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History of the Pitt Rivers Museum post 1920 [to 1945]

See here and here for the earlier history of the Pitt Rivers Museum

This document was written during the ESRC funded Relational Museum project between 2002 and 2006 by Alison Petch and Frances Larson (the researchers on the project). The project looked at the networkers of collectors and museum staff who had formed the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum up to 1945 and the history of the Museum up to 1945. This document reflects those interests.

This document has not been extensively revised since it was completed at the end of 2006, and may not reflect the fullest knowledge available to the Scoping Museum Anthropology full project team at the time of writing. AP has quickly reviewed its contents though to make it as consistent as possible with other pages as they were in April 2013, when this article was added to the SMA website.

Penniman 1998.267.86T.K. Penniman, Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum after 1939The Annual Reports are not specific as to the year but Ernest Seymour Thomas, an assistant to Balfour, began working at the Museum in the early to middle 1920s (probably 1924-1925). Carline continued to work as Assistant Curator, cataloguing and labelling artefacts until 1926. During the 1920s Francis Howe Seymour Knowles resumed volunteering at the Museum, working on stone tool and other collections and also becoming involved in redisplay work. In 1920 Winifred Blackman continued card cataloguing and mention is again made of visits to the displays ‘for the instruction of school-children, and at the request of the Board of Education, facilities were given to a number of teachers in public elementary schools’. In 1921 Beatrice Blackwood began work as assistant in the Department of Human Anatomy. In that same year Balfour remarked:

‘... in Oxford one never gets any credit for one’s labours unless one perpetually thumps a big drum & makes oneself generally unpleasant by blaring away on a trumpet. I have slaved singlehanded for the University for 35 years or so & have spent a heap of money to keep the Museum going, & have never received any encouragement, except from the outside. However I still survive & am awfully keen on the work.’ (PRM, Baldwin Spencer collection, box 4:21)

The Lower Gallery had to close for part of 1921 so that ‘considerable alterations’ could be carried out, mostly involving the fitting of new wall-cases to part of the north and west walls. Another change was that ‘[t]he upper portion of the Museum House was assigned to the Museum, but occupation and fitting up of the premises for use was unfortunately delayed and the building could not be brought into use during 1921’. Balfour gave the ‘Huxley Memorial Lecture’ for the Royal Anthropological Institute in London with the subject ‘The archer’s bow in the Homeric poem’ [Clarke, 1939:466]. In 1922 the Annual Report does not give any information about developments or changes to the displays. Part of the reason might be that Balfour was away from August of that year, ‘he went to the Naga Hills in Assam, travelling between 200 and 300 miles chiefly on foot with J.H. Hutton and J.P. Mills. He made large ethnographical collections and returned in the following January.’ [Clarke, 1939:467]

In 1923 it was reported that the addition of exhibition-cases had involved much temporary disarrangement, the lower gallery was kept closed during this period. In 1924 the usual round of re-display work took place, Balfour seems to have spent most of the year working on ‘the very fine collection’ of stone tools from Tasmania amassed by Westlake which he believed would ‘throw much light upon the status of the Tasmanians among Stone-age peoples’. 

In 1925 work had continued in the Upper Gallery, which had remained closed to the general public during the work, Balfour comments: ‘the extensive comparative series of spears has been arranged in these cases, to great advantage since the delicate spears will now be properly protected from damage. The exhibits are primarily in geographical groups, but within each group the classification is mainly typological. A few special synoptic groups have been added to illustrate special points’. The roof again began to cause problems, leaking and causing damage to specimens and fittings. As reported in the Annual Report for 1926, this was repaired ‘fairly successfully, and a comparatively small quantity of rain now penetrates into the Museum. The laying of new hot-water pipes, in connexion with the new heating system, caused a good deal of disturbance, but, fortunately, little damage was done, in spite of serious flooding due to the old pipes failing to stand the new pressure. The warming of the Museum has seriously diminished and it will be absolutely necessary to extend the heating-pipes, in order to maintain a satisfactory temperature. It is hoped that this may be done before the commencement of the cold weather.’

In 1926 the succeeding Curator after Balfour, Tom Penniman, registered for a Diploma in Anthropology. E.S. Thomas, again Balfour’s only assistant, worked on cataloguing and labelling objects during 1926-8. In March 1927 Balfour re-appointment as Curator is confirmed for a further seven years. The newly installed heating system did not work efficiently (and continued not to work). There was a plague of rats in the museum, which caused damage to the collections. On a happier note perhaps, Balfour gave a ‘special course of lectures on African technology to a class of thirty students of the Tropical African Service. Balfour reported that the use of the museum by schools and ‘other educational organizations’ had increased. Balfour’s work on the Westlake collection had continued, and he had ‘reached new and definite results involving the revaluation of the status of native Tasmanian culture’. In November 1928 a severe gale stripped off much of the glass roof and damaged some cases in the Upper Gallery. A fortnight elapsed before the roof could be repaired. The ceiling of Balfour’s research room in Museum House also collapsed causing a great deal of damage.

