The following article was published in Museum Anthropology:

Petch, A. (2007), Notes and Queries and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Museum Anthropology, 30: 21–39. doi: 10.1525/mua.2007.30.1.21”

Parts of it dealt with Pitt-Rivers' own contribution to the first two editions of Notes and Queries and these sections are shown here. I am very grateful to Museum Anthropology, for agreeing to this partial re-publication and to Stephen Nash and Oona Schmid, Director of Publishing at AAA for so rapidly answering my question about re-publication. For a full copy of the article please see the Museum Anthropology website.

Note that a transcription of Pitt-Rivers sections of the 1874 and 1892 editions of Notes and Queries are given here.

Notes and Queries and the Pitt Rivers Museum

The role that ethnographic museums have played in the development of anthropology as a discipline has often been debated. It can be argued that some parts of the wider anthropological endeavor are more susceptible to visual and physical display in a museum than others. The contribution that ethnographic museums can make has (by practical definition) to be limited to certain areas of anthropological discourse. This article examines the contribution that one major ethnographic museum has made to the development of anthropology in a single country, the United Kingdom, through the prism of a seminal publication, Notes and Queries on Anthropology, which was published in several editions between 1874 and 1951. In particular, the guide’s advice about collecting is examined, as this is particularly relevant for museum anthropology and has been largely ignored by other writers. The paper concludes with an analysis of the contributions made by individuals associated with the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Part of the University of Oxford, the Pitt Rivers Museum curates over half a million ethnographic and archaeological artefacts, photographic and manuscript collections from all parts of the world and many historical periods. The Museum was founded in 1884 when the University accepted the gift of around 20,000 artefacts from Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. Almost immediately the collections started to grow, not only from internal transfers from other parts of the University but from very large donations by University staff and members of the public. The museum has been described as being one of the “six great ethnological museums of the world (Blackwood 1970:16).”

Advising the Field Collector

It is of importance to obtain from natives any portable specimens of their handiwork, tools, weapons, dress, ornaments, fetishes, &c., and where possible, the native descriptions of the objects, whether the tools, for instance, are for any special work, &c. Models should be secured where the originals cannot be obtained or are too large for transport, e.g., canoes, houses, &c. Not only are the finished objects worth collecting, but also the raw material used in their manufacture, where this has any special character ... The commonest things in use are generally the most valuable from an ethnological point of view, though masterpieces of native art are of artistic value, and therefore should not be despised. At the first moment of leisure the objects should be labeled with the locality where they were obtained, and their use, and any other particulars. Never trust to memory alone. [BAAS 1892:232]

The beginnings of the formal Notes and Queries in Anthropology can be traced back to 1872. In Pitt Rivers’ (then known as Lane Fox) presidential address to the Anthropological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (henceforth BAAS) Annual meeting in 1872, he supported the setting up of a joint committee of Geographical Society and Anthropological Institute members to draw up questions for travellers in order to ameliorate the deficiencies in existing knowledge in the light of the fact that “the evidence which we desire to obtain is now rapidly disappearing from the face of the earth” (BAAS 1872:171). The intention was to provide the raw data that would be used as the basis for anthropological theorizing back in the United Kingdom (Stocking 2001:175).

In 1873 the Committee reported back to the annual meeting of the BAAS in Bradford (BAAS 1873:482–488). Pitt Rivers, as secretary to the Committee, explained that following the meeting in 1872 he had been approached by the organizers of two expeditions about to set off in search of Dr. Livingstone, asking for “anthropological instructions . . . [to be given] to these officers for their guidance” (BAAS 1873:482). Because of the short timescale, Pitt Rivers had drawn together questions from people such as Augustus Wollaston Franks, George Rolleston, John Beddoe, and Edward Burnett Tylor, had the questions printed in a small volume and distributed them to the officers of the two expeditions who were asked to distribute further copies to colonial and military officials they met en route. Pitt Rivers circulated a copy of this list to the General Committee, however, he did not feel that this manual quite fulfilled the instructions of the BAAS to draw up a series of questions for the use of travellers, as it was too directed towards inquiry in African exploration. Therefore the committee had resolved to put forward a revised series of questions under the title Notes and Queries on Anthropology for the use of Travellers and Residents in Uncivilized Lands (BAAS 1873:483). Pitt Rivers had drawn up a list of the sections of the intended report, and this was circulated with the BAAS Annual Report.

In Pitt Rivers’ final report to the BAAS on this matter in 1874, he reported that the Committee believed that the chief defect of previous instruction and guidance to travellers had been:

their insufficient detail. It is not enough to publish such general queries as might suggest themselves unaided to any well-informed traveller; what is wanted is to draw attention to minutae which might ordinarily be expected to pass unnoticed, but which are often of the first importance to the student of the different branches of anthropological research. [BAAS 1874:214]

To this end the questions had been drawn up by different anthropologists, “each of whom had paid special attention to the subject treated” (BAAS 1874:214). Pitt Rivers opined that:

Many of the questions throughout the book are of a nature which, from the apparent insignificance of the subjects referred to, might appear to those ignorant of the requirements of anthropology unimportant or even childish; and yet from that very cause these apparently trivial matters, owing to their having been less influenced by progressive changes, are often of the utmost value in tracing the connexions between the culture of different races and localities.

Travellers have usually recorded only those customs of modern savages which they have chanced to observe; and, as a rule, they have observed chiefly those which their experience of civilized institutions has led them to look for. Nor are there wanting instances in which the information thus obtained has been lamentably distorted in order to render it in harmony with preconceived ideas.
It is hoped that the questions contained in this work may be a means of enabling the traveller to collect information without prejudice from his individual views. To this end it is particularly to be hoped that they will endeavour to answer the questions as fully as possible, not confining themselves to a detailed account of those things that exist, but also, by special inquiries directed to the subject, endeavouring to determine the non-existence of others to which attention is drawn. [BAAS 1874:217–218]

The stage was now set for Notes and Queries to begin its existence.

