Arctic Student Staff Sorts Through the Past, Designs for the Future

Antionette Wearing ’17

Antionette Wearing ’17

This summer, the Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum hired a staff of five students. Two of them, Tanisha Francis ’18 and Will Brockett ’18, explored the museum collections, inspecting old objects for damage. Another two, Wildon Kaplan ’17 and Inho Hwang ’16, developed new technology to augment the museum experience. And Antionette Wearing ’17 worked on outreach, giving tours of the museum and updating educational materials for school classes.

Every two years the Arctic Museum hires students to conduct a thorough inventory of its 10,000 objects, mostly to look for signs of bug infestation. Will Brockett said he wanted the job after an Arctic studies class last year inspired him to learn more about the region. Francis said she was attracted to the job because she’s interested in history, in particular Arctic history. “The opportunity to go through the collection seemed really exciting,” she said.

Brockett and Francis spent their days inspecting a huge assortment of objects, some beautiful, some mysterious. The piece they found the most curious was an unopened letter that is part of the collection donated to Bowdoin by Donald MacMillan, class of 1898, in 1967. On the envelope, addressed “For You,” is scrawled the message, “To be opened only when everything’s gone dead wrong. I hope you’ll never have to open it!” The museum is honoring the unknown writer’s request, and no one has ever learned the letter’s secrets.


This was the third summer that Inho Hwang ’16, a computer science and physics major, has worked for the museum. Over the years, he has developed three iPhone/ iPad games for the Arctic Museum, and one app that serves as an exhibit guide to visitors. One of the games he worked on this summer, David Goes to Greenland, is based on a real account of an expedition David Binney Putnam took to Greenland when he was 13 in 1926. Hwang’s game incorporates the image of an old board game and allows users to roughly retrace the journey. It also allows many players around the world to play at the same time.

Hwang’s other new game, which hasn’t been named yet, is based on several sledging trips, including Robert Peary’s crossing of the Greenland icecap in 1892, MacMillan’s search for the mythical Crocker Land in 1914, and MacMillan’s filming of muskox on Ellesmere Island in 1924. Players take on the role of these adventurers, and must judiciously pack their sledge to anticipate harsh weather conditions and possible mishaps without going over a weight limit. They can make their selections from long lists of sundry objects such as kitchen supplies, dog food, scientific instruments and weapons. Hwang said he designs his Arctic games to be fun and educational, and they’re filled with snippets of information and old photos and drawings.


Wildon Kaplan had a Gibbons fellowship from Bowdoin to work with a map the Arctic Museum recently uncovered. The map once belonged to Robert Bartlett, captain of the ship Karluk. In 1913, the vessel became trapped in Arctic ice and sank a few months later. Kaplan is creating an updated digital map based on the original to discern how sea ice has changed between that catastrophe and today. “The disaster would not have happened today because sea ice coverage is so different now,” he said. Kaplan, who is majoring in government and legal studies and Eurasian studies, and minoring in economics, said the project is a welcome opportunity to learn new skills. “It’s given me natural science and computer science experience,” he said.

Antionette Wearing, a biology major and psychology minor, said her job at the Arctic Museum was a “change of pace” from her science classes. She served as a tour guide, designing her own personalized tour of the exhibits, and she also worked at the reception desk. In addition, she updated the educational packets the museum sends out to schools that bring students to the museum, and she helped find photographs and motion picture film for Hwang’s games.

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