Balfour complained in 1928 that the overcrowding in the Museum was very serious and ‘unless extension space is forthcoming the congestion will very seriously impair the utility of the Museum, both for teaching and for research’. In 1929 he reiterated his complaint, ‘the congestion has reached a critical stage and it is quite impossible to do full justice to the collections and to organize them so that their very valuable material for instruction and research can be properly emphasized. The series have been developed with definite objects in view, but to carry out the objectives requires more space than is available and the need of extension is extremely urgent’. These complaints continued in most of the annual reports before his death. In 1932 he made a particularly vociferous complaint:

The difficulties arising from lack of adequate exhibition space in the Museum have increased and satisfactory administration is almost impossible, in view of the fact that no extension of the area allotted to the display of specimens for the benefit of the public has been made since the Museum was started, nearly fifty years ago. Drawer-cabinets, glass-fronted cupboards, and a few table-cases have been added, in order to eke out the space, but this leads to increased congestion by the reduction in width of the gangways, thus seriously hampering the free circulation of visitors and students, and militating against the giving of lectures and demonstrations in the museum.

The overcrowding may have influenced another part of the collection and caused it to grow. As Elizabeth Edwards explained:

The acquisition of good commercial photographs as supplementary material for Museum specimens was clearly part of Balfour’s policy as late as the 1920s despite the growing tendency towards primary documentation in the form of large collections of fieldwork photographs. It appears that Balfour was particularly interested in acquiring photographs of objects which were difficult to collect and store in a museum, such as houses and large sailing craft. Many of these categories are represented in the Pitt Rivers Museum as models, consequently photographs were, and still are, an importance source of explanation and interpretation. [Edwards, 1984:29]

During the Long Vacation of 1928 Balfour travelled to Kenya and Uganda, in 1929 he returned to Africa, visiting South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya where he ‘collected a number of important specimens for the Museum, and was able to make many observations having a scientific bearing upon the Museum series’. In 1930 he travelled to Nigeria ‘during which I was able to collect material of considerable interest, as well as valuable information’. In 1929-1930 Thomas completed his comprehensive catalogue of the objects from the Naga Hills, India. Balfour remarked in 1928, ‘[t]he Naga collection is probably the most complete in the world and is of great scientific importance. It is hoped that a catalogue raisonné of this collection may be published in due course. As a step towards facilitating this the card-index is being prepared by my assistant’.

In 1931 work began on the ‘extensive collection of ethological photographs’, they were mounted and classified for arrangement in a series of cases, in 1932 it was reported that E.S. Thomas had nearly finished this work. In 1932 a large collection of objects were transferred from the Indian Institute in Oxford. In the same year F.H.S. Knowles began work on card catalogues for the lighting series (cards which are still in use today). These included a large collection amassed by Balfour himself. In 1933-4 he began work on the surgical and medical appliances. Antoinette Powell-Cotton, a volunteer, also began cataloguing footwear. In the summer Balfour revisited Finland and Norway. In 1933-4 electric lighting was installed in the iron building (Green Shed). In Museum House several wall screens were erected in some of the rooms to be used for storage.

In 1935 Balfour was awarded the personal title of Professor. Knowles and Powell-Cotton continued cataloguing work as did E.S. Thomas. He sadly died the following year, Balfour acknowledgement of his worth does not seem very forthcoming, ‘[t]he death of Mr. E.S. Thomas, who had served as Assistant Curator for about 12 years, on 9 June 1936, has caused a serious gap on the Staff. During his tenure of the post he had acquired a knowledge of the collections and the necessary routine of dealing with them, and his loss is a serious one, particularly since the Museum finances have not enabled me to have a second assistant who could have been trained and have become qualified to fill the vacancy. Cataloguing work and much of the essential routine work have had to be stopped for the time being, and that work must necessarily accumulate, greatly to the detriment of the Department. Without an adequate staff it is impossible to administer the Museum properly and so maintain its prestige’. Balfour himself was ill during Michaelmas Term (Penniman, his successor, standing in for him for his lectures). The next year Knowles continued cataloguing. In the year ending July 1936 ‘a row of sheds was erected along the annexe building at the back of the Museum, and this ... enabled [Balfour] to clear a semi-underground room, below the Curator’s office, to serve as a sorting-room and store-room.’

