DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Collecting Missions at the Haffenreffer Museum and John Carter Brown Library


The John Carter Brown Library (JCB) and the Haffenreffer Museum of Archaeology (HMA) are both located on Brown University’s Main Green and dedicated to teaching in some way. However, although they are less than five hundred feet apart, they could not be more unalike in their collecting missions and public exhibitions. Due to different histories, governing structures, and mission statements, the JCB and the HMA provide Brown University and the public at large with two very different museum experiences.


At the very core of these differences are the disparate collecting missions of the two museums. The Haffenreffer is a self-proclaimed “teaching museum,” hoping to “inspire creative and critical thinking about culture by fostering interdisciplinary understanding of the material world.”[1] The HMA focuses on exhibits of archaeological artifacts to try to get visitors to reassess their beliefs about culture. The JCB, on the other hand, is “an institution for advanced research in history and the humanities” which has “served scholars from all over the United States and abroad” for over a century.[2] The JCB’s mission is explicitly limited to advanced scholarly research of printed documents, which is in stark contrast to the HMA’s focus on public enrichment through exhibits of artifacts.


These differences are, of course, mirrored in the types of objects collected by the two museums as well as the subsequent limitations to those collections. The HMA website boasts “more than one million ethnographic objects, archaeological specimens and images from all parts of the world, with particular strengths in the Americas, Africa and Southeast Asia,” including “nearly 60,000 objects collected by Rudolf F. Haffenreffer before his death in 1954” as well as other objects “obtained through fieldwork, donations, and strategic acquisitions.”[3] While the latter quotation proves that the collection is still expanding, it is still somewhat limited by what Haffenreffer himself collected. Another possible limitation is geographic location: the “Museum History” section of the website mentions that “today, the Museum houses artifacts and treasures from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.”[4] Why the geographic scope remains limited is unexplained, but it is most likely because the lasting effects of Haffenreffer’s original collection and its geographic focus.


The JCB is similarly limited by the founder’s own collection. The JCB collects “primary historical sources pertaining to the Americas, both North and South, before ca. 1825,” as originated by John Carter Brown’s own collection on Americana.[5] The collection now contains “50,000 rare books (printed before ca. 1825), manuscripts, and 16,000 reference books and secondary sources (printed after ca. 1825).”[6] The collection is limited both by subject matter – focusing on certain specific areas such as European exploration and the history of the Brown family – as well as the obvious importance of date, particularly the year 1825.


These differences in collection ultimately lead to completely different ways of utilizing objects to further the organization’s mission. Unlike the HMA, which collects a broad range of objects from around the world and uses them in exhibits, the JCB collects printed historical works to be used most commonly as references. The JCB does have public seasonal exhibits – the current one focuses on early American commerce – but the collecting seems to focus most on serving scholars and their research. Further, only registered researchers can look at books, which limits the audience significantly. The HMA, on the other hand, works to “provide opportunities for faculty and students to work with collections and the public, teaching through objects and programs in classrooms, in the gallery in Manning Hall, and at the Collections Research Center.”[7] This openness allows for a “range of exhibitions showcasing the Museum’s collections and the work of its staff and Brown students”[8] – all open to the public and for the purpose of teaching.


The stark contrast between the HMA, a public teaching museum with a mission to invoke critical thinking, and the JCB, a collection of historic scholarly materials limited to registered researchers, are obvious. Both museums represent different ideals and values, but are both crucial elements to making Brown University a unique and culturally relevant campus.

[1] “HMA – About Us,” The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, accessed September 30, 2012, http://brown.edu/Facilities/Haffenreffer/aboutus/index.html.

[2] “About the John Carter Brown Library,” The John Carter Brown Library, accessed September 30, 2012, http://www.brown.edu/academics/libraries/john-carter-brown/about.

[3] “HMA Collections,” accessed September 30, 2012, http://brown.edu/Facilities/Haffenreffer/ collections/index.html.

[4] “HMA Museum History, accessed September 30, 2012, http://brown.edu/Facilities/Haffenreffer/ aboutus/history.html.

[5] “About the John Carter Brown Library.”

[6] “The Collection,” accessed September 30, 2012, http://www.brown.edu/academics/libraries/ john-carter-brown/about/collection.

[7] “HMA – About Us,” accessed September 30, 2012, http://brown.edu/Facilities/Haffenreffer/ aboutus/index.html.

[8] “The HMA Gallery at Manning Hall,” accessed September 30, 2012, http://brown.edu/Facilities/ Haffenreffer/exhibits-manning/index.html

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.