Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers and Ethnology

A letter from Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers to William Hatchett Jackson dated 10 May 1882, regarding the proposal to set up a course in anthropology for the Honour School, this dates from before his collection was formally donated to the University of Oxford. Hatchett Jackson was an entomologist and sub-warden of Keble College. He presumably served on the Board of the Natural Sciences who were asking for comments from relevant people about their proposals for the Honour School. These negotiations not only ended with Pitt Rivers' donation but also the establishment of the first teaching post for anthropology in the UK, at the University of Oxford, occupied by Edward Burnett Tylor. [Bodleian Library, Acland papers, MS Acland d. 92, fols. 79-90] This discusses Pitt Rivers' views on ethnology and anthropology.

4 Grosvenor Gardens
10 May ‘82


I am much obliged to you for sending me the proposed schedules of study for Honours in Anthropology. I have read them carefully and think them admirable as far as they go. I see nothing I should be inclined to omit.

As you invite me to criticise them freely, I venture to offer a few suggestions more in the direction of nomenclature, arrangement, and details of study, than with a view of altering the excellent programme which has [insert] been [end insert] drawn up.

In regard to nomenclature it appears to me desirable to employ as far as possible the terms which have come into use for designating the several sections and subjects included under the general head of Anthropology. General Anthropologists will no doubt become more numerous when the present programme is carried out. Meanwhile, Anthropology groups itself naturally under various classes of subjects and workers for which, terms have [Page 2] been employed, and which, in Education especially, it seems necessary to make use of, both for the sake of brevity, and in recognition of the value of specialists in the division of labour, which so comprehensive a science demands.

Physical Anthropology – all that is included under Section I of the schedule appears to come under the head of ‘Physical Anthropology’ – which includes human and comparative physiology, human and comparative osteology, Zoology of anthropoids, anthropometry including craniometry, for which latter it seems hardly necessary to have a special division. But anthropometry divides itself into two branches, viz measurements of the skeleton, and measurements of the living body. M. Topinard has lately affirmed and it has been accepted by Professor Flower; and other Physical Anthropologists that the measurements of the living body (the most important because the most easily obtained) cannot be reduced to uniformity with those of bones, and although they should approach as closely as possible, distinct measurements are necessary [Page 3] for the several limbs, that is to say, the the measurement of the ulna cannot be compared to the measurement of the living forearm, or the humerus with those [insert] that [end insert] of the living arm, and as this distinction seems likely to be permanent, a distinct set of measurements should be established at once in any scheme of anthropological study.

I venture also to think that Schedule [insert] Section [end insert] IV of the schedule might be brought under Physical Anthropology as a sub-section of Section I, and that if possible, some other term than Morphology of the Anthropomorpha should be applied to it. The term Anthropomorpha, strictly correct no doubt, is liable to the be mistaken by the general public for Anthropomorphism and Anthropomorphite which have got into the Dictionary as implying the human form and personality of the Deity. If some other term equally correct, such as perhaps Zoology of the Man [Page 4] [insert] and the [end insert] Anthropoids [insert] apes [end insert] could be used it might avoid confusion. Under this head might also be included the theory of instinct in men and animals, reflex action, the hereditary transmission of peculiarities, physical and mental ([insert] vide [end insert] Galton), the tendency of acquired functions to become congenital in the races, the influence of food, climate, and other external causes on the development of and survival of physical peculiarities, and the relative persistence of physical peculiarities such as colour bony structure, stature, functions &c (see Huxley). I would suggest that deformations of the body, skull &c, being customs rather than peculiar physical peculiarities should be transferred to Sociology.

In regard to Broca’s tables of colour, skin and hair. It seems desirable that these tints, being established, though not perhaps the best, should be adhered to, but the patches are too small for practical purposes. The apparent colour of the hair of any given head varies so much by light and shade that the [Page 5] same head includes the tints of several patches according as the latter may be held. By making the patches larger, say 2 inches by 4, the comparison can be made out at such a distance that shades of the head are merged into one.

At present The schedule appears to recognize the confusion which at present exists in Anthropometry consequent on the employment of different measurements by physical anthropologists. Many of these differences are purely arbitrary arbitrary and personal. Strenuous efforts are being made to bring about uniformity, and when this is accomplished, of which there are some signs [insert] hopes [end insert], it will no longer be necessary to impose [insert] inflict [end insert] upon the student a comparison of the merits of those systems which have been abandoned. By this means the study of this branch of the subject will be greatly simplified.

Ethnology – all that is included under Section II of the schedule, may now be properly classed under the term Ethnology. Ethnology has in past times been taken to embrace a [Page 6] wider range, but, since the universal acceptance of the term word Anthropology for the whole science, Ethnology has taken a [insert] the [end insert] subordinate place, which etymology prescribes for it, viz the study of race. Might these [insert] there [end insert] not be included under this head in addition to the subjects mentioned in the schedule? Evidence of migrations, means of locomotion and communication, drifting of nomads (see Howorth) and traditions of wanderers, migrations consequent on changes of climate, geographical changes &c.

In classifying the papers of the Anthropological Institute as president I have thought it important to distinguish under separate headings as sub-sections of Ethnology 1. Deductive [insert] Descriptive [end insert] Ethnology viz. the accounts given of travellers and original observers, and 2. Deductive Ethnology, viz the arguments for racial affinities derived from general sources. The reason for this distinction seems to be that [insert] this [end insert]. It often happens that travellers or residents in barborous [sic] lands have paid but little attention to ethnological study [insert] studies [end insert] [insert] during [end insert] their residence, and their time having been chiefly occupied engaged in business matters, [Page 7] but on returning home they are asked to write a paper on the races they have visited. They then proceed to cull their material from the books of travel and the whole goes down as original evidence with the authority of the writer. By this means error is propagated.

