Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Ethnographic [1] and Social History [2] collection

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Rutland Water, Rutlandshire. Copyright Malcolm Osman

Rutland Water, Rutlandshire. Copyright Malcolm Osman

This part of the website looks at the Oxfordshire collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Oxfordshire County Museums Service [OXCMS] and ultimately at the Ashmolean Museum also. It was not possible (because of time constraints) to look at all the objects from this county in the three museums, so the webpages concentrate on the ethnographic collections at the museum. However, only the Pitt Rivers Museum defines the collections as 'ethnographic', the OXCMS calls them 'social history' collections and the Ashmolean sees many of them as part of their 'Department of Antiquities'.

Ethnography has frequently been colloquially used as a phrase to refer to the collection, curation and display of material from other parts of the world. It is used in this sense at the Pitt Rivers Museum, but in this instance it is being applied to the large collections from England which have been acquired since 1884. These are exactly the same sort of things as have been obtained from all parts of the world for the museum - lighting, clothing, tools, weapons, toys and games etc. They are (or were) items used every day by everyone in England. They have not been obtained during archaeological excavations in the main.

What all the collections broadly cover therefore are items in everyday use in recent historical times (broadly post-medieval). It is perhaps easier to think about what will not be included rather than what has been. Artefacts from large excavations, stone tool collections collected in the field, fragmentary pottery sherds etc have NOT been included. It might include replica or experimental items or facsimiles made in Oxfordshire. Any items that might be thought of as Social History / Ethnography by someone have been included.

These pages could be seen as a pilot for a possible larger project to comprise all of Oxfordshire collections including "archaeology". This would obviously need more funding and much more work and is therefore outside the remit of the Other Within project, which, at the time of writing, has less than a year to run. The ethnographic / social history collections were a manageable sub-section and will hopefully show the benefits of having such material on-line in one place.

[1] Ethnography: the OED defines it as 'the scientific description of nations or races of men, with their customs, habits, and points of difference.
[2] Social History: the OED defines it as 'the history of social behaviour or of society'. A more useful definition is given elsewhere:

The Social History collections contain thousands of objects representing the everyday and exceptional lives of local people from around 1500 to the present. It aims to cover all aspects of the domestic and social lives of those for whom [the local area] is home. http://www.sheffieldgalleries.org.uk/coresite/html/sochistory.asp

Find out more about the early history of the Oxfordshire County Museums Service

Find out more about OXCMS's waggons here.

Find out more about the Oxfordshire and District Folklore Society 1948-c. 1965