In the last two weeks, we have had three major Nor’easters here in New England. Fortunately, it has been while students are on break and has not slowed down the creation of new lessons for spring term.
“A man never lies in his garbage heap” – Franz Boas.
Last term I was approached by Emma Frey, faculty in history, to create a single period activity that would introduce her 9th graders to the concept of reading objects as text and use them to tell a story. As Emma and I talked and brainstormed, we decided on an existing lesson that I had created years ago for our Archaeology Explorers and how we could flesh it out so that it better met Emma’s class goals and objectives. The activity is a garbology lesson called Trash Talks!
In the activity students are divided into three groups and are given a bag of clean trash. While working together to sort and identify the trash, each group also compiles a biography of the person(s) who created the trash. They will be asked to make observations and inferences about the trash and what it might reflect about a person, such as their gender, age, activities, etc.
While the trash is “modern” the principles that students use to analyze the trash are the same as the ones that archaeologists use to study cultures of the past.
I am very excited to run this lesson with students and to see how they interpret the trash!
The past five years have been a busy time for museums- most notably in the image department. Following a number of high profile controversies, a lot of people–audiences, and museum professionals alike–asked what role museums play in our society? Here are a couple of recent articles dealing with this subject head on.
Last month saw the release of Marvel’s newest blockbuster, Black Panther. Besides being a fantastic movie, this film offers a unique chance to open dialogues on a large scale about many topics- least of which are museums as mechanisms of colonialism. This article discusses how and why museum professionals especially should look at their roles in this and the effects they have on the audiences we try to reach. The piece ends by laying out suggestions for how museums can move forward incorporating and working towards more diverse and open dialogues between communities.
This article opens with the quote, “history matters because it has contemporary consequences,” and it just gets better from there. Directors Kevin Gover (National Museum of the American Indian) and Lonnie Bunch (National Museum of African American History and Culture) participated in a day long symposium titled, “Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory,” in which they talked about confronting the historic and continued racist ideologies that are entrenched in contemporary American society and the role of museums. They specifically discuss the example of the concurrent rise of confederate statues and racist mascots.
Chronicling a series of high profile controversies, this article looks at the combination of factors that have led to these, as well as the changes they are bringing to museums and their operation. It also discusses why museums have become ground zero for explosive cultural encounters stating, “We’re in a time when these issues are real, these controversies are part of public space and public discourse, and museums are going to become the places where these issues get played out.”
This article showcases the role museums have within their respective walls and how they are branching out to have far reaching impacts in classrooms all over the nation. Similar to classes taught at the Peabody by Curator of Education, Lindsay Randall, this article follows the creation and implementation of National Museum of the American Indian’s newest initiative, Native Knowledge 360. NK360 is a “long-term initiative to integrate the Native American experience into social studies, language arts and other curriculum in kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms across the country.” This program works with the inclusion and cooperation of Native communities and educators as well as provides educational materials for teachers.
The collections staff at the Peabody keep telling me that I can’t have a cat. Which I guess was fair, until I found out that all this time they have been hiding a jaguar in our basement!
A few weeks ago I was approached by Elizabeth Aureden, instructor in music, to design an interactive class for her Music 410 course, The Musical Brain. While looking through our collections for musical instruments, I learned from collections assistant Samantha Hixson that she had just found and catalogued some effigy rattles.
The objects were made of clay and painted a variety of colors, and some still rattled.
This new find seemed very promising and so I wanted to learn more about them. Research indicated that these objects were from the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and most likely date from AD 1000 – 1350.
The parts we have are clearly broken and part of a much larger artifact. These are the remnants of the tripod legs of a rattle effigy vessel. Each of the three legs would have contained three clay balls and had openings on the side for the sound. When shaken a rhythmic sound can be heard.
That’s pretty neat! But the story became even cooler as I found more information about this style of pottery.
The bowls were used to add a percussive sound to a ceremony. And the sound it made was not an accidental rattling sound, but rather a deliberate and meaningful one. When the bowl is shaken or moved about, and the clay balls rattle together, they create a deep, rumble. This sound is mimicking the low growl of an actual jaguar!!!!! Researchers have even noted that when the bowl is tilted and moving forward – like a jaguar lunging at prey – the sound is more prominent.
If your interest is now piqued about other objects from the Nicoya Peninsula, check out Dr. Rebecca Stone’s book, The Jaguar Within.
So next time you are at the Peabody be on the lookout, because you never know what other predatory animals might be lurking!!!
