Organising team: Sandra Dudley & Julia Petrov Visiting Speaker: Alison Petch (Senior Research Associate and Registrar, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford)
Title: Muddying the waters: The Pitt-Rivers collection from 1850-2009.
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1826-1900) used typological distinctions to think about the artefacts in his extensive collections. He was an important contributor to the development of anthropology as a discipline, and a museum subject, between 1850 and 1900. He believed that ethnographic and archaeological collections were vital tools in the study of contemporary and past human cultures.
Pitt-Rivers divided his artefacts by type of artefact, either by use or function, or by the decorative designs inherent in it. These divisions were not only intellectual but physical, visible in the museum displays of his collection in London from 1874 to 1884 and again, for his private collection, at Farnham in Dorset between 1880-1900.
The Pitt Rivers Museum was founded in 1884 on the understanding that the University of Oxford would carry on Pitt-Rivers' general method of arrangement of objects during his lifetime and the agreement that any changes after that date would only be instituted if the advance of knowledge required it. In reality, however, changes were wrought almost immediately and Pitt-Rivers' categorisations altered as new artefacts were constantly added to his typographical series. This paper will examine the history of these events and contextualise it in the light of the conclusions Pitt Rivers, his peers and his successors, drew from them.