Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Winifred Susan Blackman

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Winifred Blackman (1872-1950) was the older sister of Aylward Manley Blackman (1883-1956), both of them were Egyptologists, archaeologists and anthropologists. They were the children of the Reverend James Henry Blackman, a vicar; and one of five children. She was born in Norwich. The family moved to Oxford when she was over thirty and some ten years later she registered to study at the Pitt Rivers Museum from 1912 to 1915 where she took the Diploma in Anthropology at the University. She also volunteered working on the museum catalogues from 1912 to 1920.

Her voluntary work at the Pitt Rivers Museum is recorded in various Museum Annual Reports. In 1915 she started work cataloguing the lighting appliances owned by Henry Balfour in greater detail:

The card-catalogue has been continued steadily. Miss Blackman has catalogued the valuable collection of spear-throwers, and was engaged in cataloguing a very large collection of primitive lighting-appliances which will eventually be added to the Museum. [Annual Report for 1915]

Work on the catalogue by Miss Blackman continued in 1916, where again reference was made to accessioning the appliances 'shortly' in the annual report for the year. In 1920, when she was aged forty-eight, she was granted the status of research student to carry out scientific work in Egypt under the auspices of the Committee for Anthropology.

She spent much of the 1920s and 1930s living and working in Egypt until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. She often collaborated with her brother Aylward, according to http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2000/481/bk3_481.htm the only book she published was 'The Fellahin of Upper Egypt' in 1927 and her 'meticulous records and fragmentary manuscripts are archived, together with 4,000 photographs, in the Department of Archaeology, University of Liverpool, England (where her brother was appointed a professor in the 1930s)'. The same site comments:

Some of Blackman's subjects are esoteric, such as belief in magic, the evil eye and evil spirits (afarit ), while others -- agriculture, industry and everyday village life -- are more mundane, interweaved with topics as diverse as personal adornment and "the law of revenge." But the anthropologist was also a literary alchemist, transforming each chapter into a multi-faceted gem. Such is the abundance of detailed description, the vivid imagery, the apposite quotations or songs, the relevant anecdotes, the historical context and the fluid narration, that we are drawn into, and fascinated by, each successive chapter to the extent that we feel that we were there with her.

She served as Librarian in the Department of Social Anthropology, Oxford for several years. She published several articles in Folklore. Her first was published in 1916 and her final paper there was published in 1924. She was a member of the Folklore Society, Royal Anthropological Institute, Royal Asiatic Society and Oxford University Anthropological Society.

Blackman's donations to the English collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum

She donated a total of 14 artefacts to the Museum from England:

These objects were from her home town, Norwich:

1913.24.1 Friction-drum, "cock-o-the-North", made from a cylindrical tin box, with pulling cord and rosin, Norwich, made by a man in the parish of St. Paul's. Used as a toy at the present day, for imitating a cock crowing.

1913.24.2-3 2 Bull-roarers, "buzzers", Norwich, made by a boy in St. Paul's parish, and used as a toy. (Long, plain shape, hole made rather crudely for first artefact, Long and fat, plain shape for second)

1916.4.1-2 Toy bow and arrow roughly made by a boy in Thorpe St Andrew parish, Norwich, 1916

1916.4.3 Toy friction-drum of tin with lump of resin, Thorpe St Andrew.

These show her interest in such artefacts predated her arrival at Oxford and the Pitt Rivers Museum.

These are from elsewhere:

1914.14.1 Neolithic scraper of flint, bevelled on the bulb-surface, Santon, Suffolk.

1914.14.2 Flint scraper, Cranwich, Norfolk

1914.14.3 Steel ‘flourish' used by lace-makers in N[orth] Bedfordshire on Dec. 6th to procure new-fire to light the candle by which they work. This is at their annual holiday to celebrate “Kattern”. i.e. the introduction of lace-making into England by Queen Catherine of Aragon on Dec. 6th, 1642 (according to local tradition). Collected by Mr Mulford of Northampton.

1914.14.4 .1-2 Flask filled with water used as a lens to concentrate candle-light on lace-making pillow, together with a rush-work carrying basket, N[orth] Bedfordshire.
Detailed lamp card catalogue entry - Box 4 Lamps Series T-Z and I - XIX Division: See Lacemaking exhibit Description: Carrying basket with water-flask used by lace-makers as a lens to concentrate candle-light upon the pillow. The water has been in this flask very many years. The flask was never filled, an air-space being left to allow expansion Locality: N. Bedfordshire Collected by: Mr Mulford of Northampton How Acquired: Pres'd by Miss Blackman 1914

1916.4.4 Shade of cardboard and paper for reducing the light from electric lights, during the war.

2005.52.1-2 Two toys boats made of bent reeds nailed together, both found on the Cherwell River in Oxford on Trinity Sunday. These were found unentered in the Museum records in 2006. They might be further items from the collection given by Miss W.S. Blackman in 1916, it is not known why they were not catalogued then [1916.4]

Further Reading

Blackman, Winifred S. 1916 'The Magical and Ceremonial Uses of Fire' Folklore Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec. 31, 1916), pp. 352-377

Blackman, Winifred S. 1918 'The Rosary in Magic and Religion' Folklore Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec. 30, 1918), pp. 255-280

Blackman, Winifred S. 1918 'Traces in Couvade (?) in England' Folklore Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec. 30, 1918), pp. 319-321

Blackman, Winifred S. 1924 'Some beliefs among the Egyptian peasants with regard to 'afarit'' Folklore Vol. 35, No. 2 (Jun. 30, 1924), pp. 176-184