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Rhode Island Hall: Our New Home

To accommodate its growing faculty and student body and to reflect its central importance to Brown University’s academic mission, the Joukowsky Institute moved to Rhode Island Hall, on Brown’s Main Green, in September 2009.

Rhode Island Hall, the fourth oldest building on the main green, has seen a variety of occupants since its construction in 1840. It was originally built as “another College edifice for the accommodation of the Departments of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Geology, and Natural History” (letter from Nicholas Brown to the Corporation, March 18, 1839), and was largely funded by donations from wealthy Rhode Islanders — explaining the building’s name. The science departments had an extensive collection of taxidermy and osteological specimens, which were displayed, in the Museum of Natural History, located on the second floor of Rhode Island Hall. This collection was built up and overseen by Professor J.W.P. Jenks, one of the most colorful characters in the history of Brown University. Jenks conducted voluntary taxidermy classes in the east room of the basement, and eventually met his demise on the very steps of the building in 1894. Walter Lee Munroe recorded that he “stopped for a minute in conversation on the steps of Rhode Island Hall, started to go upstairs to the Museum, sank down and expired without a moment’s sickness or suffering. One could not ask for a finer end.”

The building continued to be occupied by Biology until 1915, and the Department of Geological Sciences until 1982. However by the 1970s the department had expanded significantly and it was widely felt that the building was ill-equipped for a modern scientific discipline. In 1982 Geology moved out and Rhode Island Hall became a highly fragmented, multi-purpose space. Until Fall 2009, for example, Rhode Island Hall housed a set of eclectic occupants including the Office of International Programs, the Writing Fellow’s Center, the Wayland Collegium for Liberal Learning, and Psychological Services.

When the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World was founded in 2004, Rhode Island Hall was assigned to be its new home, thus marking a very strong commitment to the study of archaeology on the part of the University administration and faculty.   The building, in somewhat parlous state, needed complete gutting and renovation.

From the beginning of this renovation process, the  ‘user community’ of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World was consulted and involved on all major decisions about the building’s program and priorities.  Space for teaching, for research, for quiet thinking, and for kitchen chatting are all built into the structure.  Particularly noteworthy is the communal research laboratory on the top floor mezzanine, the large, wood-paneled graduate studio occupying part of the second floor, and the more public zones of the first-floor lecture hall and Common Room.  At every turn, our intention has been to provide a welcoming and stimulating environment for scholarship and community: a building in which deep deliberation can take place and serious fun can be had.

 

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