Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Instructions for students for the preparation of Object biographies for Other Within website

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

In 2007-8 and 2008-9 academic years, students from Dan Hicks 'Material Culture' seminar series and M.St students in the Museum were invited to prepare a biography about an English artefact in the Pitt Rivers Museum's displays that appealed to them.

For the last two years students have been asked to prepare so-called 'object biographies'. If completed, and appropriate, these biographies will be added to the research website, a publication to count towards your CV!

1. The Other Within project

The Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford is one of the foremost ethnographic museums in the world. It is known for having many thousands of objects on display from all corners of the globe. However, it does have surprisingly large collections of artefacts, photographs and manuscripts from England. A research project is now underway (to be completed during 2009) looking at the museum's English collection and hoping to discover many things about it. The three-year project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The project team now consists of Chris Gosden, Professor of European Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford, Alison Petch and Chris Wingfield. The team is analysing the collections of the museum, together with the history and motives of the people making the collections. It is hoped this will throw new light on what was being collected and on a variety of issues including the concept of 'survivals' within English culture. The overall aim of the project is to use a major museum collection, with its connected documentation, to throw light on the modern construction of Englishness. The changing structure of the English ethnographic and archaeological collections are being analysed, focussing, at the moment, particularly on Oxfordshire and Somerset. Archival resources will be used to provide rich contextual information on the artefacts and the people who collected them. One of the major outcomes of the project is an innovative website, .

Read more about the progress of the project at http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/englishness.html.

2. What is an object biography?

Broadly, all objects in the museum have a life (or series of different lives). They are made, used and then come into the museum. We asked members of the Other Within project team and other members of the museum staff, students (and ex-students) in the department and other interested parties to write articles about an English object that interested them. There was no set format but everyone was asked to identify the object by accession number, whether it was on display, and outline data from the museum's documentation before discussing the aspects of the object that appealled most to them. We hope that these varied articles will appeal to general readers as well as scholars. Each biography includes interesting stories and facts that may surprise you.

See englishness-object-biographies.html for a brief introduction and also some examples. See also englishness-Intro-to-Object-Biographies.html

3. What you need to do

You need to select an object on display in the Museum (if possible), though an object which is not on display but which we can easily photograph is an acceptable alternative. You need to note its accession number, and any information you can see written on the object. You then need to search the on-line database at http://pittweb2.prm.ox.ac.uk:591/, selecting Objects catalogue (unless you have selected a photograph for your object) and searching for the accession number in the accession number field. The information you find on this database about the object will act as the basis for your object biography. Note that the artefact MUST BE ENGLISH. By that we mean, it must have been made, or used in England during its life. We are prepared to include items made in England but exported and used abroad, or foreign artefacts that were used in this country providing there is a strong enough link to this country.

What you find interesting about an object will vary, and what you choose to write about (and present to other members of your group) will also vary. You need to make sure that if you wish your biography to be published on the website it needs to be
1. Written with a general audience in mind. That is, explain any complex or subject specific terminology etc
2. Includes the accession number and basic documentation.
3. Includes enough interesting data to engage a general audience.

Sign and date the report so that it can be authored to you. Say which course you are doing.

Deadline: Final versions of your Object Biographies must be submitted by 2 March 2009 to be included on the website before the project completes.

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