Progress 2: March 2010 to August 2010

Rethinking Pitt-Rivers: Progress Report 2

March 2010 to end August 2010

One of the models of Pitt-Rivers' excavations

Transcription of the Cambridge University Library volumes continued during the first month or so of this period whilst volume 9's transcription was completed. The last few pages of this volume contain details of a large number of objects that are briefly described and not illustrated. It seems that the cataloguers were perhaps, by this stage, very behind in their accessioning and a decision was taken to 'batch update' the records. Transcription of all entries was finally completed on 20 April 2010 after the Easter break. A total of 16,685 entries were compiled for 20,415 objects in around 6 months. The mismatch is because some entries cover more than one artefact. See here for more information about numbers. This is only the first stage of the transcriptions. Proof-reading of these transcriptions is key to ensuring total accuracy. The project team were grateful that a volunteer with the project, Rachel McGoff, began work on this herculean task in early May 2010. The team are very grateful to Rachel, an Oxford University undergraduate, for volunteering with the project - her input is vital. Once all the transcriptions were completed the researcher commenced the much more complex research, analysing and comparing Pitt-Rivers collections throughout his life (statistically and by other research methods) and contextualising it with other information about nineteenth century collections and collecting.

After completing the first draft of the entries, Alison turned her attention to researching more than 900 individuals and institutions associated with both the founding collection and the second collection. She managed to find out a great deal of new information which was added to the People database (see menu on the right) and also to clean the database. This database will be enhanced throughout the project with new information that has been retrieved by the project team, or by information provided by visitors to the website. Dan Burt made the entries on the people database more amenable to google searches and it is now the hope of the project team that the general public's and fellow scholars random searches on the web for information useful to them might attract further information which can be added to the database. To this end viewers have been asked to send information to the project team at the project email,This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (as they are in all such similar situations).

Work on the People database took Alison to 24 May when she began work on the statistics analysis (available via the statistics link on menu to the right). This statistical work was completed by the first week in June 2010. After that she transcribed some contemporary accounts of the museum displays at Bethnal Green, South Kensington and Farnham and Rushmore. She also transcribed some eye-witness accounts of Pitt-Rivers' collections and Pitt-Rivers own accounts of the reasoning behind his displays and their history. These can all be found by searching under the link 'Articles' on the menu to the right.

Alison also transcribed many primary source documents held by the Pitt Rivers Museum's manuscript collections regarding the founding collection, these can be found here. Finally, during this six month period, she wrote many articles for the articles section on Pitt-Rivers' staff's art-work, his estate at Cranborne Chase, and particular aspects of his two collections, see here for a full list of these articles. During August 2010 she tried to trace some of the objects that had been sold by Mrs Stella Pitt-Rivers between the 1960s and 1980s, which are listed in Sotheby's sale catalogues (a random selection of copies of which are held by the Balfour Library at the Pitt Rivers Museum, which were used for this purpose) and records from the Christie's website of past sales. The aim was to see the kinds of information that the auction houses gave, and also to see how many of the objects were illustrated by photographs (possibly the only public documentation now available about the majority of the items in the collection). This information was added to the database which will hopefully be available on this site. More than three hundred objects were identified by this process, which is a small fraction of the numbers of objects actually sold during this period. The project is primarily interested in the second collection whilst it was in the ownership of Augustus Pitt-Rivers (ie until 1900) but this later documentation can shed some light on other aspects of that collection.

Meanwhile Dan Burt, the website designer for the project, continued to work on refining the online database, including improving its search functions. Originally the team had wanted only to show the outside world what the catalogue looks like by producing a page-flipping digital book version. Very early on in the project Dan had refined the technical way of achieving this, after some experimentation he decided to use Filemaker Pro, coincidentally (but serendipitously) the software used to produce the transcription database in the first place. However, once this had been produced the team realised that they would be able to use this interface to be able to provide the public (eventually) with a way of searching the transcribed entries tied to the illustrations from the scans. This work to refine the search facilities carried on throughout the period covered by this progress report. The team is very grateful to Dan and to Haas Ezzet, the Museum's ICT officer for their technical support of the project. The work also included a clean-up and amendment of some of the entries, particularly to allow for those three hundred or so objects which appear on more than one page of the catalogue.

The database will be a crucial feature of the website when made public, as it will greatly improve services to other researchers. Jeremy Coote began discussions in July 2010 with representatives of the Pitt-Rivers family, Cambridge University Library and Lord Renfrew about putting the database on-line. The copyright situation for the catalogue volumes is not straight-forward as they are technically unpublished and we are very grateful to them all for their support and advice. When all the entries have been transcribed and checked, and the final tweaking of the interface has been completed, the project team hope to make this database and (suitably down-graded but still superb) scans available to the public on this site, subject to the agreement of the various interested bodies. It is hoped that this might be achieved by the end of 2010.

