“The Field is The World:” Williams, Hawaiʻi, and Material Histories in the Making

Sep 1, 2018 - Feb 1, 2019

Exhibition Overview

kupeʻe niho ʻīlio.jpg

Hawaiian, kupeʻe niho ʻīlio. Dog-tooth ankle adornment found in the Lyceum box.

In August 1986, a box was discovered in the basement of a dormitory at Williams College. In it were 64 objects—rocks, weapons, footwear, and objects we have yet to identify—collected a century and a half earlier for the Williams College Lyceum of Natural History, a student-run museum on campus from 1835–1908. Among the objects was a Hawaiian kupeʻe niho ʻīlio, or ankle adornment made of dog teeth. The kupeʻe inspired an exhibition that surfaces two intertwined histories of Williams students in the nineteenth century: that of the Lyceum and its collecting practices, and that of the complex, underknown, and controversial relationship between Williams College and the kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Drawing on campus collections in the college archives, the biology department, and the museum, the exhibition offers a meditation on how practices of collecting and display have been wielded to impose intellectual, moral, or spiritual order upon the world. It poses questions not only about the lives of objects, but also about histories lying latent at Williams.

(Photo courtesy of Williams College Museum of Art.)

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