The much-loved Pitt Rivers Museum is unlike any other. Founded in 1884, it houses within an atmospheric building more than 500,000 objects, photographs and manuscripts from all over the world, and from all periods of human existence. Within these are exceptional objects of ritual significance, and objects made for tourists or trade.
The Museum is loved by many and is widely regarded as one of the best of its kind. It is also a contested space that calls for innovative curation to engage with the more difficult aspects of its history; a place where many histories collide and where objects from Britain's colonial past sit side by side with more recent (and much older) ones. Curating that space and those collections is a challenge that we embrace.
The Museum has consciously cultivated its characteristic layout: artefacts are arranged by type into a ‘democracy of things’, rather than by time or region. This reveals fascinating distinctions and parallels across cultures, and encourages questions about the ways in which humanity tackles problems, and creates, understands and embraces life across the world. The collections are of extraordinary range and depth, comprising objects of historical, social and ritual significance, a mixture of great works of art, technology, invention and design from around the world. The Museum is used for teaching learners of all ages and not just students at the University. Staff carry out world-leading conservation and research and we are known for our innovative public programmes and collaborative work with both local communities and those from where the collections originate.
There is a popular perception that the Pitt Rivers Museum is a 'museum of a museum' but in fact none of the original displays still exist. The Museum has always adapted and changed over time, by updating displays, adding to the collections and consciously working to keep it relevant. Today, we continue to undertake this transformational work to ensure that the collections remain meaningful to contemporary audiences, whilst maintaining the multi-layered and dense displays, which have inspired, enthralled and intrigued many generations of visitors.