Evans-Pritchard recalled that:

When Marett retired [in 1936?], a University Chair in Social Anthropology was established through the generosity of All Souls, and Professor Radcliffe-Brown was elected to it in 1937. He gave further emphasis to social anthropology as a distinct and independent subject within the clusters of anthropological sciences by changing ‘The Department of Social Anthropology’ to ‘The Institute of Social Anthropology’. I do not know why he did this, but as no one seemed to mind, we have come in course of time to be regarded by the University as an ‘Institute’, though our claim to the title rests on use rather than on statute. [Evans-Pritchard, 1953:18]

During 1937 Balfour reports that he had had to spend several months in a nursing home, which, combined with the lack of an assistant, had really affected the work in the Museum. He commented that:

To carry out the necessary routine-work with reasonable efficiency two Assistants at least with scientific training are essential, either of whom is capable of performing the other’s normal duties, at any rate temporarily, so as to tide over emergency periods. Without such assistance the objectives of the Museum cannot possibly be carried out. It is to be hoped that the University will take steps to make possible the appointment of a scientific Assistant-Curator, of the standing of a full-time University Demonstrator, and that a suitable man with scientific training may be found to occupy a somewhat more subordinate post on the staff.

In 1937 Arthur Thomson died and Beatrice Blackwood, who had been his assistant and Demonstrator, moved to the Pitt Rivers Museum (she was abroad on fieldwork for two years but returned by Spring 1938). Apart from the work F.H.S. Knowles had been carrying out all cataloguing work ceased. Balfour complained about the condition of Museum House, where museum objects were stored. The problems were caused by the lack of heating, and sound fairly dire, ‘walls are disintegrating and ceilings tend to collapse through dampness’. Courses were offered by the museum to the Malayan Civil Service students, though their delivery was affected by Balfour’s illness.

Balfour became seriously ill in August 1937 and continued to be ill until July 1938, Penniman and Blackwood had to stand in for him in his lectures and Penniman acted as Acting Curator. After her long time abroad on fieldwork Blackwood spent most of 1938 cataloguing and preparing the results of her fieldwork for publication. A scholar from Europe, Heinrich Meinhard, assisted in the cataloguing of accessions, and F.H.S. Knowles also carried on cataloguing as a volunteer. In his last annual report, in 1938, Balfour commented, ‘[t]he inadequacy of the staff and the want of storage-rooms, working-rooms, lecture-room, and dark-room are the chief obstacles to progress. Increased exhibition space is very urgently needed, in order that the growing series may be scientifically displayed, so as to ensure the full use of the very valuable collections for educational and scientific purposes.’

1939 was a year of great change for the Museum. Penniman was appointed Balfour’s deputy in January 1939 but a month later Balfour died. His collections and library were bequeathed to the Museum. Penniman commented in the 1939 Annual Report:

His many friends throughout the world will be glad to know that until the last, he was, as always during an illness, planning to return to the Museum and continue and develop the work to which he had given his life. Under his direction the Museum grew to many times its original size, augmented largely by his own long and often hazardous journeys, many of them undertaken after he was seriously crippled, and also by the many friends and pupils throughout the world who were inspired by his teaching and example to collect for the Museum. Thanks to his austere devotion to scientific accuracy, the Museum is one of the best documented in the world, and this, and its unique arrangement by arts and industries rather than by areas, the invention of the founder, developed and modernized by the late Curator, have drawn research students and Museum Directors from all parts of the world to study, and the Museum has taken a definite place in national life, attracting annually large bodies of teachers and pupils ... Besides the many gifts which he made during his lifetime, he left a library of 3,000-4,000 books and 6,000 pamphlets, collected over a period of fifty years with a view to illustrating and explaining the origin, development, geographical distribution and variation of the principal arts and industries of primitive peoples as shown in the Museum. A large and beautiful collection of musical instruments, fire-making apparatus, and general ethnographical specimens including an Hawaiian feather cloak, were also designed to augment or complete collections in the Museum, but these collections and the library were kept in his house because of severe congestion in the Museum. After his death, his son, Mr. Lewis Balfour, generously gave these to the Museum, on condition that they should have a suitable temporary house, and one day be placed with the rest of the collections.

Penniman was appointed as the second Curator of the Museum (he remained in this post until 1963), throughout his time in this post he had to reapply for continuation every seven years (something he complained about to the University authorities). It was only when Fagg was appointed that a full time, permanent post was established after an University review of the needs of the post (see detailed correspondence about this in the University Archives [University Registry files]).

Penniman rapidly instituted many changes in the museum, ‘various necessary alterations and repairs have been made in the Museum. In the Court the glass roof has been thoroughly overhauled and made sound against the weather, and the ventilating fan has been put in order and fitted with a louvre to keep out the rain. Curtains on runners have been fitted over cases containing materials which fade or otherwise suffer from light, and certain screens with perishable specimens have been glassed over. ...The heating and drainage systems in the work, reception and Curator’s rooms have been modernized, so that floors, exhibition cases, and specimens are now safe from damage by water. The same rooms have been cleared of accumulations and fitted for work, reception and preservation, and cataloguing of objects. The card catalogues have been collected into the Curator’s room, and work resumed on them. A filing system has been installed’.

