This article talks about the role of diseases in shaping the genetic diversity of contemporary Native American communities. Historically these effects were documented by written accounts with little to no physical evidence since most European introduced diseases leave no evidence on bone. Recent breakthroughs in DNA markers, however, have been able to physically prove the evolutionary effects of these pandemics.
An interesting article that not only highlights the use of modern science in investigating historic traumas, but a great example of how important cultural context is both historically and in a contemporary lens.
Not only is this a super cool article talking about the first example of in situ beer making in China, but also a great example of how archaeologists are able to extrapolate larger and further reaching conclusions from a small snap shot of the past.
A quick Google search reveals that Ruth Benedict still looms large in the minds of contemporary anthropologists. Benedict (1887-1948) is known for many things—she was a favorite student of anthropology icon Franz Boas, she conducted multidisciplinary work across anthropology, psychology, and social science, and was close friend and confidant of Margaret Mead. Mead wrote a marvelous biography of her friend that gives her impressions alongside published and unpublished works by Benedict. Biographies continue to appear, including two dual bios of Mead and Benedict. Benedict wrote and talked about the paradigm shift in our field that she witnessed in the twentieth century as Boasian humanism gave way to scientific approaches. She famously argued that anthropology needed both.
Benedict has fared pretty well in the internet age. Blogger Jason Antrosio, writing at Living Anthropologically, pits Benedict against social geographer Jared Diamond, arguing that Benedict did what Diamond does, only better, more eloquently, with at least as much erudition, more personally, and at least seventy-five years before Diamond. Antrosio’s satiric comparison specifically looks at Diamond and Benedict’s take on what traditional societies have to teach the Western world. Likewise, Alex Golub, in his blog Savage Minds, argues that Benedict’s concise prose presages today’s best blog writing. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of Benedict’s more pithy insights appear on internet sites dedicated to quotation. One of these quotes has gotten a lot of attention recently—here it is:
“The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences”
Along with a presence on the quotation websites, this quote has made the rounds as an internet meme (framed against a nice photo of Benedict) and, perhaps most famously, was featured in remarks made by President Barack Obama during a press conference with Afghan President Ghani on March 24, 2015. The President referred to his own mother’s training as an anthropologist, as well as Ghani’s background. The remark, however, doesn’t specifically attribute the quote to Benedict. Simon Kuper, writing in The Financial Times, has dubbed Barack Obama the “anthropologist-in-chief” and a number of others have pointed out that President Obama’s interest in anthropology has tracked a growing interest in our discipline.
Specifically too, that quotation has resonated with a lot of people, myself included. I added it to my e-mail signature sometime over the summer—a place that I usually reserve for my contact info alone. I did notice, however, that while the quote appeared on a lot of websites, there was never any specific source cited. Archaeologist Meg Conkey told me recently that she too like the quote, but was unsure of its origins. She asked me if I knew and pointed out a Reddit post about the quote. The Reddit post argues that “Ruth Benedict never said it, not in any of her published writings. It seems to be merely myth. It is never specifically cited, nor does it make historical sense. In her own time, anthropology was a SCIENCE, not a political party.” The post includes a long list of internet memes, blog posts, and other websites that all attributed the quote to Benedict, but with no specific reference to back it up.
The quote aside for a moment, it is pretty clear that Benedict’s work had a strong political element. In many ways, as a cultural relativist, she sought to challenge American exceptionalism with her work. Benedict, along with anthropologist Gene Weltfish, prepared a pamphlet titled “The Races of Mankind” in 1943, intended as a guide for American troops operating overseas. This became an appendix to later editions of her 1940 book Race: Science and Politics, which makes both a humanistic and scientific case for the equality of all races.
During WWII Benedict prepared an “ethnography at a distance” study of Japanese culture for the U.S. Office of War Information, which appeared in 1946 as The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. Along with her earlier work, Patterns of Culture, Chrysanthemum remains one of Benedict’s iconic projects. And it may provide a clue about that quote. This is what Benedict writes on page 14 of Chrysanthemum:
“The tough-minded are content that differences should exist. They respect differences. Their goal is a world made safe for differences, where the United States may be American to the hilt without threatening the peace of the world, and France may be France, and Japan may be Japan on the same conditions.”
Anthropologists certainly are a tough-minded lot, even if we get a bit loosey-goosey on our quotations. I suppose this is a consequence of progress, as brainyquotes.com replaces Bartlett’s.
