Collections

The Museum displays archaeological and ethnographic objects from all parts of the world. The General Pitt Rivers's founding gift contained more than 26,000 objects, but there are now over half a million. The extensive photographic and sound archives contain early records of great importance. Today the Museum is an active teaching department of the University of Oxford. It continues to expand its collections through donations, bequests and special purchases, as well as through students in the course of their fieldwork. The collections lie at the heart of our research and partnerships.

 

Statement from Prof. Laura Van Broekhoven, Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum, in response to Museum hides mask "not for women's eyes" article in the Telegraph, 18 June 2024:

"This is a non-story. The Igbo mask has not been removed from display, as it was never on display and no one has ever been denied access to it.

 The Museum’s online collections now carry a cultural context message, which allows users, especially those from different cultures around the world, to actively choose which items they wish to see, and which to remain blurred from view. Only around 3,000 of our object records carry such a warning, so less than 1% of the overall collection.  No digital assets are withheld from view from women."

 Background information:

  • Contrary to an article which appeared in this morning’s Daily Telegraph, the Pitt Rivers Museum is not withholding an Igbo mask from display because it should not be shown to women. The mask in question is in storage in the museum, and there is no record of it ever having been put on public display. The museum displays around 50,000 items from its overall collection of around 350,000 objects.
  • Some collections and imagery of them are not appropriate for general public access online, and in this case, direct contact with the museum staff is encouraged to discuss the research need to consult them. Overwhelmingly this is for human remains, graphic or personal content, but also for copyright or other legal reasons. Only about 2,200 digital assets out of over 250,000 objects (less than 1%) are withheld from public view in this way. 
  • The primary purpose of the sensitivity warnings is to protect people who may find these images culturally distressing, rather than from stopping visitors or researchers seeing them or doing research on them. We have a global collection and as such, have a responsibility to more than one community. Users of the online collections database can choose whether to proceed with or without these warnings.
  • The Museum is not working with groups to ensure that that objects are ‘selectively displayed’. We are working with groups to allow them to decide how their own cultures are represented.
  • A 15th century Indian statue has been claimed for return from the Ashmolean Museum collection, not the Pitt Rivers. Further information on this is available here.

 

Note for Online Collection Users: The online collections, launched in summer 2023, now offers users the option to see cultural warnings about material in the collections, or not to see any warnings at all. These preferences are stored using cookies for the whole browser session. This approach has been used for some years in Australia and is considered best practice when dealing with sensitive ethnographic collections. The approach does not impede the online access for anyone who does not wish to see warnings, but does offer a more culturally safe environment for our many indigenous community partners who do not wish to stumble on upsetting or culturally restricted items without first being told what to expect. We consider this approach to be a more respectful and inclusive approach to collections access online, whilst maintaining our reputation for unrivalled deep research access to our entire collection and its historical documentation.

 

 

Contact us

For ethnography and archaeology collections enquiries: objects.colls@prm.ox.ac.uk
For photograph and manuscript collections enquiries: ms-photo.colls@prm.ox.ac.uk