Ask Benny

How do I sign up for ‘Unearthed in the Archives’?

Dear Benny,
I recently noticed the Penn Museum hosts a weekly series of talks, “Unearthed in the Archives,” which features some objects from the Museum’s archival collection. What kinds of items are displayed? How do I sign up for these events?
—History Buff

Dear Historian,
The “Unearthed in the Archives” talks are informal gatherings led by Penn Museum Head Archivist Alessandro Pezzati each Friday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. No need to sign up before attending—just show up at the Archives (located on the second floor of the Museum, 3260 South St.) for a lively, casual chat about some of the Museum’s treasures.

The topics are varied, says Pezzati, and that’s because the Archives contain not only the Museum’s institutional records, but objects collected from expeditions around the world (which the Museum has done since 1887).

Pezzati says there’s no formal schedule of talks—sometimes he’ll just pull something at random from the collection to show people, and other times he’ll discuss something a researcher has taken out of the collection for his or her work.

He says talks have focused on all kinds of objects, including a set of photographs and other ephemera from Edward S. Curtis. At other times, he’ll focus on people’s stories. Tatiana Proskouriakoff began as a volunteer on the Museum’s Maya site of Piedras Negras in Guatemala in the 1930s.

Eventually, says Pezzati, she deciphered the Mayan hieroglyphics, despite not being a Mayan scholar or having a Ph.D. in archeology. The Museum has some of Proskouriakoff’s original notes.

Pezzati hopes the talks will demystify the Archives to the average Museum-goer and showcase some of the treasures that are not typically seen. “It is unbelievable material and we take care of it, but to increase its value, more people need to see it’s there,” he says.

For more information, go to www.penn.museum.


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