When Rudolf Haffenreffer's family donated the King Philip Museum to Brown University in 1955, there was neither an anthropology department nor faculty qualified to steer it. In accepting the gift, President Barnaby Keeney remarked that it would "provide a sound basis for the development of research and teaching in anthropology." He subsequently hired James Louis Giddings—a pioneering Arctic archaeologist, anthropologist, and natural scientist—to run it and to establish a program in anthropology within Brown's department of sociology.
Over the course of eight years, Giddings transformed this small private museum with a Native American focus into a university teaching museum with worldwide scope and a dynamic, global vision. He engaged students in all aspects of its operation—from collections management to exhibitions and object acquisition.
At the same time, Giddings expanded the foundations of western Arctic archaeology. He conducted archaeological excavations, performed ethnographic research, and established protocols for collaborative work with Indigenous communities far ahead of his time. His work, and that of his students, represents a seventy-five year commitment to a region and its Native communities, perhaps the longest collaboration of its kind in the Americas.
For the Museum's 60th Anniversary, we look back not only at J. Louis Giddings' life, but also at the work of his students and the Museum itself, using objects from the collections to explore the vision he had, and the horizons he crossed, to transform the King Philip Museum into Brown's Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.