October 1, 2001 Library of Congress Opens Exhibition on Margaret Mead on November 30

Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
Website: www.loc.gov/exhibits/mead/

The Library of Congress will open an exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the noted anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) on Friday, November 30. "Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture" will feature materials from the Library's extensive Margaret Mead collection, which includes manuscripts, diaries, letters, field notes, drawings, prints, photographs, sound recordings and film. The Library's Mead collection, totaling more than 500,000 items, is one of the largest for a single individual in the Library of Congress, and it documents her early life, career, and lifelong interests.

The exhibition will be on view in the Northwest Pavilion of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, through May 31, 2002. Hours for the exhibition are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Selections from the exhibition will also be available on the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/exhibits/mead/.

This exhibition is designed to convey the scope of Margaret Mead's interests and accomplishments, the substance of her work, as well as the range of responses to her work. The exhibition shows how Margaret Mead, born into a family of educators and home-schooled for much of her childhood, learned early to be a keen observer of the world around her. Her skills were honed through formal education, including studies with prominent social scientists at Barnard College and Columbia University in the 1920's. The largest segment of the exhibition focuses on Mead's field work in Samoa, Papua New Guinea, and Bali, and the major issues surrounding the work in those areas that concerned her.

Visitors to the exhibition will learn about major anthropological issues and methodologies, such as the nature-nurture debate, by considering the problems and concerns that attracted her research interest. The exhibition also addresses the reception of Mead's work by the public of her day and by popular and scholarly critics both then and now. Finally, it reviews the ways in which she promoted anthropology and applied her research to timely topics, such as childhood education, inter-generational communication, gender differences, technological change and ecological issues.

The exhibition consists of three major sections. The first of these, "Shaping Forces," explores major influences that shaped Margaret Mead during her formative years. Among the items on display in this portion of the exhibition are a self-portrait drawn by Margaret Mead at about the age of thirteen; a notebook in which her social scientist mother recorded her observations of the anthropologist as a young girl; and a diary Margaret Mead started when she was nine years old. Also in this section are a laboratory report for an experiment Mead devised as an undergraduate psychology student at Barnard and a bound copy of her doctoral dissertation, An Inquiry into the Question of Cultural Stability in Polynesia. She completed this dissertation before embarking on her first field trip, to Samoa.

The second section, "To the Field and Back," focuses on Margaret Mead's pre-World War II anthropological field work in the South Pacific. Items on display in this section include the previously unavailable correspondence between Mead and her close friend and mentor, Ruth Benedict, while Mead was in Samoa; the letter Mead's supervising professor Franz Boas sent her shortly before her departure for Samoa, telling her what research questions she should keep in mind while in the field; and a photograph of Mead's room at the naval dispensary on the island of T'au in American Samoa. Her decision to live there instead of in a Samoan household has been a point of criticism of her Samoan work.

Visitors will also see in this section a 1968 letter Margaret Mead sent to Derek Freeman, one of the most persistent critics of her Samoan work, responding to some of his questions and criticisms; children's drawings from New Guinea and Bali; and a field notebook from Bali in which she recorded information on the medical care she provided to people there. It also includes a letter she sent to her future husband Reo Fortune in the 1920's, raising the question that was to underlie the work she did for the rest of her career: "When does an Indian become an Indian?"

An audio/video kiosk in the exhibition will feature still and moving picture film from work that Mead conducted in Bali and New Guinea with her third husband, Gregory Bateson and that she used to analyze various aspects of child development and acculturation. An early student of body language and gesture, Mead was interested in such things as the way children were held and carried in different cultures.

Margaret Mead's role as a public media figure and her contribution to issues of global significance are considered in the final section, "Learning to Live in One World." Among the objects for this section is a page remaining from a book manuscript Mead destroyed after the explosion of the atomic bomb. She saw the dropping of the atomic bomb as a defining moment in human history, symbolizing man's ability to destroy himself. This peril and the resulting global interdependence were major themes in her writings for the rest of her life. Also in this section are playing cards from a board game designed by Margaret Mead and Mr. Bateson; Balinese and American children's drawings depicting Sputnik; a notebook in which Mead wrote during the last weeks of her life; and a second audio/video kiosk with video footage featuring Mead on television talk shows and in other taped public appearances.


PR 01-130
ISSN 0731-3527