Hidden within the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology are countless artifacts that span prehistoric weapons used for hunting and Native American stone carvings. These relics, curated since the institute’s establishment in 1903, have become a fundamental part of many curricula at Andover, providing students with an immersive learning experience.
Robert Peabody, Class of 1857, donated the museum in the early twentieth century as a place for students, educators, and historians to gather and learn. The building was to serve as a space in which students could learn about archaeology and anthropology — two fields Peabody never learned growing up.
The physical building was designed by Guy Lowell, architect of the Memorial Bell Tower and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and was originally inhabited by The Phillipian, Photography Club, and several other student associations.
Students and teachers have since utilized the institute’s 600,000 historical objects in subjects such as history, physics, English, and art. Lesson plans, designed in collaboration with the different departments and the Peabody staff, provide students with the opportunity to observe, analyze, and understand primary sources hands-on. Lessons in the Peabody have included trading simulations in History-101 classes and learning about Native American pottery in ceramics classes.
The institute has also collaborated with the Tang Institute’s Learning in the World Programs as well as students pursuing independent projects to foster passions for archaeology and take advantage of the historical importance of the building’s resources.
“What you’re doing is extending student knowledge of history by having them understand how to read objects as texts, not just written documents… There are astonishing collections here, which students get to see more than they used to. I got really interested in this place when I arrived because I’ve always loved Native American history, and to be at a high school where there’s a nationally renowned archaeological museum,” said Marcelle Doheny, Instructor in History and Social Science, “it’s just a gold mine.”
For faculty, the institute provides an engaging environment. Lindsay Randall, Coordinator of Education at the Peabody, aids faculty in bringing their classes to the museum.
Emma Frey, Instructor in History and Social Science, said, “We don’t take field trips here very often, so just being able to get out of the room, walk across campus, go to a different part of campus, and interact with people with different areas of expertise provides a more engaging experience.”
Currently, the Peabody is working to repatriate important Native American artifacts. Out of the hundreds of thousands of objects in the museum’s collection, many belong to Native American tribes, including human remains and funerary artifacts. The museum’s staff, including Ryan Wheeler, Director of Archaeology, are working to return sacred artifacts to their rightful owners.
Wheeler said, “There is a federal law that mandates that museums are supposed to do that kind of work [repatriating] and we’ve really been at the forefront of it, which is also strange because we are such a tiny institution. That is really an important aspect of what we do. We don’t talk a lot about it, because a lot of times tribes don’t want us to show pictures of objects and human remains, but we’ve tried to publicize a few things.”
Wheeler continued, “There was an article in the Andover Magazine a year ago about a repatriation we did with a tribe in Minnesota. We have a bunch of reparations that we are working on. Georgia, Maine, a couple of cases in Massachusetts, Mesa Verde in Colorado. They are all complicated and hard partly just because the tribes have been so displaced and it is something that is really important to them.”
According to Wheeler, the repatriation of sacred items is one of the most important things the Peabody does in addition to education.
“Often times we’ve heard from native folks that the loss of the sacred item or the fact that their ancestors have been desecrated and now stored in museums have affected the health and well being of their modern day communities. They see a direct relationship between the loss of the sacred and what has happened to their ancestors and their unemployment, poverty, and addiction.” said Wheeler.
This intersection between Native Americans and museums is being explored in a History elective taught in the Peabody by Doheny. The class, entitled Race and Identity in Indian Country, was created specifically for Seniors to explore the relationship between museums, federal policy, and Native Americans.
“We developed this elective about three to four years ago, and students actually get work on a set of artifacts themselves. It’s a project at the end, where they begin to curate a drawer of artifacts, and do it in a way that is more culturally sensitive than what happened when these places were built,” said Doheny.
In addition to hosting more interdisciplinary classes, projects, and working with associations to reach out to a more diverse group of people, the Peabody hopes to increase their presence on campus through their recently published book, “Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology.” The institute also has an online blog and a Journal of Archaeology and Education.
“Take a class there, go for Thursday study hours, apply for a Peabody [Learning in the World] trip, sign up for work duty, convince a Peabody member to mentor your IP, go to a lecture, give a lecture, chat up an archaeologist,” wrote Donald Slater, Instructor in History and Research Scholar at the Peabody, in an email to The Phillipian.