In addition to instituting this important work Penniman also tried to get additional support from the University, ‘[a] Report on the Present Position and Immediate and Future Needs of the Museum has been placed before Council by the Acting Curator, recommending the appointment of a permanent Assistant Curator, an increase in the technical staff with higher wages, and a larger annual grant’. In addition he asked for additional physical space, ‘the present Geology Department and the original Lanchester and Lodge site behind the Museum should be allotted for immediate expansion and future building, in return for giving up Museum House for the use of Physical Anthropology, and puts forward a plan for building an annexe in sections. It would be most appropriate if this annexe could be named after Professor Balfour and stand as a memorial to his life-work for the University’.

In 1939 F.H.S. Knowles continued to work on the catalogues as a volunteer, Heinrich Meinhard also continued to enter new accessions, research and take photographs. In the annual report Penniman reports that ‘several volunteers have been found to assist next year in showing students how to make flint implements, and in teaching them to use the various appliances in use among primitive peoples’. After Balfour’s death his son, Lewis Balfour, gave his collections to PRM on understanding that they obtained additional space, Penniman secured a house to display Balfour’s collections temporarily. F.C. Whiting, described in the 1939 Annual Report as having been an employee of Balfour for many years, was appointed caretaker of the premises at 9 Crick Road he worked on repairing, preserving and arranging Balfour’s collections. Henry John Walters had now served as Head Technician for 45 years.

In 1940 he introduced the system of an unique accession number for each object (following consultation with the British Museum). He also started the work on preparing complete series of cards, with each object having two separate catalogue cards, one filed under a system of object type, the other by geographical provenance (a system that is still in use today, though it has been at least partially eclipsed by the complete collections management computer databases now in operation). This process was described by Blackwood:

The laborious work of copying in duplicate on 5” x 3” index cards the entries in the Accession Books (until then the only record of what the Museum possessed), was done by Penniman and his colleagues during the dark days of the Second World War. We could not black-out the Museum, but we could, and did, pick up an Accessions book, a few packets of index cards and a portable typewriter, and take them to a blacked-out room kindly placed at our disposal by the Delegates of the University Museum. Once the back-log of cards had been done, from the first entry in 1884 to the entries for the current year, it was, of course, comparatively easy to keep them up to date. [1970:12]

In 1952 Penniman gave a talk at the Museums Association’s meeting in Oxford in which he drew attention to the museum’s displays and documentation methods, which presumably had not changed since they had been instituted in 1940:

... the museum collections cannot in all places remain static, and indeed, it will be seen that some cases have been rearranged, others are being arranged, and some are in their original condition. This process has involved us in the making of a card catalogue which has reached about 300,000 cards, and is not yet finished. But it has proceeded far enough to allow us to know what is available for choice in making a display, and while making it, to arrange the storage of the same kinds of objects in such a way that they are readily available, not only because we use such material for practical courses in the same way that zoologists or geologists use their material, and must have it available for study by research workers who need to see far more than is on view, but because things out of sight must be watched with more care than those that are under many watchful eyes. In this business of bring various displays up to date, we have tried to be objective, presenting the evidence as far as we have it, rather than arranging objects to exemplify any views we may have about answers to problems. [Penniman, 1953:243]

He also founded the so-called ‘Occasional Papers’ series whereby topics interesting to the Museum could be published and more widely disseminated. A further thing that he instituted is still causing ripples today, Penniman appears to be the first Curator to put forward a plan to totally develop the Museum either by large extension or by relocating it, it was his broad plans that Bernard Fagg built on for the much better know new build development plans for the Banbury Road site (that occurred after 1946). Further details of Penniman’s development proposals can be found in the University archives [Registry files from 1939-1963].

In 1940 the staff of the museum are listed as being Penniman, Blackwood, Henry John Walters, F.C. Whiting and J.F. Green (‘our cabinet maker’). Walters spent the year working on restoring and preparing specimens, drawings and photographs for display. This core staffing was, as ever, supplemented by volunteers. Mrs Meinhard, Mrs Maspero, R.J.C. Atkinson and Mr Gibbs indexed the old accessions books preparing the geographical provenance cards. Atkinson had, in addition, brought up to date the index of all donors etc. F.H.S. Knowles helped Penniman with redisplay work on a voluntary basis. A.A. Kennedy restored some musical instruments. Penniman insisted that a large number of the musical instruments should be in playable condition (the collections are now a research collection rather than a playing one). Penniman re-stressed, in the 1940 annual report, how additional staff and space were necessary for the proper working of the museum.

