Research Introduction

Research Environment

Trina Weasel Moccasin and Josh, Blackfoot tribal members, examining shirts from PRM collections in a handling session at Glenbow Museum, Calgary, April 2010. The Blackfoot Shirts Project is funded by the AHRC and involved a loan of 5 historic Blackfoot shirts from PRM to the Glenbow and Galt Museums in Alberta, Canada, so that Blackfoot people could revive cultural knowledge connected to them. Photograph courtesy Glenbow Museum.

As a world-renowned university museum of anthropology and archaeology, the Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM) has been at the forefront of innovation in teaching and research on material and visual culture for many decades. The strengths of the museum’s collections, the richness of its documentation, and its importance as one of the oldest and most distinctive museums of anthropology and archaeology in the world, have inspired the work of researchers based within the museum, as well as that of numerous others nationally and internationally. The pioneering studies of former PRM staff such as Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Gosden, Howard Morphy and Michael O’Hanlon, have driven the museum’s reputation as a power-house for critical thinking about the visual and material histories embedded within its objects and the relationships in which they are entangled, both in the past and the present. These approaches have been perpetuated and explored further by current curatorial staff for whom the PRM’s collections continue to inspire cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields and interactions with a diverse range of communities globally and locally. By working in collaboration with academics, students, curators, creative figures, fieldwork contacts, members of ‘originating communities’ (i.e. descendants of the original makers and users of objects in the collection) and many other kinds of researchers, we continue to connect the rich collections of a famous institution in Oxford with contemporary debates and the current concerns of individuals and communities worldwide. 

The extraordinary range of objects that form the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum have been assembled from all over the world through social networks forged over time. Today those objects are at the centre of research activity in which new relationships and new forms of knowledge are constantly being established. The museum is therefore a hub that brings external researchers and their knowledge into the museum, as well as a locus for generating knowledge ‘in house’ and disseminating it outwards via publications, research projects, exhibitions, websites, blogs, podcasts and the many other forms of public engagement that are conducted as ‘locally’ as in Oxford and as far away as a Tibetan refugee camp in India. Our on-going mission is to continue to provide access to the collections and to enrich them in the process, to foster research of all kinds across many disciplines, and to forge novel and critical ways of thinking with material and visual culture both within and beyond the Pitt Rivers Museum. 

Interaction with Academic Disciplines and Departments

As a university museum with members of staff that are jointly appointed in cognate academic departments, and who are employed to teach UG and PG students, the PRM is especially well placed to bring the lessons of recent theoretical and methodological developments in anthropology and archaeology to bear on the museum and its collections. The intellectual environment of the museum is thereby constantly re-animated by our engagement with current thought in those fields, as well as from other disciplines with which we are associated, such as the history of art, geography, human sciences, global history, development studies, fine art practice, area studies and so on. These interactions and the exceptionally close connections between the Pitt Rivers Museum and academic departments of the University of Oxford (the PRM is specifically affiliated with the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography), has led to the development of what might be called ‘critically engaged’ and innovative forms of museum anthropology and archaeology. Unlike the majority of departments of anthropology and archaeology in the UK that do not have their own museum or collections to engage with, at the Pitt Rivers research activity is in constant dialogue with objects, the communities associated with them, and the histories of both. It is directed at connecting communities, fostering relationships, facilitating memory and identity constructions, nurturing creativity and supporting interventions – both critical and creative - in the museum and across the world. Whether online or offline, the museum is imagined as a social space and a hub of connectivity for research where these concepts are materialized and activated.

Research Collaborations

Members of the museum's staff regularly lead externally-funded research projects and act as research partners on projects based at other universities and museums around the world. Current and recent projects at the museum have been funded by national and international research councils and other generous donors including: the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the European Union, the John Fell / OUP Research Fund, the British Academy and The Leverhulme Trust.

We welcome proposals for future collaborations on research projects from individuals and institutions worldwide. Please see the research pages for individual members of PRM staff to find the most appropriate person to contact i.e. whose research profile most closely matches the subject matter or approach of your project. For information about how to arrange a visit to view material in the collections of the PRM see Visiting Researchers' page.