Arts & Culture

Night at the museum

3 min read

Harvard faculty get behind-the-scenes tour of Peabody Museum

When the Arts Task Force appointed by Harvard President Drew Faust issued its recommendations last December, one of its main suggestions was to incorporate the museums into a more central role in the University and to find innovative ways for arts and non-arts faculty to collaborate.

A recent joint venture between the museums and senior staff from the Provost’s Office, including Judith Singer, the senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity, and Lori Gross, the associate provost for arts and culture, has already begun making strides toward realizing that goal.

On Tuesday night (March 10), about 105 faculty members from nearly every School at Harvard converged on the Peabody Museum for the second in a series of gatherings that bring professors together for behind-the-scenes tours of Harvard’s museums. The event was called “Connecting Worlds, Behind the Scenes at the Peabody Museum.”

Gross expressed how important it is for faculty to understand what is available at the museums and how to get the most out of them. The purpose of these events, she said, “is to bring the faculty together through the arts. We want to connect people from all the different faculties, and encourage them to utilize the museums’ collections in their classes.”

William Fash, Howells Director of the Peabody Museum, thanked the group for attending and encouraged them to come back, explaining that anthropology is relevant to everyone regardless of his or her area of study.

“Anthropology is the study of humankind, and who at Harvard does not study humankind in some way, shape, or form,” said Fash.

Attendees went on guided tours of the museum’s collections and exhibits, ranging from an overview of the museum’s archives and a daguerreotypes conservation project to a conversation about the “Storied Walls” exhibit.

Marc Zender, research associate in Maya hieroglyphics, led the “Storied Walls” discussion about the museum’s popular exhibition of mural art of the Americas.

Zender described in fascinating detail the colorful murals that adorn the walls of the exhibit room, how they were discovered, and their significance to the Maya who painted them. About the architectural model of the temple where the murals were found, Zender explained that the site was a challenging one for archaeologists because, over time, “buildings were built on top of buildings.”

In between the first and second round of tours, students from Harvard Ballet Folklórico de Aztlán entertained the assembled scholars with traditional Mexican dances.

Following a look around the archives, Susan Pharr, Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics, commented on her impressions of the evening.

“I was interested in the archives because I study Japanese imperialism and I can envision bringing a class here to think about what drove the empire by looking at photographs from that period,” said Pharr. “I plan to come back and look at what they have.”