I recently received two requests from history faculty for our class on Westward Expansion. Unfortunately, we recently determined that the majority of the objects used for that class should be further investigated to see if they are potential NAGPRA objects – specifically items of cultural patrimony. Which meant that if I was to fulfill the requests of these teachers I needed to come up with a new activity FAST! I had less than two working weeks to formulate and flesh out what the seventy-minute class would do.
While I was scrolling online for ideas my colleague Samantha Hixson mentioned a Plains dress that we had – thus giving me an “A HA!!!!” moment. I had seen a lesson related to a Plains dress from the National Museum of the American Indian. That got me thinking and served as a foundation for my own lesson.
I decided to use multiple objects from the Peabody Institute’s collection to understand the long standing close connection that Plains tribes had to their surroundings and communities through traditions. Through the lens of one aspect of life – clothing – the impact that Westward Expansion had on tribes will be more clearly defined.
In addition to the dress I also selected a pair of beaded moccasins, one of the muslin pencil drawings (reproduction), a defleshing tool, as well as a bison skin rattle (reproduction). The class begins with students wandering around the room, simply exploring the objects scattered about before working together to dive more deeply into the material culture.
Some of the questions students are asked are basic observational ones: “what material is the dress made from.” Others begin to stretch their understanding of the process of making clothing: “what role did men and boys have in the creation of the dress and shoes.” We also delve into why decorations are important, not only in the culture we are studying, but our own as well.
We then pause as a class to talk about traditions and what they mean to us personally. We talk about the positive influence they have on us and how they bring us closer together as a community (Head of School Day was a favorite tradition that was mentioned. One can tell that the speculation amongst students of when it will be called is going strong!!).
We then discuss how the actions of white settlers and the government destroyed the traditions of Plains tribes and how this affected communities. This was a very emotional part of the class for many students. It is certainly one thing to read about atrocities in the past through the emotional barrier of a textbook – and quite another to “see” it when looking at the clothing that a real person wore. And based on an email I received from one of the faculty asking for more resources for students to further investigate the impact on tribes and how they are dealing with it today, it is a lesson that has already had a lasting impact on the students.
But I do not want to end my post on such a heavy note, so I will tell you about a great way that everyone at the Peabody supports the work of each other. For the first class Samantha sat in on the activity and was VERY helpful. While she did answer some of the student questions – which was very nice and I do not mean to diminish how helpful that was – but more importantly SHE WAS WEARING QUILL EARRINGS!!!!! And in the lesson I mentioned QUILLING!! So I may have made asked her to take them out so that I could show them to students.
She also noticed that I mention elk tooth beads in my lesson and shared with me that students had recently discovered one in our collections! SCORE!!!! Collaboration for the WIN!
During Fall Term I worked with Meg Bednarcik and Nick Zufelt – both Instructors in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science – to create a class that would focus on the computer science concepts of looping and parameters.
We decided to utilize the extensive Guatemalan textile collection at the Peabody, as they are brightly colored and engaging and most have repeating, or looping, motifs. We also liked the idea of incorporating clothing made and worn exclusively by indigenous women into a subject where they are woefully underrepresented.
Eighteen huipils (wee-peels) were pulled for the class, with the images of another twelve scanned. A huipil is a traditional Maya women’s shirt.
The first activity was a matching game to show students how huipils had silent information encoded into them about the wearer’s home community. Each village has its own distinctive design. The students were given twelve cards with images of other huipils in our collection and asked to match them to huipils that were laid out in the room. The following images are from three villages, highlighting how the differences between villages, as well as the variation within a particular village.
Huipil from San Mateo
Huipil from San Mateo
Huipils from San Mateo
Huipil from San Ildefonso
Huipil from San Ildefonso
Huipils from San Ildefonso
Huipil from Almolongo
Huipil from Almolongo
Huipils from Almolongo
Then students worked with either Meg or Nick to find designs that had looping designs, or nested loops. Then they worked on creating parameters for the designs they had found.
The third activity was asking students to identify certain motifs that are common in Maya imagery. Some, such as a deer, were more literal then others, such as the feathered water serpent or portals.
And as you learn in the write up bellow by Meg, this class served as the starting point for a term long project the students will be working on:
My AP CS A students ventured to the Peabody Institute to learn of Guatemalan huipils and the stories these women’s clothes tell of personal identity. The students will complete follow-up assignments to program their own design defining their personal identity here at the academy and beyond utilizing programming concepts learned in class such as objects and repetitions. Though many students were shocked to be at the Peabody for a CS class, they left reflecting on the many ways these programming ideas apply to other aspects of our world. I am eager to continue to utilize these resources at our fingertips to allow students the space to ponder their place in our interconnected world beyond PA, and consider the beneficial impact their work as computer scientists can have on others outside of the classroom.
