Pitt Rivers Museum

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Pitts River Museum 542
Driving through Oxford, Maureen and I stopped to look at the Pitt Rivers Museum. It opened back in 1887 after Mr Pitt-Rivers donated his 20,000 item ethnographic collection to the university. Since then the collection has expanded to 300,000 items, all the sort of things an enthusiastic tourist or, in the Victorian era, an enthusiastic explorer, might have acquired and brought back to England.

What makes the place so amazing is first of all the way it’s displayed, like some wide-eyed child’s view of what a fabulous Victorian museum should look like. And secondly the way the collection is organised, which is by ‘purpose.’ So you have a cabinet full of ‘things’ for averting the evil eye. Or a collection of exhibits on tattooing and body modifications, everything from primitive equipment for scarification, lip plates or Chinese footbinding to modern tattooing equipment.

It’s an amazing collection, well worth a visit to Oxford.

Eagle & Child 271Back in 2005 I encountered a somewhat similar, although much more recent, collection at the National Museum of Ethnology at Minkaku between Osaka and Kyoto in Japan. That was also a wonderful collection.

◄ After our Pitt Rivers exploration we stopped into the Eagle & Child pub for lunch – known to Oxford students as the ‘bird & the baby’ it’s another example of the British facility for coming up with great pub names. It also reminded me of my first visit to Switzerland as a small child. Up in the Alps I noticed a postcard of an eagle carrying off a lamb and I remember thinking ‘I’m not that much bigger than a small sheep’ and spending the rest of the day looking nervously up above for circling Swiss eagles.