Fascinating Harvard exhibit explores the rise of anthropology

CAMBRIDGE — “All the World Is Here,” the new exhibition at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, has three subjects. The subtitle identifies two of them: “Harvard’s Peabody Museum and the Invention of American Anthropology.” The third, the 1893 World’s Fair, may appear unrelated. Part of the interest of “All the World Is Here” is learning why it’s not.

The show is something of a victory lap. Last year, the Peabody celebrated its 150th anniversary. “All the World Is Here” could be seen as a description of the museum, with its collection of more than 1.2 million objects. Without meaning to, Alexander Pope gave anthropology a motto 300 years ago: “The proper study of mankind is man.” The Peabody bears witness to the extent of that study.


The founding of the museum and its impact on anthropology as an academic discipline provide the show’s framework. The 1893 World’s Fair served as a kind of showcase for both, thanks to the exposition’s Anthropology Building.

The fair looms large in “All the World Is Here,” right down to the presence of admission tickets, souvenirs, a “World’s Fair Cookbook,” and display about the fair’s biggest attraction, the first Ferris wheel.

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Two of the more startling exhibits relating to the fair are a reproduction of an Anthropology Building display on pre-Columbian Costa Rica (no labels or textual information back then!) and a pair of statues showing “the typical Americans” of 1893. Typical in Cambridge, maybe: The proportions were based on a decade’s worth of measurements of Harvard and Radcliffe students. Never fear: Sculptural genitalia were either concealed (male) or not rendered (female). The modern-day Adam and Eve were meant to contrast with the many nearby…

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