In 1940 the Museum and its collections were housed in four separate buildings in the main court and wings of the original building, a large iron shed, in Museum House on South Parks Road, and at 9 Crick Road’. The effects of the Second World War began to be felt, Blackwood finally got an office in the museum, ‘The partial use by firemen and later by the Home Guard of the Assistant Secretary’s room in the Main Court of the Museum somewhat hastened our plans to make provision within the Pitt-Rivers Museum for the Demonstrator in Ethnology, Miss Blackwood. We took the opportunity to clear the Curator’s room and a small lumber room and convert them into cheerful and convenient offices from which to administer the work of the Museum. Some extra expense was involved in heating one of these rooms and the work-room in winter and in providing fans for the summer. The Curator’s and Demonstrator’s rooms become uncomfortably hot, and the Demonstrator’s in particular becomes as hot as a tomato house without the perpetual use of fans by open windows.’ [1] There were complaints about heat both in the offices and in the ‘Exhibition Court’ and the effect that heat had on objects, particularly musical instruments those which lasted in playable condition during the late Curator’s life may not survive that of the present Curator unless new arrangements are made’. New storage and working rooms were created above the workshops where staff used timber from the totem pole travelling case and other lumber to make cupboards. [2]

Wire-netting was stretched below the glass roof. The collections have not been moved (in the war situation), ‘partly because no place is safer than another, partly because many of them would certainly suffer greatly by movement, handling, lack of suitable supervision and conditions, and partly because other people with collections would find our empty space too tempting’. Blacking out of the museum was impossible; therefore it was closed earlier in winter, and the academic staff continued to work in the blacked-out Assistant Secretary’s room off the Main Court of the Museum. Many locks in the museum were changed. Restoration work took place on the English model ships, which had been damaged by the dry air and heat in the museum. The technical staff not only concerned themselves with creating new office space but also providing tours of the displays for school children, re-doing many locks and providing a key-cupboard and restoring musical instruments.

1941 was an unusual year in the museum’s annals in that ‘Curator observed that conditions were bringing on to the market valuable specimens which filled important gaps here, and thought it better for them to be housed for all time in a public museum than to suffer the vicissitudes of private ownership and perhaps be finally lost to the world. Council placed a sum of money at our disposal with the wise provision that the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and the Curator of the Museum of the History of Science be consulted before drawing on the fund, both to avoid duplication of effort, and to establish our different provinces. This provision has been of value in directing material where it has most significance.’ The acquisition of additional objects made it necessary to identify what the purpose of the Museum was and this Penniman summarised as:

The Pitt-Rivers Collection aims to show the origin, development, geographical distribution and variation of the principal arts and industries of mankind from the earliest times to the age of mass production, and the collections are used both for teaching these arts and industries and their ethnological significance, and for teaching the General Ethnology of the areas of the world. ... Questions are sometimes asked about the scope and range of the collections. The Museum takes the world for its province, and for its period, from the earliest times to the present day, excluding the results of mass production ... [Blackwood, 1970:8-9, 16]

To our mind this is sometimes differently expressed:

The Pitt Rivers Museum has always made a practice of collecting ‘ordinary and typical specimens’, although it also possesses many objects of rarity, beauty, and value. Again, and as a corollary of this, it has always exhibited far more specimens in a show-case than modern museum technique would consider either necessary or desirable ... This precept, that Ethnology and Archaeology are the present and the past of the same subject, ‘man as he was and as he is’. has always been a guiding principle in the functioning of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

In 1991 Schuyler Jones, the then Curator of the Museum, reflected on this:

“A Museum which ceases to collect, dies”. This is particularly true in the field of material culture which is a constantly developing discipline ... It is equally important to document and show the changes in material culture and technology among peoples influenced by modern industrial societies ... The arrangements of the collections by type means that there are, and always will be, cultures and groups of artefacts which are poorly represented or not represented at all. It is a basic curatorial responsibility to attempt to deal with this problem so that the collections will develop and grow in a balanced and comprehensive way ...’ [Blackwood / Jones, 1991:19]