~ Meg Bednarcik, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science
This has been one of the most interesting and fun classes for me to develop. I really enjoyed working with and learning about part of our collection that is underutilized. But most of all, I have been thoroughly engrossed by the current action Maya women are taking to ensure that their designs are protected and not appropriated. Based on the information I gleaned from my research, I included a huipil from Santiago Sacatepéquez, which is the only community so far that has been able to give legal protection to their woven intellectual property.
To learn more about huipils and their images, visit Guatemala City’s Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Textiles and Clothing website.
Below are symbols found in some of the huipils in the Peabody’s collection:
Serpent motif –geometric designs known as “kumatz’in”. “The Kaqchikel term kumatz means snake, or the feathered serpent.
Deer – Deer held particular significance in Maya mythology and the Dance of the Deer, originating from pre-Conquest times, is still performed at festivals today.
The Double Headed Eagle – The double headed eagle in Maya mythology represents the Great God with two faces, one looking to good and the other to evil, or to heaven and earth. Double-headed birds are motifs frequently used for decorating ceremonial garments. The image to the right outlines the shape of the double headed eagle.
Sky bands – represents the path of the sun with the Xs formed in the “empty” space refers to the end of the solstices.
Offering plate / Portal – “portal” or “door” was the Maya name for the entrance into the “other world” (spirit world). The dot in the center represents the door through which an ancestor can travel.
The Star That Proceeds The Sun – This motif has been a part of Mesoamerican cosmology since Olmec times. It can be seen in celestial bands along with the sun, the moon, and particularly Venus. It is also featured in codices, such as the Popol Vuh.
Bird – At the beginning of the rains, and when maize is sowed, they can be seen in large quantities on the rivers and lakes.
Sun – A sun is embroidered around the neckline. If a woman in the village just became a widow, she would wear her huipil without the sun around the neck, because she would have lost her sun
Lightning – Vertical zigzag lines are associated with rain and lightning.
Lion / Jaguar – The animal has been given a mane, indicating European influence. The cougar or American lion has no mane.
This blog represents the tenth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled of the Peabody 25 tag!
Contributed by Samantha Hixson
Phillips Academy has had quite a love affair with Stuart Travis. You can see his work all over the campus; At the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, Paresky Commons, the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the Moncrieff Cochran Bird Sanctuary or, more importantly to this discussion, the Peabody. Most people are familiar with Travis’ great mural which flanks the stairwell in our main entrance, but many who come into the building are not aware that one of our two large dioramas was also made by the artist.
The Pecos diorama was commissioned by the Peabody to commemorate Alfred Kidder’s famous excavation in New Mexico and to illustrate stratigraphy, a dating technique he used on a large scale, that would form the bedrock of archaeological research. Douglas Byers, the Director at the time, mentioned the diorama in his 1940 annual report, stating,
“in the week before commencement our Southwestern Hall was opened to the public for the first time. This was subsequently closed because Mr. Travis’ model of Pecos was moved upstairs from the basement and remained uncompleted for several months during which time Mr. Travis was taken from this work to assist in the revision of the biology notebook and other projects. It is a pleasure to report that his work is now finished and the model is enclosed by a case designed and built by the School Carpenter Shop” (p4).
Pueblo Model under construction.
Pueblo Model under construction.
Not only does this passage give insight as to just how involved Travis was with the school as a whole, it also touches upon the history of the Peabody itself.
The Peabody has a history of change and evolution. In its 116-years it has gone through four different iterations of its name and the diorama has been around to see all but one through. At the time of the diorama’s creation the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, as it was known at the time, functioned as a traditional “items on display” type facility. The building was filled to the brim with glass exhibit cases full of objects from the collection, often related to research projects conducted by the Peabody staff.
The Peabody during the Byers & Johnson era.
The Peabody during the Byers & Johnson era.
Indeed, up until the Peabody’s recent past it was an exhibit centered museum, but as our director Ryan Wheeler posted we at the Peabody have entered a new phase in our story and are now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, and the diorama is still right by our side.
Packing up my car with artifacts always signals that I am off on an adventure!
Recently I traveled to Brookwood School in Manchester-by-the-Sea to work with the 4th grade classes. The students had recently begun learning about ancient cultures and how historians and scientists study them, particularly when there are no written records – or at least ones that we can read!
