Displaying objects ranging from iridescent butterfly wings to a baby-elephant skeleton to samurai armor, a new gallery in the Peabody Museum of Natural History integrates Yale coursework with the museum’s public exhibits.
The new object-study gallery — opened in September and located on the first floor near the entrance of the museum — aims to support the teaching of Yale courses in a wide range of subjects by allowing both undergraduate and graduate students to observe objects and specimens in person that they have studied in their classes. The gallery will host exhibits for different courses each semester. This fall, seven courses spanning Yale College, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Yale School of Art have designed installations featured in the gallery.
“We hope that this study gallery will broaden the use of Peabody resources with students and enable faculty to make better use of Peabody objects in their teaching,” said David Heiser, the director of student programs at the Peabody.
According to Heiser, the benefits of the new gallery are manifold: Students now have the opportunity to observe large or delicate objects that cannot be brought to the classroom or lab. Students can also return to the museum exhibit, whereas, in the past, they could only view these objects once. Moreover, installing the gallery allows all Peabody visitors, not only students, to enjoy new and varying exhibits.
The gallery drew inspiration from the Yale University Art Gallery, which set a precedent for supporting Yale courses through its study galleries, according to Peabody director David Skelly. For the Peabody’s gallery, the seven courses’ professors — several of whom are Peabody curators — worked with collection staff to select specific objects and design the layout of the gallery, he said.
“What I’m hoping through initiatives like the study gallery is that more faculty from all over campus can bring their students here and that students will find different ways of being involved,” Skelly said.
Yale faculty have integrated the gallery into their teaching in various ways, Heiser said. For example, anthropology professor Anne Underhill, who teaches “Archaeological Ceramics,” brought a Pueblo potter to the gallery to explain the history and style of the different clay pots and vessels on view in the course’s gallery exhibit.
The object study gallery has also been useful for the School of Art course “Color Practice.” Centering around the theme of iridescence, the selected objects for the course come from five different divisions of the Peabody collection and include birds, insects, fossils and minerals, Heiser said.
One course utilizing the gallery is “Mammalogy,” taught by anthropology professor and Peabody curator Eric Sargis. The objects selected for the class, which studies the evolution and diversity of mammals, include the skulls of animals such as whales, giraffes, camels and narwhals.
The object study gallery offers unique benefits for this course, said Sargis, who has been teaching “Mammalogy” since 2012. Although he has brought many of the objects now featured in the exhibit to his class in past years, students this semester had the opportunity to observe a full skeleton of a baby elephant, rather than just the jaw and teeth, Sargis added.
“The gallery makes the specimens available not only to students but also to all Peabody visitors,” Sargis said. “It also makes it clear that the Peabody is a university museum and that the Peabody collections contribute to courses at Yale.”
According to “Mammalogy” student Elizabeth Naro GRD ’18, the course’s three visits to the museum have been beneficial in exposing students to objects that they otherwise could not observe and in supplementing their lab work.
Neelima Sharma GRD ’20, another student in the class, said that her classmates took advantage of their visits to the gallery to view other exhibits in the museum.
Next semester, Sargis will also display objects in the gallery for his spring course “Primate Diversity and Evolution.”
The gallery will display a new set of objects next semester to supplement six spring courses, spanning the departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, History, Anthropology and East Asian Studies, according to Heiser. He added that he is encouraged by the interest from Yale faculty in utilizing this gallery and is currently discussing fall 2018 and spring 2019 collections.
“The Peabody is both an inward-facing, Yale-serving museum and an outward-facing, public-serving museum,” Heiser said. “This hall represents that space where the two connect.”
The Peabody Museum was founded in 1866.
Amy Xiong | email@example.com