Current Museum Research
The atmospheric galleries of the Pitt Rivers Museum hold one of the best collections of anthropology and world archaeology from around the globe and throughout human history. Who, though, was General Pitt-Rivers who donated the founding collection and how did the Museum come to have so distinctive an appearance? With its dense displays, its black case-surrounds, and small handwritten labels, many suppose the Museum to be virtually unchanged since Victorian times. Written by the Director, Michael O’Hanlon, this book shows that beneath the surface the Museum and its displays have undergone profound changes. The author recounts the lively history, the curatorial ambitions, the university politics and the changes in public taste that lie behind the Museum’s current appearance. He describes the shifts in the way we now view such collections: both the tensions that can arise with communities from which the artefacts come, and the adventurous collaborations that the Museum undertakes with those communities today. Purchase details
‘Learning from the Masters: the Great Box Project’ - September 2014
A masterpiece of Haida First Nations art from Canada, “the Great Box” was collected by General Pitt Rivers by 1874 and was part of the Museum’s founding collection. As part of the Museum’s ongoing relationship with the Haida Nation, two experienced Haida artists, brothers Jaalen Edenshaw and Gwaai Edenshaw, spent a month at the Pitt Rivers in September 2014 making an exact replica of the box in order to learn from the artist who made it. The replica will go back to Haida Gwaii and be used to inspire artists there. It will also be used in workshops with Haida youth, for whom copying box designs is a traditional artistic training method. The project, funded by the ESRC as a Knowledge Exchange Impact Acceleration grant through the University’s Social Science Division, is an innovative way of making the Museum’s historic collections more accessible to members of their communities of origin.
Leverhulme Trust Research Project on Photography in the Himalayas
Professor Clare Harris has been awarded a Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust for her project entitled: 'At Home in the Himalayas: Rethinking Photography in the Hill Stations of British India'. The Fellowship commences on 1st May 2015 and Clare will be working in both India and Britain in order to study this rich but previously under-researched topic.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, photographic studios and their products proliferated throughout India and photography became of the “pleasures of Empire” (Said) enjoyed by members of the British Raj. In the hill stations of the Himalayas, two genres became especially popular: landscape views of the mountains and portraits of their ‘exotic’ inhabitants. Rather than seeing this kind of photography as solely made and consumed by the British, this project seeks to investigate its use and circulation among the indigenous communities of the Himalayas and to reinsert their agency and identities into the historical record.
'The Museum on the Roof of the World' is awarded the E. Gene Smith Prize by the Association of Asian Studies - April 2014
In April 2014 Professor Clare Harris was awarded the E. Gene Smith prize for her monograph 'The Museum on the Roof of the World: Art, Politics and the Representation of Tibet' (University of Chicago Press). The Smith prize is given by the international Association of Asian Studies for 'outstanding and innovative scholarship' in a book on Inner Asia.
AAS committee's citation (PDF)
The Future of Ethnographic Museums at Pitt Rivers Museum and Keble College 19 – 21 July 2013
The conference, involving ten major European ethnography Museums, marked the completion of the five-year RIME project funded by the European Union. The conference was addressed by James Clifford (University of California at Santa Cruz) and other leading figures in the study of museums and anthropology.
Further information about the Future of Ethnographic Museum conference.
Sound collections project, 2013-14
This project (March 2013 – Jan 2014), funded by a grant from the William Delafield Charitable Trust, will continue the Museum’s recent focus on its sound collections. As a result of the successfully completed ‘Reel to Real’ project (2012-13), the PRM’s sound collections are now being used and listened to widely, and plans are in place for their use in the Museum’s current HLF-funded redisplay programme. One of the major foci of this continuation project will be the digitization and documentation of a further donation of sound recordings made by Louis Sarno in 2012, which brings his collection right up to date in terms of Bayaka music making. Thanks to additional support from the James A. Swan Fund, a further visit from Louis Sarno is also planned for autumn 2013, to help enhance the PRM sound database, as well as public outreach and student interaction. For more information about this project, visit the sound collections blog.