To help everyone better understand how archaeology allows us to investigate cultures of the past, I brought our mock excavation site. The faux dig is made up of painted canvas squares and real artifacts. It is based on a real archaeological dig that took place in Andover decades ago at a pre-contact Native American site, approximately 500 years old.
Working in groups, students rotated around each square or “unit” to look at the artifacts and to hypothesize what human activities were taking place. The groups were able to correctly identify which unit was similar to a kitchen, where the house stood, and where pottery was being made – proving that they had become experts in deciphering the clues left behind!
A few weeks ago I began trekking down to Cambridge every Tuesday evening for the class Principles of Editing, offered through Harvard Extension School. I signed up for the class as I was looking for something that would help me to improve and polish our lesson booklets and other educational materials as we share them with the public. Christina Thompson, editor for the Harvard Review, has structured the class to teach lay people how to produce good, clean copy when editing material such as blogs, newsletters, websites, brochures, and other text.
Christina has a quirky personality one expects in a writer and the other adult students frequently use humor to make points about the homework. My type of people! The camaraderie in the class certainly makes the late nights enjoyable.
I am looking forward to learning more about editing and to see what other rousing debates we will engage in. (Last week was about when to use Em dashes and En dashes. WARNING: they can elicit strong – occasionally violent – emotions in individuals!)
The Peabody Museum once again partnered with Dr. Bethany Jay, professor of history at Salem State University, to run the graduate summer institute class, Preserving the Past: Using Archaeology to Teach History.
The week long class focuses on how archaeology can be used in middle and high school classrooms as a way to talk about minorities who are often left out of the historical record. Each day was focused on a different minority group such as Native Americans, women, enslaved people, and free blacks.
Dr. Nate Hamilton giving a tour of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead
Excavating at RNH
Excavating at RNH
Students doing the Little Spots Allow’d Them lesson
Students on a tour of the Royall House and Slave Quarters museum
Each day gives students background content to ground them in the topic, a tour of a historic or other site, and hands-on lesson plans. This year’s lesson plans included the Peabody’s “Maps and Dreams,” which utilizes Native American petroglyphs as well as a map in Phillips Andover’s Knafel Map Collection and “Little Spots Allow’d Them,” which focuses on the archaeology of the Royall House and Slave Quarters. They also were able to see the mock excavation activity about Katherine Nanny Naylor which the Commonwealth Museum hosts as part of their Archaeology of the Big Dig.
The last day is always the highlight of the class. Dr. Nate Hamilton of University of Southern Maine generously lenthis time and expertise to the class, allowing the students to participate in a real excavation at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers MA.
Also this summer, Dr. Brad Austin of Salem State University brought his class Teaching Difficult Topics: Native American History to the Peabody. The class spent the day working with the Peabody’s History 300 lessons “alterNATIVE uses” and “Trail Where They Cried.”
In “alterNATIVE uses” students examine both a stone and metal projectile point to better understand how iron and trade affect both Native and European communities during the 1600 and 1700s. Each student was given a replica stone and metal projectile point along with the lesson plan.
In the “Trail Where They Cried” the students learned how to make the complex history of Cherokee Removal more accessible to students through a Choose Your Own Adventure style activity.
Both activities were a big hit and the students have asked to use more of the Peabody’s teaching resources.
Though the Peabody is small by museum standards we are mighty, especially when it comes to our baskets. With close to 400 baskets, the Peabody collection covers all major geographical regions and tribal communities of North America, and spans over 200 years. Baskets from notable artists like Molly Neptune Parker (Maine) and Clara Darden (Louisiana) help to support and curate these artists’ work, and are examples of continued and evolving traditions within Native communities.
Molly Neptune Parker
One of my first large projects at the Peabody was to completely catalog, inventory, and rehouse this great collection. The purpose of this was twofold:
First, it was important to consolidate our records regarding these baskets. Museums are full of information, and it’s usually in five different places! By gathering what we know, and putting it all in one place, we not only gain better control over this knowledge, but we make it more accessible to museum staff, researchers, and students. The convenience of this newfound accessibility encourages more use in the classroom and more research by professionals, giving these baskets the attention they deserve.
Secondly, by revamping the basket organization and rehousing, we are better able to care for these objects and their specific needs. Although baskets aren’t usually as fragile as most people fear, they still require some TLC. By creating storage mounts that are custom designed to each basket, we are able to provide more support to the object, especially when it is being moved and shifted around during handling. Within our ethnographic storage, space is at a premium, so another byproduct of the rehousing was the space it opened up. We were able to clear seven shelves!
Happy baskets, happy collection staff.
To see previous work done with the baskets by Catherine Hunter, check out these previous blogs!