Find out about the 'Rethinking Pitt-Rivers' project

Rethinking Pitt-Rivers: Analysing the Activities of a 19th-Century Collector

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The project's principal applicant was Jeremy Coote, Chris Gosden was the co-applicant. Alison Petch is the Researcher on the project.

Ever since the completion of an earlier Leverhulme-funded project devoted to the founding collection of the University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM), we have had three interrelated concerns:
• that we know so little about Pitt-Rivers’s collecting activities in general and about his ‘second’ collection in particular;
• that scholarly and popular understandings of Pitt-Rivers and his collections have been distorted by the existence of a museum in Oxford that bears his name but was never ‘his’ and is filled with other people’s collections;
• that scholarly and popular understandings of the PRM have been skewed by its nominal connections with a man of supposedly fixed ideas.

This project is designed to address these concerns. In particular, the project is designed to provide the scholarly community and the wider public with a detailed account and understanding of the collecting activities of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827–1900). A scholarly database of all Pitt-Rivers’s collections will be created and made available online for the benefit of the research community and the wider public. This will then be used by the project team as the basis for researching and writing a grounded, narrative history of Pitt-Rivers’s activities as a collector. This will have his acquisitions at its core, but will provide an account of all his collections-related activities—as a lecturer, author, cataloguer, exhibiter, museum creator, thinker, and theorist.

The project’s main objective is to ‘rethink’ Pitt-Rivers, by exploring the full range of his collecting activities in greater detail and depth than has been attempted previously. To gain this objective, a series of other objectives must be achieved. The first is to gain a clear picture of his entire collections. This will be achieved through the creation of a comprehensive,scholarly, computerized, publicly accessible database of the entire collection, including digital images of the ‘Farnham’ manuscript catalogues. The database will be used to analyse statistically the entire collection to identify patterns and changes in Pitt-Rivers’s collecting behaviour. This work will enable the project team to test the hypothesis that Pitt-Rivers’s attitude to collecting and to the artefacts he collected changed fundamentally over time. This database and the statistical analyses will be at the heart of a project website that will also provide access to original and reprinted articles, progress reports, and links to related resources. In addition to creating the website, the project team will publicly disseminate the research findings through a workshop, a conference and related edited volume, academic papers, and a monograph.

AP [based on application to the Leverhulme Trust], September 2009

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