Under the head of descriptive ethnology the writer is held responsible for his facts, whilst under deductive ethnology, he is at liberty to generalize from other sources. Whether this distinction is desirable or practicable in an educational course must be left to the Committee. [insert] A knowledge of the Notes and Queries on Anthropology published by the British Association might perhaps be included under the head of Descriptive Ethnology. [end insert]â�¨The classification and terms employed for designating the various principal races of mankind should be well considered and arranged according to their affinities.

Culture … Under the section “culture” should be included as sub-sections 1. Philology, 2. Sociology, 3. Arts and appliances. The term Sociology has sometimes been used in a wider sense to include the arts, but in my judgment it ought to be confined to {Page 8] customs, ceremonies, laws, instruments institutions, myths, folk-lore, marriage customs, burial customs, religions, singing, dancing, land tenure, property, political institutions, relationships, study of names of people and places, animism, pathology, commerce, barter, cannibalism, initiatory ceremonies, use of stimulants, parasites of man, all that relates to the organisation of mankind in societies, and their intercourse with one another. The distinction between Sociology and the arts is broad enough in most cases but must be arbitrary in others, the latter including  including the history and development of tools, ships, pottery, substitutes for pottery, basket making, weaving, clothing, games, personal ornament, ornamentation, drawing and sculpture, painting, writing, agriculture and agricultural implements, hunting and hunting implements, modes of warfare and weapons of war, music and musical instruments, wheel carriages and modes of conveyance, bridges, roads, food &c. All those emanations of the human mind which take a material form and can be studied in by [Page 9] means of objects arranged in Museums.

I would suggest that a practical knowledge of primitive arts such as smelting, casting, tanning, pottery &c, should be inculcated under this head and that the whole should be studied with the view of tracing the succession of ideas by which the mind has been led on from simple to complex conceptions.

Archaeology – this branch I think ought to form a section apart, as it relates exclusively to early times and otherwise overlaps or embraces other sections such as arts and appliances, sociology, physical anthropology. Although Prehistoric Archaeology chiefly occupies the attention of anthropologists, it should not be strictly confined to that branch but should also include, non-historic, Roman, and Mediaeval archaeology. I should define it as the method of inquiring [insert] into [end insert] and determining the age or place in sequence of the monuments of antiquity in their relation to the development of culture. Either under this head or under [Page 10] or under Arts should be included – a practical knowledge of the manufacture of flint implements, flaking, secondary chipping, boring holes, the study of natural fractures caused by frost and fire, the denudation of earthworks and silting, [insert] knowledge of British, Roman, Saxon and Danish coins, [end insert] growth of vegetable soil, formation of stalactite and stalagmite. The student should be able to identify the various kinds of wood microscopically, as well as ores, slag, &c. and he should understand the patination of antiquities and be able to identify forgeries both in stone and metal. Also he should have a practical knowledge of the mode of preserving bone in various stages of decomposition, as well as iron, and soft wet wooden objects so as to prevent their cracking in the process of drying. He should be instructed in the best method and materials for writing on stone and labelling &c, and of preserving and repairing pottery, and be able to identify the materials of which ancient pottery is comprised, mica, quartz, shell &c. A general knowledge of [Page 11] surveying may not be necessary but the student should be able to make a plan of a piece of ground, take levels, contouring, and the shading of hills, without which the descriptions of prehistoric investigations are simply unintelligible. [insert] a knowledge of the proper method of opening tumuli and earthworks should be taught. [end insert] He should also have a knowledge of freehand and geometrical drawing and taking casts, and be able to use the camera lucida.

In regard to the preliminary studies necessary for the student in Anthropology. I may be mention [insert] be mistaken [end insert] but I do not perceive that Geology is mentioned. The student, however, before commencing Anthropological studies should be acquainted with all that part of the subject which is included in Lyell's Antiquity of Man. Osteology is, of course of the greatest assistance [insert] importance [end insert] and a knowledge of recent shells both freshwater and marine.

I trust these observations may not be considered too long. No doubt there are many important points which I have omitted. I append hereto a table of the various sections and sub-sections of anthropological science according to my view of the matter.

(Signed) A. Pitt Rivers Maj Genl: (11) [sic]

W. Hatchett Jackson Esq
Secretary, Board of Natural Science Studies, Oxford.

There is a flow chart, signed A. Pitt Rivers, with ‘Anthropology’ at the top, then divided into sections, this is an attempt to show the hierarchy but the original should be consulted if accuracy is required:

Physical Anthropology - Human and Comparative Physiology- Human and Comparative Anatomy- Anthropometry { Measurements of the skeleton { Measurements of the living body- Zoology of Man and the Anthropoid Apes

Ethnology - Descriptive Ethnology - Deductive Ethnology

Culture Philology

Arts and Appliances

Archaeology - Practical Course - Pre-Historic and Non-Historic Archaeology - Roman and Mediaeval Archaeology'

[NB boldenings not part of original document]

Find other references to anthropology and Ethnology in Pitt Rivers's writing here.

Go back to main page of Ethnology, Ethnography and Anthropology

Originally transcribed by Frances Larson, updated and checked by AP May 2013