The 2017 academic year marks the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s 60th anniversary with Brown University. Our goal, in “Sixty at 60”, is to present at least sixty recollections and reflections from people who have been associated with the Museum over the past six decades. We’re asking our contributors to write about the Haffenreffer Museum as they knew it in their times and to reflect on how it contributed to their experiences at Brown, their careers, and their lives.

The Museum began as the “King Philip Museum”, founded in Bristol, RI, by Rudolf Haffenreffer, Jr. (1874-1954). Haffenreffer was a successful brewer who acquired land in Bristol, at Mount Hope, where “King Philip’s War” began in 1675 and ended in 1676. Inspired in part by his property’s historical and cultural associations, he began collecting Native American artifacts from New England soon after acquiring the property in 1903. Over time, as his fortunes grew and his interests expanded, he added Native American objects from across North America. By the time of his death in 1954, his private King Philip Museum held more than 60,000 objects.

In 1955, his heirs donated the museum and his collection to Brown University. To recognize their gift, Brown’s president Barnaby Keeney changed the museum’s name to the Haffenreffer Museum of the American Indian. In 1956, Brown hired J. Louis Giddings, its first anthropologist, to direct the Museum and to integrate it into the university’s teaching mission. The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, as we know it today, was forged over the course of six decades at Brown University by Giddings and his students, nine subsequent directors and interim directors, and legions of students, researchers, faculty, and staff.

Today, the Museum holds nearly 1,000,000 archaeological and ethnographic objects from all parts of the world. The oldest are nearly half-a-million years old; the most recent are being made somewhere in the world today – we’ll add them to the collection this year or the next. We support student and faculty research, provide students with hands-on experiences in the field and with our collections, and we collaborate globally on cutting-edge research projects. We serve Brown’s academic mission through classes, exhibits done with students as curators, and by making our collections available to faculty for course development and teaching. Over the past half century, our educational outreach programs have served more than a quarter-million school children in southeastern New England with hands-on programs that explore the world’s cultural diversity to encourage tolerance and cross-cultural understanding. We’re growing, always experimenting, and look forward to sixty more years at Brown.  

Sixty at 60 brings together people whose lives have intersected across six decades through their involvement with the Haffenreffer Museum. Their reflections will provide insights into the ways academic museums transform lives, inspire discoveries, and provide space for new conversations within and beyond the university.

By Kevin P. Smith, Deputy Director and Chief Curator