Tangible Things at Harvard University

January 24 through May 29, 2011
Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments and several public collections throughout the University
“Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world?”–Henry David Thoreau
Tangible Things highlights and questions the modern Western intellectual categories that distinguish art from artifact, specimen from tool, and the historical from the anthropological in Harvard’s unparalleled museum and archival collections. The exhibition features nearly two hundred intriguing objects from across the University. Images are available upon request. Visitors begin in an orienting exhibition located in the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. There they are introduced to established ways of organizing tangible things and are challenged to classify a seemingly random assortment of objects according to these scholarly conventions. Where in the University do items like John Singer Sargent’s palette, the dress and beads of a Camp Fire Girl, a crystal ball, or a stuffed Bengal tiger belong? How about a century-old tortilla or the University’s President’s Chair? Where should they belong? Why? Armed with these questions visitors are invited to take part in a University-wide scavenger hunt to discover the many guest objects carefully inserted into the exhibitions of seven of Harvard’s public museums. As visitors fan out to discover these wandering items they will begin to realize that the meanings of things and the categories of knowledge and knowing based on those things are not as static or as natural as they may appear.
Tangible Things provides an excellent introduction to modes of classifying material things at Harvard and to the diverse things cared for in Harvard’s nearly fifty distinct collections. It also serves as the foundation for the innovative General Education course “Tangible Things: Harvard Collections in World History” (Spring 2011).
Curated by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 300th Anniversary University Professor, Department of History; and Ivan Gaskell, Margaret S. Winthrop Curator and Senior Lecturer on History; with Sara Schechner, David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments; and Sarah Anne Carter, Lecturer on History and Literature. Organized by the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Harvard University campus locations (Please see each venue’s website for more details.):
Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Special Exhibitions Gallery and Putnam Gallery, Science Center, 1 Oxford Street
Hours: Monday to Friday, 
11:00am to 4:00pm
Admission: Free

Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 485 Broadway
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm
Admission: See website for details.
Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford Street

Hours: Daily, 9:00am to 5:00pm
Admission: See website for details.
Houghton Library, Harvard Yard

Hours: Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm (check their website for extended hours and holiday hours) Admission: Free
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 11 Divinity Avenue

Hours: Daily, 9:00am to 5:00pm
Admission: See website for details.
Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, 10 Garden Street

Hours: Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 5:00pm (check their website for extended hours and holiday hours) Admission: Free
Semitic Museum, 6 Divinity Avenue
Hours: Monday to Friday, 10:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm
Admission: Free
This exhibition is made possible by funding from the Harvard Arts Initiative, Harvard College Program in General Education, the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Provost at Harvard University, and the Harvard Art Museums’ Gurel Student Exhibition Fund.

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