Slavery and Landscape in 18th-Century New England.” The lesson focuses on Ten Hills Farm, a property located in Medford, Mass., that was owned by the Royall family in the 1700s. Using the quote by Winston Churchill that “we make our buildings, and they in turn make us,” I ask students to look at how the landscape and architectural choices reflect and influence the values and roles of the individuals who created them, as well as how they continue to impact us today.

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The land in Medford was purchased by Isaac Royall Sr., a son of a modest carpenter who had amassed his wealth through his sugar plantation on Antigua. Royall Sr. and, later, his son, Isaac Royall Jr., built and modified a mansion house and slave quarters and installed lavish gardens, orchards, and other features into the landscape.

Royall

Image of Isaac Royall Jr courtesy of Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Royall,_Jr.#/media/File:Royall.jpg 

The choices the Royalls made regarding the placement of the buildings and modifications to the landscape reflected how they thought of themselves and the image they wanted to project, how they wanted their contemporaries to see them, and how they thought society should be ordered.

Images of Royall House and Slave Quarters courtesy of Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Royall_House 

The landscape and architecture of Ten Hills Farm was not solely a means to display the Royalls’ status and wealth to the other white inhabitants of Boston and surrounding land. They also served as a “conversation without words” between the masters and their slaves.

One of my favorite parts of the lesson is when I ask students to use strings to create lines of sight from the mansion house. After they have completed the task, they are able to see that a large section of the land next to the slave quarters cannot be seen from the mansion house. The students and I discuss why the Royalls would deliberately create a space that was out of their view, and then I challenge them to look at how those who were enslaved would have viewed the same parcel of land. To the slaves, this piece of land would have been one of the only places they could experience themselves and one another as human beings and retain some control over their lives.

At the end of the lesson, we discuss how the Colonial construction of racial categories was cemented and enforced through building and land-use choices. It is interesting to contemplate how building choices such as the ones made at Ten Hills Farm helped move the concept of blacks being “other” or “less than” from simply being an idea, to one that was tangible, was real, and, most insidiously, seemed natural.

This lesson is particularly important for our students to understand as they become more connected with the world outside of Phillips Academy and their home communities. We are still seeing the consequences of these “conversations without words” in our world today, with some of the most notable examples being Ferguson and Baltimore. As our students move forward in society, it is important that we support their ethical development and understanding.

An interesting recent development, and one that makes this lesson timely and even more important, concerns the Royall family and their connection to Harvard University. Harvard Law School was established through the bequest of Isaac Royall Jr.’s estate in 1817. The Royall family crest still serves as the school’s seal. There is a growing movement named Royall Must Fall asking for the removal of the seal due to its connection to slavery: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/11/10/student-group-opposes-harvard-law-seal-citing-slavery-ties/esUi7LUfqCS2oXSfUwuaNP/story.html

  • The Royall House and Slave Quarters Museum is a leader in the interpretation of slave history in the United States, particularly in New England: http://www.royallhouse.org/