During our recent trip to Boston, I spent part of Saturday visiting the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at Harvard University:

This museum was founded in 1866 and is one of the oldest anthropology museums in the world. I really enjoyed visiting it and thought that I would share some highlights here.

First let me say that I’m starting to really enjoy natural science and anthropology museums. I visited the Field Museum in Chicago a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The Peabody is attached to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, so I visited it too. I’ll try to blog about that soon too.

The main floor of the Peabody contains exhibits about the North American Indians. I especially enjoyed the dioramas depicting Indian villages.

This picture, which I’m borrowing from the Peabody website, doesn’t quite show how large the diorama actually is. These models are quite large and very detailed. I don’t think I’ve paid much attention to dioramas since about 3rd or 4th grade. It was interesting to see how they could be used for actual educational purposes.

I also started to wonder of diorama-making will soon be a lost art. With everything going to digital media formats, does anyone make dioramas anymore? I wonder what the scholarship on modeling says about the value of physical models versus digital ones. It would be interesting to find out more!

The Eskimo diorama is particularly brutal — there are dead seals lying all over the place, which raised the issue for me about how politic these exhibits are. You can’t help but notice that some of the other kinds of exhibits were gone, replaced with signs saying that the museum had agreed to give the items back to the appropriate native peoples. I don’t have time to record all my thoughts about this now, but I was really interested in the ways these dioramas depicted native tribes and culture. They seem both educational and subjective in various ways. It’s a fascinating issue of how one represents these cultures fairly and accurately.

I was also interested in a display about the Nokota horses, which are a kind of wild horse in North Dakota. You can find out more about them at The Nokota Horse Conservancy, a site for a conservation group working to preserve the Nokota horses in the wild. The blue strain of horses is what was featured at the Peabody. They’re beautiful animals.

I definitely recommend visiting the Peabody Museum if you’re in Cambridge. It’s not a large museum, but it is a very interesting one.

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