In 1941 Messrs Green, Whiting and Walters were all still working at the museum although in that year Walters finally retired and was replaced by his son, Henry Frederick Walters. Blackwood compiled a catalogue of the museum’s lantern slides. A very large number of volunteers worked in the Museum. Mr Gibbs (presumably a volunteer) had improved and developed the amulet card catalogues. F.H.S. Knowles, Alfred Schwartz Barnes, Armand Donald Lacaille and Samuel Hazzledine Warren all provided voluntary assistance with the stone tool collections. Barnes made plaster casts and drawings to supplement teaching and Knowles and Atkinson completed the Stone Age displays. Miss J. Watters restored some North American beadwork. Mrs. Meinhard supervised the production of indexing the accession books by donor regions and subjects, Mr. Gibbs, Mrs. Maspero, and Mrs. Clibborn helped her. R.J.C. Atkinson of Magdalen College ‘overhaul[ed] our varied collection of several hundred bronzes’, Kenneth Hutton worked on the scales of all oboes, Major Pollard catalogued the comparative series of obsolete firearms, Heinrich Meinhard worked on the regional catalogue of material received since 1940, Mr Robins continued to catalogue the lighting appliances, G.E.S. Turner (who worked in the University Museum of Natural History) and Blackwood working on North American collections and the cataloguing of the libraries was continued by Mr and Miss Ford of the Radcliffe Science Library.

In 1942, to make room for the Jeffreys collection from the Wellcome Museum, ‘... completely rearranged the large collections in the iron shed’. Previous years’ work in refitting the rooms in the south wing of the main building ... allowed staff to clear Museum House of some of the more valuable specimens and to use the shelves and screens they occupied in fitting the basement so as to collect together all of our lantern slides, negatives, cinematograph films, photographs, and specimens regularly used in some of [the] courses, together with the slowly growing card catalogues arranged by regions, subjects, and donors.’ Dr. Meinhard had nearly finished the catalogue of the Balfour collection, Mr. Ford had nearly finished cataloguing the Henry Balfour and Buxton libraries [3], apart from the large collection of pamphlets. Penniman and Mrs. Maspero were preparing indexes of accession books by donors, regions and subjects, Blackwood produced directory of series at PRM and Walters and Whiting were still on the staff although information as to their specific activities is not given.

Work continued in 1943, although the greatest input was again made by volunteers. Mr. Robins catalogued about 1,200 lamps in the series illustrating illumination and fire-making. F.H.S. Knowles was still contributing to redisplays. G.E.S. Turner rearranged and relabelled, with much additional information, the case on the Treatment of Dead Enemies, other than Naga. Miss Nevell arranged an exhibition illustrating the making of Pillow-lace. Meinhard worked on cataloguing the Jeffreys collection. Walters and Whiting were still on the staff. The first ever Occasional Paper on Technology was published in 1943, ‘The Manufacture of a Flint Arrow-head by Quartzite Hammerstone’ by Sir Francis Knowles.

In 1944 Penniman and Blackwood ‘indexed regionally’ the original founding collection and the transfers from the Ashmolean. Mrs. Maspero and Miss Allen had volunteered to work on the accession books. Dr. Meinhard had all but concluded the entry of the Jeffreys collection, F.H.S. Knowles was still working on displays, Mr Atkinson still continued work on the bronze objects, Turner continued his valuable work identifying and cataloguing North American Indian specimens and Mr. Ford had made good progress with the cataloguing of the Balfour and Buxton Libraries at Crick Road. Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting were still at museum. Penniman, like Balfour, continued to tinker with existing displays, ‘remov[ing] accretions from several cases, and restor[ing] their original meaning’.

In 1945 Dr. Meinhard completed the entry of the Jeffreys collections from the Cameroons and Nigeria, and left the Museum to work on an Ethnographical Survey of Africa for the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures. J.S.P. Bradford of Christ Church, currently serving with the Royal Air Force in Italy, was appointed the Department Demonstrator. Mr. Robins continued to work on the subject catalogue of lamps, Mr. Ford continued the catalogue of the Balfour and (L.H. Dudley) Buxton Libraries in his spare time and Penniman and Blackwood still worked on the card catalogue series, ‘Miss Blackwood added about 18,000 cards to the Regional Index, and reorganized the boxes, which now run to 120, representing about an eighth of the cards needed for the present specimens, which are close on a million. Much of the work done by her and the Curator involved detailed cataloguing of collections that had been entered en masse, and of collation with more than one Accessions Book’. Whiting and Walters were still on museum staff. For the first time a count of museum visitors was given ‘9,695 people ... including many parties of school-children’.

