Pitt Rivers Museum - Reel to Real: Giving the Pitt Rivers Museum’s Sound Collections a Voice

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. Hundreds of hours of historically important and rare ethnographic sound, donated to the Museum since the early twentieth century, are currently held in storage, known only to a handful of scholars. These sound recordings – which range from children’s songs in Britain to music from South America and the South Pacific, and from improvised water drumming to the sound of rare earth bows in the rainforests of the Central African Republic – have been preserved but remain unavailable to members of the public, teachers, students, or to the communities from which the sound originates.  Vitally, the capacity of the sound collections to illuminate the related artefact and photograph collections we hold remains unexplored.

Reel to RealDrawing 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 used within the Museum and beyond it, for the benefit both of general public and future researchers. Through the establishment of a new Sound in Museums network and workshop, the Museum and its partners will also seek to reinvigorate the potential of sound collections in museums more widely.

£78,212 grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, via the Museums Association

Project dates: January 2012 – January 2013

Reel2Real logo





Project website

Visit the Reel to Real website




reel to real blog







The Sound collection blog

Throughout this project a blog was generated by the team and has subsequently been expanded to encompass the sound collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in general.

Go to the Reel to Real blog