About the Museum

Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center

About the Museum

Bowdoin’s Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is the only museum in the United States that is dedicated entirely to all things Arctic. It is named after Arctic explorers and Bowdoin graduates Robert E. Peary (Class of 1877) and Donald B. MacMillan (Class of 1898).

This started as a research and educational endeavor.

Bowdoin students and faculty began traveling north to study Arctic cultures and environments in 1860. The college’s Arctic connections intensified in the early twentieth century as first Peary then MacMillan led repeated expeditions.

Then, Bowdoin created an Arctic Museum.

In 1967 Bowdoin opened the Arctic Museum. MacMillan, who worked in the Arctic from 1908 to 1954, added to the museum’s growing collections, donating his expedition equipment, anthropological objects, films, photographs, natural history specimens, archival papers, and library to the college.

The Arctic Studies Center followed.

In the 1980s the establishment of the Russell and Janet Doubleday Endowment prompted the creation of the Arctic Studies Center. Faculty, staff, and students resumed going north regularly, conducting anthropological, archaeological, and geological research and reconnecting with communities visited by Peary and MacMillan. 

In the 1990s and 2000s the museum’s holdings of Alaskan and Canadian contemporary Inuit art grew, and its exhibitions, public programs, and workshops expanded to address both historic and contemporary issues.

Now, this work is critical.

The Arctic is warming rapidly, sea levels are rising, and weather patterns are changing ––destabilizing the landscapes, seascapes, and icescapes on which northern residents and Arctic-adapted animals and plants depend. Changes in the Arctic are affecting life in more southern latitudes and activities in the south are having ramifications in the north.

And the issues are complicated.

Today, as Indigenous Arctic groups explore how to maintain their traditions in the twenty-first century, they and researchers are seeking to better understand this rapidly changing region. Meanwhile, industries throughout the world are looking for opportunities to exploit northern resources and newly opened Arctic shipping routes. Northern nations, recognizing the growing global importance of the Arctic are ramping up their defense systems, while the Arctic Council, an international, intergovernmental forum, reiterates its commitment to maintaining a peaceful Arctic.

Looking to the future.

Arctic environmental, social, economic, and political cross-currents are shifting rapidly. The region needs creative, resourceful, and intellectually nimble leaders in a broad range of fields to bring their expertise to the table and work in collaborative, multicultural contexts. Bowdoin is committed to training our students to be such individuals using the college’s unique resources: its tradition of mentorships, disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, longstanding relationships with Arctic communities, and the institution’s Arctic collections.