The Field is the World: Williams, Hawaiʻi, and Material Histories in the Making

The Field is the World: Williams, Hawaiʻi, and Material Histories in the Making

Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA)

Samuel Chapman Armstrong Papers, 1826–1947. Williams College Archives and Special Collections.

November 19, 2018
The Field is the World: Williams, Hawaiʻi, and Material Histories in the Making
September 1, 2018–January 2, 2019
Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA)
15 Lawrence Hall Dr.
Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267

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Williams College joined a growing number of colleges and universities—Princeton, Yale, Washington and Lee, and Georgetown—in confronting its complex role in history. The liberal arts college in western Massachusetts is delving into a perhaps unexpected issue: its complicated, centuries-long relationship with the people of Hawaiʻi—including the role of Williams alumni in converting native Hawaiians to Christianity, in developing a written Hawaiian language, founding the Hawaiian plantation economy, and later overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy, which was replaced by a provisional government first led by a Williams alumnus, Sanford B. Dole.

The Williams College Museum of Art’s (WCMA) new exhibition The Field is the World: Williams, Hawaiʻi, and Material Histories in the Making, on view from September 1, 2018 through January 2, 2019, brings to light this history through archival materials and through objects once belonging to the Lyceum of Natural History, a student-run museum on Williams’ campus from 1835–1908. The Lyceum built its collection through international expeditions, gifts from missionaries, and correspondence with institutions such as the Smithsonian. Yet it is important to remember that its ambitions were inextricably tied to European and American constructions of natural history that dismissed both the complexity and sovereignty of indigenous peoples around the world.

“Drawing on campus collections in the college archives, the biology department, and WCMA, The Field is the World poses questions about the lives of objects, about where they come to rest, and why. It’s also a meditation on the collecting and display strategies that use material objects to render some histories visible, and others invisible,” said WCMA exhibition co-curator and Interim Deputy Director Sonnet Kekilia Coggins, who adds that efforts are underway to make rare Hawaiian language texts found in the school’s archives accessible to scholars, cultural practitioners, and the public.

“The story of Williams students in Hawaiʻi is complex and ongoing,” said Kailani Polzak, exhibition co-curator and assistant professor of art. “Our aim for this exhibition is to present these materials as a means of taking stock, not only of objects, but also of histories and of ourselves. In bringing together multiple voices and local collections, we hope to draw attention to a past that is unfamiliar to many at Williams and to encourage further conversations about our histories.”

The Field is the World is co-curated by Interim Deputy Director Sonnet Coggins and Assistant Professor of Art Kailani Polzak with 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.

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Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA)
November 19, 2018

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