Among Fossils and Relics, Peabody Plans for Revitalized Role in School Curriculum

The R.S. Peabody Museum, a 101-year-old treasure trove of Native American artifacts, will soon have a more prominent role on the Phillips Academy campus according to the new plan recently accepted by the Trustees. The plan creates the Educational Planning Oversight Committee to increase the visibility of the museum and the use of its resources by classes. The museum is also planning to undergo a capital campaign to raise money for programs and outreach. This news is a relief to the staff of the museum, who are overjoyed with the opportunity to continue what they feel so passionately about, especially since, as Collections Assistant Donny Slater said, “things were looking pretty grim for the Peabody’s chances.” The original intention of R. S. Peabody, an archaeology aficionado, was to promote the study of archaeology at Phillips Academy. The first goal of the committee is to increase on-campus awareness of the Museum. Dean of Studies Vincent Avery, a member of the committee, said, “The Peabody is a mystery to most people. We are looking to change that.” According to recommendations issued by the Peabody Planning Committee, the Peabody Museum will attempt to slowly integrate into the Andover academic curricula. Granted, as Dr. Avery said, “Archaeology is not suddenly going to be a course, but the Peabody will certainly be slowly integrated into the curriculum.” With the Trustees’ backing, the Peabody is now ready to begin its real task, starting with the Educational Planning Oversight Committee, to gauge the potential use of the resources. As Dr. Avery said, “The seeds have been planted – the committee’s job is to water them and see what springs up.” “We don’t want to heavy-handedly impose the Peabody on anyone,” he contined. “ We hope to show students the pathway into the Peabody and help the material reach out.” With this gradually integrated activity, the Peabody visitations will continue to remain “by appointment only.” With these guideposts, the once alienated Peabody hopes to gradually become more involved in the community. These recommendations are expected to be more successful than those of the past. Dr. Avery agreed, saying, “In the previous reopening, the direction was more ambitious than could be sustained. Now, with a very focused direction from the trustees, there is much more of a chance to accomplish what it was founded for.” Mr. Slater, employee, summarized: “Our first priority is beginning a fund to raise the endowment, to independently pay for the operating costs.” He continued, “Once this is accomplished, the next goal is to start a fund to begin to fix the building.” Museum Director Malinda Blustain described the museum and its contents as, “history writ small.” She continued, “The artifacts and knowledge provide a relevant look at the past, which helps to contextualize the present.” In and out of operation to the student body over the past 90 years, she said the Museum “needs to be more visible.” The report accepted by the Trustees indicates that the way to accomplish this task is through faculty interest. The Peabody Museum currently relies on the slow gathering of awareness, through word of mouth, to attract the few classes that utilize its resources. As Ms. Blustain noted, “There are just not enough of us to be an army out there.” Currently, biology classes use the Peabody’s resources for experimentation. Students have been able to analyze the DNA of an 800 year-old feather headdress and a piece of human hair found on the garment of a 1000 year-old basket weaver. Microbiology students learned how the spread of the“crowd diseases” of the early Indians were in direct correlation to the increase in corn agriculture. The History and Social Science Department has only grazed the surface of the Peabody’s resources, using the museum to supplement the study of the U.S.’s post-civil war period. Other disciplines make use of the facilities as well; art classes studied the collection of ceramics, and English students studied the culture and context of Southwestern stories they read.