It is not an exaggeration to say that the Haffenreffer Museum and its Circumpolar Lab, housed within the museum complex on the Grant of Mount Hope, changed the course of my life. I arrived at Brown after a summer learning about glacial mechanics and our warming planet through the Juneau Icefield Research Program. It was there that my appreciation for the plants and animals that thrive in very harsh conditions and the beauty of those conditions themselves was fostered. Continue reading
All Things Related
In 1955 the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology transformed from a private collection with few viewers to a university museum with a diversified audience and a profound commitment to the indigenous peoples, world-wide, whose artifacts the museum held. Douglas Anderson embedded this philosophy into our first mission statement, writing that we have a responsibility to the communities from whom our collections have come. Continue reading
Thirty-five years ago I moved from the Northwest to the Northeast and began a job in the Education Department at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, MA. I was hired because I was a singer of sea songs and the Museum had a glorious collection of art and artifacts related to New England’s maritime trades. Founded by sea captains as the East India Marine Society in 1799, the PEM was both really old for an American museum and extraordinarily diverse in the geographical range of the collections. Salem mariners went everywhere a ship could go, and the items in their museum reflected that.
Extremes in the attic and other stories – six years at the Haffenreffer
As a newly-arrived graduate student in the fall of 1990, my first contact with the Haffenreffer involved the reconstruction of the remains of a kayak frame that had originally been discovered abandoned and partially destroyed on the banks of the Noatak River in Alaska. Barbara Hail suggested the project to me after I mentioned having done my MA thesis on kayak typology and evolution. The Noatak kayak had been in storage at the Haffenreffer, first in the attic and later in the wine cellar (a cavern-like, semi-subterranean space behind the exhibit cases on the museum’s back wall). The kayak had been “rediscovered” in the latter the previous spring, but due to damp and insect damage it was in very poor shape. To arrest the insect damage, the disarticulated pieces of the frame had been packed in plastic tubing along with insecticide strips. Parts—specifically all the hull stringers and many of the ribs and deck beams—were missing and the ones still present were so brittle that it would have been impossible to actually assemble the frame. However, the remains did allow me to take measurements, study structural details, and reconstruct the form well enough to identify the type. Unsurprisingly, the kayak turned out to be an archetypal North Alaskan model with a narrow, cigar-shaped hull, a raised foredeck in front of the cockpit but a flat afterdeck, and the slightly upturned ends characteristic of river kayaks of the Noatak and also of the Nunamiut people further inland.
I came to Brown in 1992 with undergraduate degrees in Africana studies and Sociology & Anthropology – I knew I was going to work in the African continent for my dissertation fieldwork and was interested in gender and health – but my interest in African arts and museum studies in general were sparked by my work at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology and the collections opportunities I received.
During my time at Brown (1992-1999) I focused in medical and demographic anthropology and conducted my fieldwork in southern Africa, and in Botswana in particular. My research is on HIV/AIDS and fertility and I have continued this work for over the past two decades. What was clear from the very start of my work was that one of the best ways in which I could learn about the community, about the ins and outs of everyday life, of intimacies and lives was through learning what women do. In northern Botswana this meant learning about basket making.