Ethical Stewardship

The Peabody Museum must critically engage with its challenging legacy of Eurocentrism and recognize collections as the cultural heritage of the communities from which they originate.

Euroamerican anthropology museums are a product of imperialism and colonial expansion that continue to perpetuate inequities today. As such, they reflect Eurocentric perspectives and biases on the acquisition, ownership, use and understanding of the cultural belongings, human remains and documents that are redefined as collections in museum contexts. 

The  Peabody Museum has committed to a holistic program of ethical stewardship of the collections in its care. Ethical stewardship describes a set of values and practices that promote historical reflection while directing museums to become agents of a more equitable and inclusive future. This entails building and nurturing respectful, open, and reciprocal relationships with descendant communities and other heritage stakeholders. As stewards, we are committed to sharing authority with those communities to implement the culturally responsive care and interpretation of collections. We understand ethical stewardship at the Peabody Museum to be an enduring institutional commitment to:

  • Recognize and sustain the rights and interests of the peoples whose cultural heritage is in the museum; 
  • Acknowledge and address the structural legacies of colonial and racial biases at the museum;
  • Engage in transparent and honest dialogue with the diverse peoples for whom the collections hold meaning; 
  • Center the agency and resilience of Indigenous communities in historical and contemporary narratives;
  • Privilege community values, knowledge and voices;
  • Share authority with communities to ensure culturally appropriate museum practices.

These principles are central to all museum decision-making and we commit to ongoing reflection to ensure that our practices continue to align with them. Please address comments or questions to the Peabody Museum Director, Jane Pickering (jpickering@fas.harvard.edu).