Six Decades at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

Roger B. Hirschland, Brown ’65 – editor/writer, National Geographic Society and Peace Corps Headquarters (retired)

I’d like to tell a brief story of my first encounter with Dr. Louis Giddings, because I think it gives good insight into the educator and extraordinarily kind, generous, and modest man that he was as both professor of anthropology and director of the Haffenreffer Museum.


When I was a freshman, my mother sent me a clipping from the New York Times about a news release from a professor, J. Louis Giddings at Brown, who had made some significant finds in Alaska. She knew I had always had a hankering to visit Alaska.

So I asked my freshman counselor, Seymour Lederberg, how to go about meeting Dr. Giddings. He said to ask biology professor Walter Kenworthy, who knew Giddings. Kenworthy, a very welcoming man himself, said, “Giddings is a really nice guy. Go see him directly.”

With a miserable head cold, I went to Dr. Giddings’s office, introduced myself, mentioned the New York Times article, and explained that I’d like to go to Alaska with him on his next trip there. (Freshmen have a lot of nerve, sometimes.) He said he regretted that he would not be returning there for at least a year because he had a Fulbright coming up in Denmark – but would I like to see Brown’s anthropology museum? I said I’d love to: Where is it?

Onion Portage, Alaska – 1964 (l. to r:. John Cook, Russell Giddings, Norton Grubb, Roger Hirschland, Tommy Lee, Truman Cleveland, Shield Downey, James Giddings, Ruth Warner [Bets] Giddings, Ann Giddings)

He said it’s in Bristol. I asked how I would get there. He said, “I’ll drive you!” That afternoon, sniffling hopelessly, I accompanied Dr. Giddings in his car to the Haffenreffer, where he showed me all around the museum, inside and out.  

At the end of the tour, he asked, “Would you like to work here?” I said I knew nothing about anthropology. He responded, “You can learn.”

And thus began trips to the Haffenreffer almost every weekend for four years, a major in anthropology at Brown, and joining a dig with Dr. Giddings in 1963 at Onion Portage, Alaska, and again in 1964 with Doug Anderson. Dr. Giddings was my thesis advisor in my senior year until his untimely death following an automobile accident on Route 195.

Roger Hirschland (right) and brother Ed.

In the beginning, the work at the museum constituted labeling and categorizing bones and artifacts from the Alaska digs, often beside Doug Anderson, who was a graduate student at the time and whose fingers initially suffered from the effects of the acetone that we used. It was always interesting and a great pleasure working with Doug, and later with Judy Huntsman, who was also an integral part of the museum. Later, I worked on exhibits, and in 1963 drove across the country to the Hopi Reservation with my brother, Ed—who several years later also worked at the Haffenreffer while an undergraduate at Brown—to make notes (photos were not allowed) for building a large diorama of the dramatic Hopi village of Walpi, on First Mesa. That exhibit stood in the main hall of the museum in a glass case for quite some years. After Peace Corps service, I gave the museum a country-cloth robe from Sierra Leone, which had been given to honor my father when my parents visited me in the bush there. And then, for some years before I moved to Washington, D.C., I was active in the Friends of the Haffenreffer Museum.

The camaraderie Dr. Giddings offered was limitless. His home was always open to students, and we had many wonderful dinners that Bets Giddings prepared and served in front of a roaring fire in the Giddings’s home on the hill above the museum, accompanied by their children Jim, Annie, and Russell, and a huge Alaskan malamute.



After service both in the Peace Corps and as an officer in the U.S. Navy, Roger B. Hirschland, Brown ’65 taught at the Gordon School in East Providence for seven years. Then, after a two-year stint as an editor at the Providence Journal, he moved to Washington, D.C., as a writer and editor at the National Geographic Society, where he stayed for 22 years. He retired from National Geographic and worked another six years as an editor and writer at Peace Corps headquarters, and now does freelance editing from home.



  1. Ina Rosenthal-Urey

    Hi Roger, It’s good to see how you look these days. I have fond memories of you. My name is now Ina Rosenthal-Urey, not Dinerman. I hope you’ll take a look a my post. I hear from Judy regularly.

    • Roger B. Hirschland

      Hi Ina, Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier. Of course, I remember you well and I read your blog entry with great interest when it was posted. I was truly impressed with all you’ve accomplished. I’ve seen Judy H. a couple of times when in Auckland as a lecturer on National Geographic tours. In fact, Judy spoke with one of our groups some time around the year 2000. With warm regards, Roger

  2. barbara hail

    Hi Roger, It was good to read your post. I recall well how deeply you felt the loss of Louis Giddings, and your kindness to Bets. My son-in-law Dr Alton Byers, my daughter Elizabeth Byers, and their son Daniel Byers, continue to work on mountain conservation and photographic recording of climate change in the Himalayas, often courtesy of National Geographic support.It is a great organization and you must have enjoyed your time there.My hopes that you have an equally interesting retirement! Barbara

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