A trip to the bookshelf provides another clue. On page 402 of their textbook Anthropology: The Human Challenge (15th edition) William Haviland and his co-authors include a nice profile of Ruth Benedict. There they say:
As Benedict herself once said, the main purpose of anthropology is “to make the world safe for human differences.”
So, she did say this, or at least something a lot like this. For the precise, we should likely reconsider using those quotes or their exact placement. It’s not surprising, however, that we still have a special place for Benedict in our discipline. Blogger Antrosio makes a nice point that Benedict, however, isn’t perfect, and that she suffers from the same flaws that afflict Jared Diamond:
“This history reveals the major theme missing from both Benedict and Diamond–an anthropology of interconnection. That as Eric Wolf described in Europe and the People Without History. Peoples once called primitive–now perhaps more politely termed tribal or traditional–were part of a co-production with Western colonialism.”
Johannes Fabian, in his 1983 book Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object, makes much the same argument. Despite the shortcomings, Benedict has a lot to offer, from ideas about cultural relativism and race, to the direction that anthropology can take in the twenty-first century. As the contemporary scientific paradigm breaks free of its dialectic with humanism, can humanism assert itself in whatever comes next?
Recently the History and Social Sciences Department has implemented significant changes to their History 100 curriculum, required of all ninth graders. One of the new features of the curriculum is the inclusion of “dips” or week long periods where students can delve more deeply into a subject. This allows students to practice historical literacy skills in a more targeted manner, while also offering the opportunity for more hands-on and experiential learning.
That’s where the Peabody comes in.
Both the Education and Collections programs at the Peabody have teamed up with the History and Social Sciences faculty to offer a week long intensive investigation of trade networks in the Americas. The focus of the week is to learn how to read objects as primary sources and to look for patterns and similarities between cultures to learn about the connections between the groups. The cultures that students will be focusing on are the Hopewell, Pueblo, Maya, and Moche.
For an entire week each Winter and Spring terms the majority of ninth graders will descend upon the Peabody to work extensively with our collections from the four cultures. The objects will be set up in “stations” according to their cultural groups and working in teams, students will rotate through each station examining the object and collaboratively answering questions.
Afterward, the teams will get images of all the objects and will be asked to sort them – using any criteria they want – before sharing their decisions with the class. Looking at objects creatively in this manner has often helped archaeologists to make connections that they might have missed otherwise.
One example of a trade connection is our cylinder jar from Chaco Canyon, which shares its shape with cylinder jars produced by the Maya. Many of the Maya cylinder jars held drinks made from cacao, and so it was thought that perhaps chocolate residue might be found in the ones from Chaco Canyon. And it was!!!
Chaco Cylinder Jar
Maya Cylinder Jar
We look forward to working with students and faculty on this amazing adventure! (Although you will probably find us drinking soda or other caffeinated beverages after as we recover from the onslaught of the entire Junior class.)
November 1 is still a few weeks away but Dia de los Muertos—the Mexican Day of the Dead—came early to the Peabody. On Thursday September 29 Dr. Marisela Ramos of the History and Social Sciences Department brought her History 200 class. The class has been learning about different civilizations from around the world and the Peabody’s Dia de los Muertos lesson is a fun and interactive way for the students to learn about a holiday that is still celebrated today, but which has deep roots to a time before Europeans came to the Americas.
The holiday is celebrated in Mexico and is a mix of traditional native beliefs (primarily from the Maya and Aztec cultures) that were combined with European Catholic traditions. It is believed that between October 31 and November 2—coinciding with Catholicism’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day—that the souls of loved ones return. Many homes have alters with images of the deceased. Marigolds are often placed on the alters, as the smell helps guide the souls home, and food is left out for the souls to eat after their long journey.
Our alter has images of notable people connected with the Peabody:
Robert Singlton Peabody – Our founder and PA class of 1857. His image is always in a place of honor.
Charles Peabody – Son of Robert and the first director of the Peabody Museum.
Warren Moorehead – Excavated many important archaeological sites and appointed by Theodore Roosevelt to the federal Board of Indian Commissioners.
Alfred Kidder – Considered the “Grandfather of American Archaeology” for his work at Pecos Pueblo.
Douglas Byers – Helped to professionalize the field of archaeology into a legitimate science.
