'[the museum] was the age's great enterprise, realised in the opening of the National Gallery in 1824, the South Kensington complex in 1857, the National Portrait Gallery in 1859, the National History Museum in 1881, and the Tate Gallery in 1897. Victorian society constructed museums, celebrated and critized museums, attended museums, worked in museums, wrote about museums, and collected in  homage to museums. In a sense, one may perceive the museum as an impulse or spirit that infused the age and many of its projects: the triple-decker novel; collected works; encyclopaedias and dictionaries, and phenomena as ordinary as keepsakes, dollhouses, and rock collections or a theory as cataclysmic as Darwin's panoramic evolutionism. Great and small, these system-building projects involved compilation, organization, and display - the three activities fundamental to a museum's work' [Black, 2000: 4-5]

There is no use in exhibiting, if we do not educate.' [The Art-Journal, 'The Art-Treasures at Manchester: The Engravings and Ancient Armour' (October 1857) 304; quoted in Pergam, 2011: 205]

1884.87.74 Cedarbark fibre blanket Vancouver Island, collected by Dr Dally

Pitt-Rivers' had a very clear idea of the purpose of museums' displays, including his own, from very early on. This view was shared by many Victorians in England as the second of the above opening quotations makes clear. Here are some of Pitt-Rivers' own statements on the subject.

There were political benefits of learning more about other parts of the world:

‘... [it is] important to remember that anthropology has its practical and humanitarian aspect, and that, as our race is more often brought in contact with savages than any other, a knowledge of its habits and ways of thought must be of the utmost value to us in utilizing his labour, as well as in checking those inhuman practices for which they have but too often suffered at our hands.’ [Pitt Rivers, ‘Address to the Department of Anthropology’ from the Report of the BAAS for 1872 [JAI 2 (1873) 350-362 p 170-1]

It is clear that Pitt-Rivers saw a great deal of political merit in providing education through museum displays for internal political equilibrium:

‘Anything which tends to impress the mind with the slow growth of stability of human institutions and industry and their dependence upon antiquity, must, I think, contribute to check revolutionary ideas, and the tendency which now exists, and which is encouraged by some who should know better, to break drastically with the past, and must help to inculcate conservative principles, which are urgently needed at the present time, if the civilization that we enjoy is to be preserved and to be permitted to develop itself.’ [Pitt Rivers,Address Bath 1888 p828 quoted in Chapman, 1981: 378]

‘For good or for evil ... we have thought proper to place power in the hands of the masses. The masses are ignorant, and knowledge is swamped by ignorance. The knowledge they lack is the knowledge of history. This lays them open to the designs of demagogues and agitators, who strive to make them break with the past, and seek the remedies for existing evils, or the means of future progress, in drastic changes that have not the sanction of experience... The law that Nature makes no jumps, can be taught by the history of mechanical contrivances, in such a way as at least to make men cautious how they listen to scatter-brained revolutionary suggestions.’ [Pitt Rivers, 1891 ‘Typological Museums Journal of the Society of Arts 40: 115-6]

Pitt-Rivers returned to the theme of the benefits of museums displays over and over again in his lectures:

The collection ... has been collected during upwards of twenty years, not for the purpose of surprising any one, ... but solely with a view to instruction. For this purpose ordinary and typical specimens, rather than rare objects, have been selected and arranged in sequence, ... The classification of natural history specimens has long been a recognized necessity in the arrangement of every museum which professes to impart useful information, but ethnological specimens have not generally been thought capable of anything more than a geographical arrangement. This arises mainly from sociology not having until recently been recognized as a science, if indeed it can be said to be so regarded by the public generally at the present time. Travellers, as a rule, have not yet embraced the idea, and consequently the specimens in our museums, not having been systematically collected, cannot be scientifically arranged. ... Unlike natural history specimens, which have for years past been selected with a view to variety, affinity, and sequence, these ethnological curiosities, ... have been chosen without any regard to their history or psychology, and, although they would be none the less valuable for having been collected without influence from the bias of preconceived theories, yet, not being supposed capable of any scientific interpretation, they have not been obtained in sufficient number or variety to render classification possible. This does not apply with the same force to collections of prehistoric objects, which during the last ten or fifteen years have received better treatment. It is to the arts and implements of modern savages that my remarks chiefly relate. Since the year 1852 I have endeavoured to supply this want by selecting from amongst the commoner class of objects which have been brought to this country those which appeared to show connection of form. Whenever missing links have been found they have been added to the collection, and the result has been to establish, however imperfectly, sequence in several series.’ [Pitt Rivers, ‘On the principles of classification adopted in the arrangement of his anthropological collection, now exhibited in the Bethnal Green Museum’ Journal of Anthropological Institute 4 (1875) 293-308 [read at the special meeting of the Institute held at Bethnal Green Museum on 1st July 1874 on the occasion of the opening of the collection to the public, p1-2]]

