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Welcome, New Director Bob Preucel!

by on September 25, 2013

A belated welcome back and best wishes for the new academic year at Brown and beyond! HMA Blog kicks things off with greetings from our new director, Robert Preucel.

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RPreucel

Kuwatsi Hopa!

I am very excited to be the new director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University. I owe a great debt to the past directors and past and current staff members who have made this museum such a wonderful beacon of light for the study of anthropology.

The Haffenreffer Museum is one of the leading anthropology museums in the country. It was founded by Rudolph F. Haffenreffer, the industrialist and philanthropist, as the King Philip’s Museum around 1920. His main interest was Native America with a special focus on the archaeology and history of Native New England. Upon his death in 1955, the museum was donated to Brown University and J. Louis Giddings was hired as its first director. Giddings transformed the museum into a modern institution and expanded its archaeological and ethnographic reach to encompass the world’s cultures.

Anthropology museums have a special role in our society today. They are uniquely positioned to serve as key intellectual sites for the production of global understanding of the world’s peoples and cultures both past and present. Such museums provide unparalleled opportunities for students and faculty to explore social issues in all their complexities and nuances. “Teaching with things” can give students hands on experience of these issues in ways that they might not otherwise acquire. These museums also are the loci for didactic exhibits that can engage students and general public with contemporary topics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, heritage, health chances, urbanization, population flows, and globalization.

One of my goals will be to make the collections even more accessible. One way we are doing this is through our new Faculty Fellows program. This program gives faculty an opportunity to use our collections in their teaching. We are using CultureLab as the venue for students to encounter museum objects. Another way we are doing this is by digitizing our collections. Putting photographs online enables anyone with a computer  to see these remarkable objects and to potentially conduct research on them.

I also hope to develop some exciting new exhibitions that help mediate our experiences with the modern world. We are already doing this and a good example is the City-Plaza-People exhibition that opened last fall. This exhibition, prepared by Professor Rebecca Carter’s class, examined public spaces in transition and used Providence’s Kennedy Plaza as a case study.

I also want to reach out to descendant communities, the people whose ancestors made the objects in our collections. For example, we recently hosted a group of expatriates from the Kingdom of Bangwa in western Cameroon. They came to examine a collection of 19 masks that were collected in the mid-1960s. They wanted to reconnect with artwork that could serve as important inspiration for current and future generations.

I would like to build ties with local museums and institutions. One way to do this is to develop collaborative exhibitions that take greater advantage of our mutual interests in art, history, and society. For this reason, I also want to expand our program of acquiring contemporary Native American art. It is a powerful way to show that Native peoples are still here and that they have profound things to say not only about their communities, but also about world events and issues.

I feel honored to be part of the distinguished history of the Haffenreffer Museum. Indeed, I feel a special connection with Giddings since, like him, I come to you from the University of Pennsylvania. Please feel free to contact me about your thoughts about the museum. My email is robert_preucel@brown.edu.

Best,
Robert Preucel

P.S. Kuwatsi hopa means “hello everyone” in the Cochiti language.

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Thank you, Bob! We’re happy to have you, and look forward to hearing more about these initiatives over the coming year.

We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at jennifer_stampe@brown.edu.

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