Frederick Johnson – One of the first archaeologists to engage experts from other fields while investigating the Boylston Street Fishweir site in Boston.
Adelaide Bullen – Excavated the Lucy Foster Site in Andover, one of the first archaeological studies of a free Black
Ripley Bullen – Husband of Adelaide. Excavated many sites locally in and around Andover while doing graduate work at Harvard.
Richard “Scotty” MacNeish – Investigated the origins of agriculture and civilization in the Americas.
Gene Winter – Served as museum caretaker in the 1980s and served as honorary curator. He was associated with the museum for over 70 years.
Students in Dr. Ramos’s class helped arrange the altar and made paper flowers to decorate the shrine as they also enjoyed traditional Mexican candy given out during the holiday.
This summer we have worked on updating our course catalog that we share with the faculty at Andover. All of our programs incorporate the Peabody’s unique artifacts into classes that allow students to explore topics in art, history, science, foreign languages, math, music, and many other subjects. While we offer many classes that support the goals and objectives of faculty through meaningful and engaging experiences for their students, we are also always have to collaborate to create new learning opportunities.
This year we are working with the History Department to create a week long activity for all History 100 students. It is an artifact rich class which will rely heavily on the expertise and assistance of our Curator of Collections, Marla Taylor. The in-depth lesson will focus on the interaction and trade roots of the Moche, Maya, Puebloan, and Hopewell cultures. We cannot wait to get started!
To see what other lessons and activities we offer to the different departments at Phillips Academy, please browse our catalog
Recently I have been interested in expanding our programming around the methods used by indigenous people to create and decorate ceramic vessels. While at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in April 2016 I saw Florida’s archaeology month poster, which features “Artisans of the Woodlands.” The poster described how Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery was decorated with intricate designs stamped on the surface of the vessel with a carved paddle; the poster even featured a replica paddle. Ah ha!!!!! Genius! Now I knew what I wanted to do and I knew just who to contact.
When I arrived back on campus I contacted Claudia Wessner, OWHL Makerspace Coordinator, and asked if the library’s laser cutter could reproduce one of the complicated stamped paddles. She was sure it could and was excited to collaborate on such an interesting project. I just had to find JPEG images of line drawings that could be uploaded.
With that in mind I began looking through the book A World Engraved edited by Mark Williams and Daniel T. Elliott. The book focuses on the Swift Creek culture, which is centered in the Southeastern United States. The Swift Creek people are famously known for their pottery which features intricate paddle stamped designs. It is believed that by gaining insight and knowledge about these designs that archaeologists might be able to begin to understand more abstract aspects of the culture, such as religion and world view.
One of the designs that Claudia and I selected was a Late Swift Creek design (circa AD 580) which is a mask-like image with slanting eyes, furrowed brows, and a frowning mouth. The image that we used as a starting point for the laser cut design can be found on page 63 (Figure 6-1) in the chapter Swift Creek Design Investigations: The Hartford Case written by Frankie Snow in A World Engraved.
We also picked a design that was used in another type of pottery called Irene Complicated Stamped. The name for this pottery is only used for specific pottery found on the Georgia coast. To be honest I only picked this because we had just hired Irene Gates as our temporary archivist and I thought it was so fun that there was a stamped design that shared her name!
Claudia and I spent an entire day testing out depth and paddle handle width and have finally settled on what we believe will be the best paddle type for the large variety of people who will be using them. This has certainly been a fun and educational project!
Embarking on a full inventory and rehousing of your museum collection is a daunting task. Transferring approximately 1,700 drawers into 3,000 archival boxes will take years of work. Fortunately for me, I have access to an invaluable resource – Phillips Academy students.
For a week in July, two Lowers (10th graders) came to the Peabody every day for four hours to fulfill their work duty commitment for the school year. I gave them a crash course in artifact identification and object handling techniques before they got down to business. As they worked through the meticulous process of inventorying everything in the collection, they made crucial observations that will improve my workflow. Together, these two students recorded the contents of twenty-nine drawers!
Work duty students will continue to be an essential work force as we move through the collection. I will share their progress and successes in the months and years to come.
Warps, warp-face, wefts, weft-face, ikat or jaspe, brocade, coiling, twining, plaiting—these technical terms come from the language of weaving. For students in Therese Zemlin’s art class, an exploration of weaving was motivation for a tour of collections at the Peabody Museum in April and May 2016 with research associate Catherine Hunter. The themes were textiles of Guatemala and Peru, and Native American baskets.