‘Excavating Pitt-Rivers’ Project
The Victorian archaeologist General Pitt-Rivers is world-famous for his development of modern scientific archaeology, but the earliest archaeological collections that he made have never been studied. The Pitt Rivers Museum, where these artefacts are held, has been awarded £76,654 by Arts Council England’s Designation Development Fund to document this important early material. More Information about the 'Excavating Pitt-Rivers' project | 'Excavating Pitt-Rivers' Project blog
Scoping Museum Anthropology
A one-year research project, funded by the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund. It will form a scoping excercise and (hopefully) a precursor to a larger project focussing on the pre-history of museum anthropology and also on the individuals who contributed to the development of museum anthropology at Oxford which culminated in the founding of the Pitt Rivers Museum and establishment of the first paid anthropological lecturer-post at a British university, filled by Edward Burnett Tylor. The primary investigator for the project is Jeremy Coote and the researcher is Alison Petch. The project will run from 1 September 2012 to end August 2013. Go to the Scoping Museum Anthropology project site
Sound and Music / Pitt Rivers Museum / Oxford Contemporary Music artist in residence (Embedded program) 2012-13
The Museum is pleased to announce the appointment of Nathaniel Robin Mann as artist in residence under Sound and Music's Embedded program. Sound artist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Mann is a member of Avant Folk outfit Dead Rat Orchestra. He has produced audio works for Factum Arte (Madrid), where he coordinated projects for a cross section of the world's contemporary artists. In 2008 he won the Grand Prix of the 11th Cairo Arts Biennial with Lara Baladi. The 18-month residency will enable the artist to use the Museum's collections as a creative platform for new work and performance, drawing inspiration from its significant musical instrument collection and archive recordings. More information on the music artist in residence program.
Characterizing the World Archaeology Collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum
The project, funded by a grant of £116,325 from the John Fell OUP Research Fund and with additional support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (IfA Workplace Bursaries scheme) and the Boise Fund, ran between 2009 and 2012. Led by Dr Dan Hicks (Curator of Archaeology and University Lecturer), the project developed the first overview of the range and research potential of the Museum's world archaeology collections. The project resulted in a book, published in March 2013. World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: a characterization introduces the range, history and significance of the archaeological collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum. For more information, and to read the book online see the World Archaeology research page: http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/world.html
Small Blessings: Animating the Pitt Rivers’ Amulet Collection
Building on the success and impact of more than a decade of DDF grants to improve the care and interpretation of collections, this project will focus on a major collection of religious and folkloric amulets collected by the French ethnologist Adrien de Mortillet more than a century ago and acquired by Sir Henry Wellcome before its transfer to Oxford. Read more Small Blessings project.
Reel to Real: Giving the Pitt Rivers Museum’s Sound Collections a Voice
No human sense is more neglected in ethnographic museums than sound. This project will make available for the widest use, both in and beyond the museum space itself, the important sound collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum. Drawing on identified expertise and innovative collaboration with the British Library and the Oxford e-Research Centre, this 12 month project will explore the potential for making the PRM’s sound recordings better understood and more widely used, for the benefit both of the general public and future researchers. Read more about the Reel to Real project.
Conservation Fellowship for research into Captain Cook’s Collections
The Clothworkers’ Foundation has awarded an £80,000 Conservation Fellowship to Jeremy Uden, Senior Conservator at the Museum, for research into objects collected on the first and second voyages of Captain Cook to the Pacific. Learn more about the research into Captail Cook's collection project.
Ruskin College collaboration
Providing ongoing opportunities in the Museum for student volunteers from Ruskin College. Learn more about the Ruskin college programme.
Globalization, Photography, and Race: the Circulation and Return of Aboriginal Photographs in Europe, 2011-2015
As a medium of exchange, photographs of Aboriginal people have served vastly different purposes within indigenous and Western knowledge systems, from embodiments of kin and ancestral powers, to visual data that actively created scientific knowledge. In the digital age, it has become an urgent matter to understand and balance these traditions. This project brings together research on photograph collections in Oxford, Cambridge, Paris and Leiden, to explore the global circulation of photographs of Australian Aboriginal people that began in the 1840s, charting their central role within the major shift in Western visual culture from Enlightenment humanism to the emergence of modern views regarding race and history. It will also return digital copies of photographs currently housed in Europe to their subjects’ descendants, providing a major Indigenous heritage resource. Read more about the project.
Previous Museum research projects
A list of previous Museum research projects