This issue of public education was addressed directly by Pitt Rivers in the 1891 article ‘Typological Museums’ published in the Journal of the Society of Arts. Here Pitt Rivers distinguishes between:

Museums of Technology: ‘Technical museums may be established for instruction in art; to improve the taste of those engaged in manufactures.’ [Pitt Rivers, 1891: 115] [he cites National Gallery and South Kensington Museums as examples]

Museums of Reference or Research - as exemplified by British Museum ‘As a large store of antiquities, it is probably the most useful institution in the world for savants who know what to look for and wish to study them, in order to form their own classifications and deductions.’ [Pitt Rivers, 1891: 115]

‘Museums of Education’ - this is the one PR supported and felt was needed ‘in which the visitors may instruct themselves’. [Pitt Rivers, 1891: 115] ‘For an educational museum, specimens should be selected that are useful in displaying sequence. These should be arranged so as to show how one form has led to another. When there is actual evidence of the dates of the objects, of course the arrangement must be for the most part in the order of dates. But when, as in the case of most prehistoric objects and many of the arts of savage nations, the dates cannot be given, then recourse must be had to the sequence of type, and that is what I term “Typology”. It is not an accepted term, and I am not aware that it has been applied before to the study of sequence of the types of the arts. But it appears to me that a name is wanted for this branch of investigation, which the term “Typology’ supplies. If it were taken to imply the study of fixed types as characteristic of particular phases of the arts, it would be erroneous. It includes the growth, varieties, and developments of the several types. It supplies the want of dates by showing how certain forms must have preceded or followed others in the order of their development, or in the sequence of their adoption. It may be said, as a rule. that simple forms have preceded complex ones ... but it is not always the case for, in many instances, progress consists in eliminating superfluous complexity, and reducing the expenditure of time and labour. We have in this, as in all mundane affairs, to deal with degeneracy and decay, as well as progressive growth ... Typology forms a tree of progress and distinguishes the leading shoots from the minor branches ... In some cases the number of missing links makes it impossible to determine the true succession of forms. In such cases recourse must be had to survivals ... in which the successive links, being made of wood or perishable materials, have decayed. But a theoretical, and fairly accurate development, may nearly always be traced amongst the arts of savages by objects in present use. Typological sequence, or typological continuity, may be said to be established when the true succession of forms have been brought out. This is the object of an educational museum. ’ [Pitt Rivers, 1891: 117]

In an educational museum casts and replicas could be used quite freely, according to Pitt Rivers, whilst a research museum required ‘real’ objects.

This lecture given in 1889-90 at the Blackmore Museum, Salisbury, probably states Pitt-Rivers' views as clearly as possible. It includes the statement:

We must also bear in mind that the constantly increasing complexity of our civilization entails conditions that are not condusive [sic] to general [insert] and broad [end insert], as distinct from special and narrow knowledge. In the education of young men and women, the necessity for commencing early, the special studies of their profession, in order to obtain a good start in the race for advancement, forces itself more and more every day on the attention of those who have charge of them. This of course curtails the time available for general education, whilst at the same time the subjects that ought to be included under the head of a liberal education are themselves constantly increasing in number and complexity. We cannot therefore fail to become impressed with the importance of imparting general knowledge upon all subjects, in such a manner that those who run may read, and read correctly. The Art of Drawing, which is now very properly becoming a compulsory part of even the most elementary education, by training the eye to a correct appreciation of form, will greatly increase the capacity of our children for learning by means of Museums profiting by the kind of instruction that Museums are capable of affording.

As Bill Chapman has remarked:

‘Pitt Rivers, perhaps in part because of the lack of enthusiasm on the part of his [anthropological] colleagues, increasingly oriented his efforts towards the general public. In several ways, of course, his collection had had broadly pedagogical purposes from the beginning, when he used it for the education of troops. During the 1870s, however, the educational possibilities of his collection became further defined, largely as a result of his experience with temporary exhibits and also in response to a more general recognition of the educational potential for museums in the popular and scientific journals. .. By the early 1870s, in fact, popular education through museums had become something of a national cause, reflecting in Parliamentary debates on the management of the British Museum and in the efforts for new both national and local collections. ... Pitt Rivers was drawn inevitably into the new museum movement ... and indeed in many ways saw himself as one of the main progenitors of the cause.’ [Chapman, 1991: 153]

AP, September 2011

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