Weaving involves the interlacing of two elements: warp and weft. The loom supports vertical elements or yarns (warps) under tension. Then, weaving is the process of interlacing horizontal elements (wefts) side-to-side perpendicular to the warps. The weaver manipulates the colors and density of the warp or weft, making the potential for new designs endless.
Forty items were selected from the museum’s collection of 400+ 20th century Guatemalan textiles and back-strap looms, and ancient Peruvian textiles. The majority were blouses called huipiles, assembled from several parallel lengths of cloth. Among the Maya distinctive traditional designs have been associated with specific villages. Communities consistently favor bright colors with beautiful sophisticated geometric and zoomorphic designs.
From an inventory of 350 19th-20th century Native American baskets, 20 were chosen to represent the cultural preferences of five geographic regions. This tradition is acknowledged as the finest expression of its type, setting the standard for anyone who studies baskets as art. The basic techniques are coiling, twining and plaiting.
There is remarkable ingenuity in the variety of plants and trees discovered for basketry materials, including ash splints, river cane, pine needles, roots, grasses, and red cedar. Harvesting and processing of materials was a time-consuming community activity with an appreciation of seasonal and sustainable practices.
There is amazing vitality in the forms of baskets including bowls, jars, rectangles, cones, trays, and plaques. Fascinating objects in themselves, it is all the more interesting to know their uses include food gathering, cooking (in water tight baskets), water bottles, seed bottles, pictorial trays illustrating mythology, feather-covered gift baskets, hats, and forms targeting the interest of tourists.
Students investigating the coloring and construction of some of the baskets
Catherine leading an interactive example of weaving techniques
Catherine holding a Navajo basket
Both traditions—Guatemalan weaving and Native American basketry— continue today as a source of cultural pride for communities and as professions for artists.
Catherine K. Hunter is an independent museum consultant whose career began in the Department of Textiles at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She began an inventory of the Peabody Museum’s basket collection in November 2015 and will complete the project in summer 2016.
Scholars, museum professionals, educators and interested members of the public gathered at Salem State University for a symposium that delved into the history and implications of slavery in New England. Essex Heritage organized this event to be interactive and engaging. In addition to scholars they also invited the participants to explore the topic through breakout sessions and facilitated activities.
Beth Beringer of Essex Heritage invited me to lead one of the activities. During the morning session I lead participants through our History 200 lesson, The Little Spots Allow’d Them. Participants explored how landscapes can and have shaped human behavior using archaeological data from Isaac Royall’s Ten Hills Farm in Medford, Mass. (now the Royall House and Slave Quarters).
The program then shifted to exploration of the difficult discussions that arise when confronting northern slavery. The experts on this panel had a diverse background as historians, professors, and museum professionals. They focused on meaningful strategies that could be used to engage any audience – classroom, museum goers, or the public – in a substantive manner.
Keynote speaker (and ChuBbs Woodrow Randall enthusiast) Dr. Joanne Pope Melish spoke about the often complex relationship that New England had with the institution of slavery. She focused on the impact that this history has had on the region and its legacy today. Melish was also quick to point out that “rich men did not own slaves. Slaves made men rich” and how we need to shift the typical narratives used when engaging with students in any setting.
There also was a group of museum educators who talked about their unique ways of engaging the public in the history of slavery in New England. Maryann Zujewski from Salem Maritime National Park has been working with Dr. Bethany Jay of Salem State University to reframe their interpretive tours so that they are not simply ADDING black people to history, but that they and other minorities are becoming more integrated in a meaningful and natural manner. Olivia Searcy discussed how she has helped to create the educational programming for the Royall House and Slave Quarters Museum in a manner that has focused on the history of the enslaved people at the site. The Caribbean Connections program from the House of the Seven Gables is a duel language program, described by Ana Nuncio as innovative in its outreach to minority groups in a community which might not otherwise feel welcomed in a museum setting.
At the end of the day participants could self-select into a variety of breakout sessions to dive further into a topic of interest.
This symposium was very important and offered me a great deal of new information and ways of thinking. I am already furiously at work on how to integrate all that I learned into the lessons and activities that I teach. I hope that another symposium of this kind will be offered again and I anxiously await word from my friends at Essex Heritage!