The end of the Second World War and 1946 saw the world and the Museum moving on to new eras. One of the changes related to an adjacent building which Penniman acquired from the Department of Geology and into which the Balfour Library was installed in 1948 [Berry, 2003:256], completing the main museum site as it would be known to staff in 2004. In anthropology too a new era dawned when Edward Evans-Pritchard was appointed Professor of Social Anthropology. Anthropology and museum ethnography had changed over the 60 years or so since the Museum’s foundation and this is reflected in the following quotation:

Interest among anthropologists in the study of material culture has fluctuated considerably during much of this [20th] century. Prior to 1900 anthropologists had relied on material, verbal and observed behavioural data equally and without hesitation. Indeed material data, as Tylor and Pitt Rivers ably demonstrated, lent themselves particularly to arguments regarding evolution and distribution of cultures. Yet in 1914 Wissler could remark: 'For some years the study of material culture has been quite out of fashion, though not so very long ago it was otherwise. Field-workers still record such random data as come to hand and gather up museum specimens, but give their serious and systematic attention to language, art, ceremonies and social organization.' ... there was in fact a revival of interest in material studies in England during the 1930s. [4] This interest was to continue until the end of the War when there began a further decline to what was perhaps the nadir in the late 1950s. During the 1970s, in part under the stimulus of archaeology, research in the field of material culture has been revitalized and interest raised to an encouragingly high level. [Reynolds, 1984:61]


[1] This sounds familiar to AP who had to suffer similar conditions in an office in the old attic of the Balfour Library for many years.

[2] This has become a recent myth of the museum, now different parts of the museum are said to have been made from the totem pole case wood, including the storage cupboards which were in the Upper Gallery until 2003 and used for storing South American collections. There is no evidence that this is correct.

[3] Dr. L.H. Dudley Buxton, Reader in Physical Anthropology, died on 6 March 1939, of pneumonia... at the request of his brother, Dr. St. J. D. Buxton, his general anthropological library of about 800 books and 1,100 pamphlets, together with various ethnographical specimens collected by himself, are placed on loan in the Pitt-Rivers Museum. These also are temporarily housed at 9 Crick Road.

[4] Original endnotes references for this section: 1. C. Wissler ‘Material Cultures of the North American Indians’ in American Anthropologist, volume XVI (1914): 447; H.S. Harrison ‘Evolution in Material Culture’ Proceedings of the BAAS 193: 137; RU Sayce 'Primitive Arts and Crafts: An introduction to the Study of Material Culture Cambridge CUP 1933


Henry Balfour. 1896. ‘A primitive musical instrument’ Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist XI pp 221-4

....     1899. The Natural History of the Musical Bow Oxford Clarendon Press

David A. Berry. 2003. Collecting at Oxford: A history of the University’s Museums, Gardens and Libraries. Unpublished D.Phil. Oxford University

B. Blackwood. 1970. The Classification of Artefacts in the Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford. Occasional Papers on Technology, no. 11, Oxford.

B. Blackwood. Revised and updated by Schuyler Jones. 1991 The Origin and Development of the Pitt Rivers Museum, PRM Oxford

M. Bowden. 1991. Pitt Rivers: The life and archaeological work of Lieutenant- General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, DCL, FRS, FSA. Cambridge University Press

M.G. Brock and M.C. Curthoys. 1997 The History of the University of Oxford: Volume VI Nineteenth Century Oxford, Part 1 Clarendon Press Oxford

.... 2000. The History of the University of Oxford: Volume VII Nineteenth Century Oxford, Part 2 Clarendon Press Oxford

W.R. Chapman. 1981. Ethnology in the Museum. Unpublished D. Phil thesis, vols I and II, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

.... 1984. ‘Pitt Rivers and His Collection’ in Cranstone and Seidelberg, ‘The General’s Gift’ Oxford

....     1987. ‘Arranging Ethnology’, in ‘Objects and Others’, History of Anthropology Series [ed] G. Stocking 1987. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison Wisconsin

.... 1989. The organisational context in the history of archaeology - Pitt Rivers and other British archaeologists in the 1860s Antiquaries Journal 69 23-42

.... 1991. ‘‘Like a Game of Dominoes’: Augustus Pitt Rivers and the Typological Museum Idea’ in S. Pearce Museum Economics and the Community vol 2 New Research in Museum Studies Athlone London

....     2000. ‘The Pitt Rivers Collection’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

L.C.G. Clarke. 1939. ‘Professor Henry Balfour’ [obituary] in Geographical Journal vol XCIII no 6 June 1939 pp. 465-7

Cochrane, Alfred 2004 “Boyd, Henry (1831–1922).” Rev. Roger T. Stearn. In H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP, 2004. (accessed December 12, 2005).

Jeremy Coote; Chantal Knowles, Nicolette Meister, and Alison Petch.

2000. 'Computerizing the Forster ('Cook'), Arawe, and Founding Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum', Pacific Arts, nos. 19/20 (July), pp. 48-80.