During March 2010 Jeremy and Alison visited the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum (S&SWM) in the Close at Salisbury. Jeremy had contacted S&SWM before the application for project funding was made to the Leverhulme Trust and they had been very supportive of the bid. The project team wished to discuss both visiting the Pitt-Rivers manuscript collections held by the Museum at some future date and also future collaborations. The team are very grateful to Jane Ellis-Schön, Collections Manager / Curator of Archaeology, and Adrian Green, Director of the Museum. The RPR team have agreed to speak at a conference to be held by the Museum later in 2010 to commemorate the anniversary of the Museum's founding. The team visited the existing Pitt-Rivers display in the Museum, visited the archives (which Alison had already researched at some depth as part of the Relational Museum project) and held extensive discussions with museum staff. In the summer, or early autumn, the team, with Peter Rivière (the research associate), hope to visit Rushmore (now Sandroyd School) and Farnham.

At the Museum Ethnographers Group Annual Conference held on 12-13 April 2010 Jeremy gave a talk about the project. As a consequence of the conference Rhianedd Smith, of Reading University, volunteered to look at the rural museums of England in the nineteenth century and also at the English ethnographic artefacts in Pitt-Rivers' second collection.

Peter Rivière has continued his own research relating to the project. He has been particularly interested in the various exhibitions in London from which Pitt-Rivers purchased objects. He has also been reviewing the Middle and South American ethnographic objects in the second collection and looking at links between the two Pitt-Rivers collections. He then turned his attention to the items in the second collection which had clearly identified field collectors and lastly has been looking at the various donors of objects to Pitt-Rivers.

Jeremy Coote started work on thinking about the structure of the project monograph and also reviewing in detail a small part of the founding collection - that collected by Admiral Denham during his voyages.

Several Pitt Rivers Museum staff contributed object biographies for which the team were most grateful. Alice Stevenson, a member of the Fell Fund project 'Characterizing the World Archaeology Collections at the PRM' agreed to work on the Egyptian collections from the founding and second collection. She completed an object biography about the wonderful flint knife now part of the British Museum's collections, available on this site.

Early in 2010 the artist and academic Sue Johnson, Professor of Art, Department of Art and Art History at St. Mary's College of Maryland had approached Jeremy Coote to explore the possibilities of working with the Pitt Rivers Museum. It had been agreed that it would be an excellent idea to work on material related to the Pitt-Rivers catalogue of his second collection and the founding collection. It is hoped that the final work can be exhibited in the Museum. The Team is also hoping to host a small exhibition during the life of the project about the second collection in the Pitt Rivers Museum; it is exploring the possibility of loaning one or two of the catalogue volumes now held by Cambridge University Museum, and maybe including one or two of the objects from the second collection whose whereabouts are known (some are held by the Pitt Rivers Museum, others might be loaned from private collectors). During a short preparatory research visit to the Museum in early summer, Sue began to look at the images in more detail, particularly the clues within them as to how they were created, and in what conditions. It is hoped that this research will throw much light into a badly documented aspect of the creation of the catalogue of the second collection.

Towards the end of this period it was agreed that Jeremy and Alison would co-convene the 2011 Museum Ethnographers Group's Annual Conference on the theme of Objects and Words: Writing On, Around, and About Things. The conference will be held at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford on 14-15 April 2011. This is one of the themes which have come out of the research work to date for the project and so it will be very useful to have feedback from other scholars and museum ethnographers. During the final discussion at ‘Making Things’, MEG’s 2010 conference at the University of Reading’s Museum for Rural Life, there was an interesting if unresolved discussion about the point of analysing labels and catalogue entries. While some argued that the main point of such work was to throw light on original provenance and thus on indigenous purposes and meanings, others emphasized the value of a focus on old labels and texts for the analysis of museum practice. We envisage MEG’s 2011 conference as taking this discussion as its starting point and thus invite papers from museum ethnographers and others that focus on the analysis of the words written on, around, and about museum things; that is, inscriptions, labels, display texts, catalogues, and databases. We will be interested in papers that explore the role of words in the documentation, interpretation, and  presentation of objects—both historically and in the present. If you are interested in attending the conference please go to the Museum Ethnographers Group website where you can see the call for papers from early November 2010 (submission by 7 January 2011), booking form from early January 2011 (bookings to be received by mid March 2011)

Alison Petch and Jeremy Coote

[Written April - August 2010]

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