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'The truth is ... anthropology was born in the museum ...' [Chapman, 1981: iii]

1998.267.85 medumOxford University Museum staff and students, including Balfour, Moseley, Spencer and Acland, in 1884. 1998.267.85This is a website about the development of museum anthropology at the University of Oxford between 1850 and 1920. It provides links to research data, archival resources and transcriptions helpful to any  scholars interested in the topic.

OUMNH Crania displays smallCrania displays in the Oxford University Museum before 1887 [Photograph courtesy of Zoological Collections, OUMNH]This project and website was funded by the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund 2012-13. The project was intended to be a 'scoping' exercise and will (hopefully) be a precursor to a larger project focussing on the pre-history of museum anthropology. Another focus will be on the individuals who contributed to the development of museum anthropology at Oxford, the founding of the Pitt Rivers Museum and establishment of the first paid anthropological lecturer-post at a British university, filled by Edward Burnett Tylor.

1998.267.264.1.1The court of the Pitt Rivers Museum circa 1901 after the installation of the totem poles from Canada. 1998.267.264.1.1The primary investigator for the scoping project is Jeremy Coote and the researcher is Alison Petch. The project will run from 1 September 2012 to end August 2013.

The same project team has recently completed a three-year Leverhulme Trust-funded project, Rethinking Pitt-Rivers (2009-2012). That project website contains much useful information for scholars interested in the development of museum anthropology and archaeology in the nineteenth century, seen particularly through the foci of Augustus Pitt-Rivers' two collections. The Invention of Museum Anthropology project also builds on a previous ESRC funded project, The Relational Museum (2002-6). The content of the old website for that project was updated and added to this site.

The project team has been supported by a wider community of interested scholars including Peter Rivière, Rachel McGoff and staff from the five main institutions whose resources will be 'scoped': the Pitt Rivers Museum, Ashmolean Museum, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford Archives, Oxford University Museum of Natural History and other archives.

Please send any feedback about this site or its contents to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . You can find previous feedback about this website here.

Alison Petch [AP] and Jeremy Coote [JC],
Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

[First written September 2012, updated regularly ever since]

1998.267.88 TylorEdward Burnett Tylor, Keeper of the Oxford University Museum and later Professor of Anthropology, University of Oxford 1998.267.88 Please note that the first photograph on this home page shows many of the key players in the story told by this website. The date of the photograph is taken from the copy of the image used in the book 'Spencer's Last Journey' by Marett and Penniman, where the image is captioned 'The Morphological Laboratory, Oxford, 1884'. It was reproduced by the kindness of G.C. Bourne and H. Balfour (both shown in the photo). In the list of illustrations this was described as 'Group taken in the University Museum at Oxford in 1884'. Presumably Balfour's copy of the image was the one now held by the Pitt Rivers Museum. The caption for the image in 'Spencer's Last Journey' identified the people photographed as: From top left: E.D.Y. Pode [?Poole], H. Balfour, G.H. Fowler, W.L. Sclater, F.E. Lewin, Rev. H. Johnson, S.J. Hickson, W.E. Roth, H.Y. Oldham, William Hine, W.B. Spencer, G.C. Bourne, Dr H.W. Acland and J.G. Ogle. In front of Gilbert Bourne, on the floor, was a Peruvian child mummy, from a necropolis at Ancon in the Lima region [1886.2.19], now in the care of the Pitt Rivers Museum. This mummy was collected in Peru by Commander William Alison Dyke Acland, Royal Navy (1847-1924). He was the eldest son of Henry Acland, who was also in the photograph. This mummy was one of the ones mentioned in a note in the 'Oxford University Gazette' vol. XIII no. 436, 28 November 1882: 'Donation to the University Museum. The Delegates of the Museum announce that four Peruvian Mummies, from Angon [sic] near Lima, presented by Commander W. Acland, R.N., have been opened and examined; and that a series of objects of ethnological interest obtained from them are now on view in the University Museum. These objects comprise children's toys, grotesque ornaments, articles of food, and specimens of coloured fabrics, with patterns and figures of animals, characteristic of Peruvian art.' (FL 6-2-06). This photograph showed the mummy before it was transferred from the University Museum to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1885-6.

The second photograph was shot before 1887, and shows the cranial displays at the Oxford University Museum, including a Tibetan vessel which is now in the Pitt Rivers Museum [1887.1.589] (see here for more information about this image). The third image is an early shot of the interior of the Pitt Rivers Museum after 1900, when the totem poles acquired by Tylor from the northwest coast area of Canada had been installed. [1998.267.264.1.1] The final image is of Edward Burnett Tylor, 1998.267.88.

Throughout the website the top strip image on each page shows part of two images taken of the interior of the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford during its early years at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.The two images are 1998.267.280.1 and part of another image referenced '64 3 10' whose provenance and date cannot, at present, be tracked down.


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