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.
Research assistance and content development by Nālamakū Ahsing ’21, and research assistance by Thomas Price MA ’17. Exhibition design by David Gürçay-Morris, Associate Professor of Theatre. Audio editing by Patrick Gray Jr. Graphic Design by Jen Rork, A special thank you to Lisa Conathan, Head of Special Collections at Williams College, Sarah Currie of the Williamstown Historical Museum, to Frank Jackson, and to Nathan Ahern, Chief Preparator, Adi Nachman, Exhibitions and Programs Manager, and Nina Pelaez, Assistant Curator of Public Programs and Interpretation.
The exhibition includes generous loans from the Williamstown Historical Museum, Williams College Archives and Special Collections, and the Biology Department.
The kupeʻe in WCMA’s collection inspired a deep dive into another collection, that of the College Archives, in order to learn how and why this object made its way to Williams College. The research surfaced the stories of generations of Williams missionaries and their descendants who went to and came from the Hawaiian islands. The photographs, letters, periodicals, documents, and ephemera found primarily in the collection of Samuel Chapman Armstrong (Class of 1862) offered a historical index of nineteenth-century Hawaiʻi, from the rule of an internationally recognized Hawaiian monarchy to its overthrow by a provisional government that later named Sanford B. Dole (Class of 1867) as President of the Republic of Hawaiʻi.
In The Field Is The World, the archival material is organized into five thematic groupings: Imaging Hawaiʻi to the World, Facing the Overthrow, Haystack Histories, A Changing Landscape, A Written Language. At each grouping, visitors will happen upon an ambient audio track featuring multiple voices, each grappling with this past from a different perspective. The audio tracks are also below.
Many thanks to the members of our community who contributed their voices and ideas to this project:
Nālamakū Ahsing, Class of 2021
Horace Ballard, Assistant Curator, Williams College Museum of Art
Holly Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Art, Williams College
Ayami Hatanaka, Class of 2018
Healoha Johnston, Interim Director of Curatorial Affairs, Curator of the Arts of Hawaiʻi, Oceania, Africa, and the Americas at the Honolulu Museum of Art
Reverend Mark Longhurst, Pastor at First Congregational Church in Williamstown
Jeffrey Kapali Lyon, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Sonya Mital, Class of 2018
K. Scott Wong, Charles R. Keller Professor of History, Williams College
Opening Chant (Oli)
Visitors entering the gallery where the kupeʻe is displayed are greeted by an oli written and chanted by Nālamakū Ahsing ’21.
A Changing Landscape
Facing the Overthrow
Imaging Hawaiʻi to the World
A Written Language
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to download a PDF transcript of all audio content.