Jeremy Coote. 2004 Curiosities from the Endeavour: A forgotten collection: Pacific Artefacts given by Joseph Banks to Christ Church, Oxford after the First Voyage Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby

Julia Cousins. undated. ‘The Pitt Rivers Museum: A Souvenir Guide to the Collections PRM Oxford

B.A.L. Cranstone and Steven Seidelberg [eds] 1984. ‘The General’s Gift: A celebration of the PRM Centenary, 1884-1984’ Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford Occasional Paper 3

Elizabeth Edwards, 1984. ‘Collecting with a Camera: Pitt Rivers Museum Photographic Collections’ in Cranstone and Seidelberg 1984 pp26-35

Robert Fox. 1997 ‘The University Museum and Oxford Science, 1850-1880’ in Brock and Curthoys 1997

Harold St. George Gray. 1905. ‘A Memoir of Lt-General Pitt-Rivers’ [sic] in Excavations in Cranborne Chase vol V. Somerset [privately published]

..... 1953 [no title] in ‘Anthropology at Oxford: the proceedings of the five-hundredth meeting of the Oxford University Anthropological Society ... February 25th, 1953.

Janet Howarth. 2000a. ‘‘Oxford for Arts’: The Natural Sciences, 1880-1914’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

.... 2000b. ‘The Self-Governing University, 1882-1914’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

Peter Howell. 2000. ‘Oxford Architecture, 1800-1914’ 1914’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

Arthur Macgregor. 1997. ‘The Ashmolean Museum’ in Brock and Curthoys 1997.

Arthur Macgregor, with Melanie Mendonça and Julia White. 2000. Manuscript Catalogues of the Early Museum Collections 1683–1886 (Part I BAR International Series 907), (Oxford: Archaeopress, in association with the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Oswyn Murray. 2000 ‘Ancient History 1872-1914’ in M.G. Brock and M.C. Curthoys 2000

John Linton Myres, 1953. [no title] in ‘Anthropology at Oxford: the proceedings of the five-hundredth meeting of the Oxford University Anthropological Society ... February 25th, 1953.

R.F. Ovenell. 1986. The Ashmolean Museum 1683-1894. Clarendon Press Oxford

Thomas Penniman. 1953. [no title] in ‘Anthropology at Oxford: the proceedings of the five-hundredth meeting of the Oxford University Anthropological Society ... February 25th, 1953.

... 1953. ‘The Pitt Rivers Museum’ Museums Journal January 1953 pp243-246 [paper read at the Museums Association conference at Oxford on 23rd July 1952]

Alison Petch. 1996. ‘Weapons and the "Museum of Museums".' Journal of Museum Ethnography. 8: 11-22.

.... 1998 '"Man as he was and Man as he is": General Pitt Rivers' collections.' Journal of the History of Collections. Oxford

.... ‘Cataloguing the Pitt Rivers Museum founding collection’. Journal of Museum Ethnography 1999, no. 11 pp 95-104

.... ‘AMS25 Anthropological Catalogue (1886): List of Anthropological Objects Transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886 (compiled 1884) / List of Anthropological Objects Transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers Museum’, in Arthur MacGregor, 2000. pp. 255–413.

.... 2002. Assembling and Arranging: Pitt Rivers’ collections from 1850 to now’ in ’Collectors: Expressions of Self and Other Occasional Papers Series: Horniman Museum and Museu Antropologico of the University of Coimbra

.... 2003 'Documentation in the Pitt Rivers Museum’ Journal of Museum Ethnography, No. 15 pp 109-114

Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard. 1953. [no title] in ‘Anthropology at Oxford: the proceedings of the five-hundredth meeting of the Oxford University Anthropological Society ... February 25th, 1953.

Barrie Reynolds 1984 ‘Material Culture and Anthropology’ in Cranstone and Seidelberg 1984. pp 61 - 67.

A.H. Lane-Fox [Pitt Rivers] 1874. Catalogue of the Anthropological Collection lent by Colonel Lane Fox for exhibition in the Bethnal Green branch of the South Kensington Museum June 1874 Parts I and II. London, Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education HMSO [Re-issued 1879]

... 1883. On the development and distribution of primitive locks and keys. London

.... 1891. ‘Typological museums as exemplified by the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford and his provincial museum at Farnham Dorset’ Journal of the Society of Arts, 1891:115-22

.... 1906. The Evolution of Culture and other Essays Oxford Clarendon Press [includes ‘Primitive Warfare’]

Hélène La Rue. 1984. ‘The Natural History’ of a Musical Instrument Collection’ in Cranstone and Seidelberg, 1984 pp 36-40

N.A. Rupke, ‘Oxford’s Scientific Awakening and the Role of Geology’, in Brock and Curthoys, 1997: 541-562.

Richard Symonds. 2000. ‘Oxford and the Empire’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

Keith Thompson. [article on Huxley / Wilberforce debate]

M.W. Thompson 1977. General Pitt Rivers: Evolution and Archaeology in the Nineteenth Century. Moonraker Press.

Pitt Rivers Museum annual reports from 1888-1945

University [of Oxford] Gazettes 1884-1945

Added to SMA website April 2013


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