Brenda D. Tindal will serve as the new executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced Tuesday.
As executive director of HMSC, Tindal will oversee the six research museums of the FAS, which include the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, University Herbaria, the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum.
Tindal said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette that she is “honored” to step into her new role at HMSC and looks forward to interacting with undergraduate students and faculty.
“I believe museums are essential parts of the learning ecosystem, and the opportunity to be back on a college campus and leverage Harvard’s extensive collections — I’m just thrilled at all of the possibilities,” Tindal said.
Gay wrote in her emailed announcement that Tindal “brings to her work a heartfelt belief in the power of museums as profound sites of connection and new learning.”
“Throughout her career, she has prioritized meaningful civic dialogue and learning among broad and diverse audiences and has skillfully built the trusted partnerships and authentic community relationships needed to center museums in advancing public knowledge,” Gay wrote.
Tindal will officially step into her new role on May 17. She joins the FAS from the International African American Museum in Charleston, S.C., where she served as founding director of education and engagement.
In her Tuesday email, Gay highlighted Tindal’s work at the IAAM to develop educational programming focused on “the untold stories of the African American journey, from slavery through the 20th-century civil rights movement to the present.”
“As a museum leader, Brenda’s work champions the perspective of descendant communities, which informs her thinking about the unique contributions of museums in representing authentic narratives of the past that both expand public understanding of our shared history and enliven and contextualize that of our present and future,” Gay wrote.
Tindal has also previously held positions at the Levine Museum of the New South and the Detroit Historical Society.
Harvard’s museum collections have come under increased scrutiny this year. In late January, University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced that an internal review of the Peabody Museum found that the museum houses the remains of 15 individuals of African descent who were likely alive during the time of slavery in the United States. Bacow also announced the formation of a steering committee tasked with creating “a comprehensive survey of human remains” across all Harvard museums.
In early March, a Middlesex Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Tamara K. Lanier against Harvard alleging that the University unlawfully possesses and profits from historic photos she says depict her enslaved ancestors. Lanier says she plans to appeal the case.
Later the same month, Peabody Museum administrators issued a public apology after the Association on American Indian Affairs penned a letter to Bacow accusing the museum of several legal and ethical missteps in its handling of Native American human remains and cultural objects.
Tindal said in her interview with the Gazette that she has “encountered and had to navigate a number of challenging and sensitive” issues during her time at IAMM, the Levine, and other museums — experience which will inform her work at Harvard.
“There are so many unique opportunities to engage with the museums and deepen connections,” Tindal said. “Museums are not merely cabinets of curiosity; they are well-positioned to serve as hubs for new learning and play a meaningful role in helping their communities and stakeholders grapple with hard truths and nuanced issues.”
“I’m honored to join this community of scholars and museum practitioners, and I look forward to building upon HMSC’s interdisciplinary prowess and its robust, public-facing enterprise,” Tindal added.
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