When the first edition was published in 1874, the authors explained its aims and objectives in its subtitle, as being: “to provide accurate anthropological observation on the part of travellers, and to enable those who are not anthropologists themselves to supply the information which is wanted for the scientific study of anthropology at home” (BAAS 1874:iv). Two of the most prominent contributors to the first edition were Pitt Rivers and Tylor.

A small but important part of most of the editions of Notes and Queries was the section on the collection of material culture rather than facts. The only exception to this was the first edition for which a title, “Anthropological collections: Instructions for obtaining, preserving and disposing of,” was provided, but no text. It is a pity that neither Tylor nor Pitt Rivers felt moved to fill this vacant section, they would both have felt qualified to do so, if only as recipients of field collections. Neither of them, by this point, however, had amassed very large field collections of their own.

The BAAS recommended in 1887 that a new edition of Notes and Queries be produced and entrusted this work to the Anthropological Institute (RAI).[1] The responsible committee included Charles Hercules Read, John Evans, and James George Frazer (RAI 1888, 1889). The new edition was justified not in terms of demand (although the first edition had sold out) but by the “great advances” in “Anthropological Science” (BAAS 1892:iii). A further reason to bring forward a new edition was that the color charts from the first edition (used in the physical anthropology sections), had been shown to discolor badly and the new edition, it was hoped, would fare better and fade less (BAAS 1890:547). The fourth edition makes it clear that the second edition had been amended “with a view of bringing into greater prominence the queries which present the least difficulty to those whose special knowledge may be slight” (BAAS 1912:iii). Interestingly, the RAI Committee resolved that the title page of the new edition should follow the pattern of the Royal Geographical Society’s Hints for Travellers (clearly indicating one of the perceived markets for the guidance) (RAI 1891).

By the time the second edition was published in 1892, the deficiency in the section relating to the collection of artefacts had been plugged by Read (who edited the entire “Ethnography” section). The sub-section on ethnographic collecting was positioned towards the end of the volume; the quotation given at the beginning of this article comprised about half of the advice, omitting only the sections relating to labeling and packing. Read had worked as Assistant and then Keeper at the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography at the British Museum (the umbrella department under which ethnographic collections were dealt with) from 1880. In his separate “Prefatory Note” he recognized that many of the questions suggested by the section “would necessitate a long-continued residence among a native race, and that even with the most friendly relations it would be a difficult matter to obtain accurate information upon certain matters, such as, for instance, the significance of quasi-religious ceremonies, of totemic signs, past history of the race, and such like” (BAAS 1892:87). He suggested that observers use cameras and drawings as much as possible to record data, “for by these means the traveller is dealing with facts about which there can be no question” (BAAS 1892:87). For the first time, it was suggested that guidance could be sought from the British Museum “or the Museums of Oxford or Cambridge” (BAAS 1892:88), positioning the Pitt Rivers Museum at the very centre of field collecting and ethnographic data-gathering, for British readers at least.

Other advice about collecting was given in other specific sub-sections of the Ethnography section, for example regarding “No II. Personal Ornaments” “it is very desirable in this class to observe the minuter varieties of ornaments distinguishing cognate tribes and to obtain a good collection of specimens well labelled” (BAAS 1892:91), and as in “No. XIV Metallurgy” “in all cases specimens of the metals, ores &c., should, if possible, be obtained and be carefully labelled” (BAAS 1892:110). In some cases the authors suggested arranging for specific artefacts to be made, for example Pitt Rivers advocated that “native drawings by children . . . would be interesting as a means of comparison with the development of artistic skill in Europeans” (BAAS 1892:121).

Quite a few sub-sections dealt with material culture in general, although the somewhat chaotic structural organization of the volume masked this. There were sections on clothing, personal ornaments, weaving, basketwork, string, leatherwork, pottery, dyeing, stone implements, metallurgy, and fire to name but the first few. Most of this categorization continued until the final sixth edition, though they became subsumed under a more clear structure and were often put under a separate sub-heading such as “Material Culture.”

The third edition published in 1899 was a virtual reprint of the second edition. This edition, though following so closely upon the second, was apparently necessitated by the “increasing interest in Anthropology taken by travellers” (BAAS 1899:iii). Both the second and the third editions varied from the first, as Jeremy Coote has noted, in that the reference in the title to “Uncivilized Lands” was removed, leaving the title more simply as Notes and Queries on Anthropology, and the second part was now “Ethnography” rather than “Culture,” showing at least a semantic, if not intellectual, shift (Coote 1987:261). The second edition’s advice about collecting was virtually duplicated in the third, although a little additional advice was given about writing lists into books and not packing them into sawdust. Up to this date the named writer of the collecting section had worked at the British Museum and had presumably been influenced by the customs and practices of that museum.

By 1912 the manual was aimed at “the academically trained ‘field-worker’” (BAAS 1912:iv). The era of the educated amateur in anthropology was now waning, if not practically over. ...

The Pitt Rivers Museum’s Role in Developing Advice for Fieldworkers

Many people closely associated with the Pitt Rivers Museum have been connected at some point with the production of advice about field collecting, via Notes and Queries, between 1874 and 1951. Indeed it can be argued that the Pitt Rivers Museum was an essential part of the development of advice on collecting in Notes and Queries for several generations of anthropologists and amateurs alike. This influence, however, is often not stated but inferred, as there is relatively little direct evidence of the importance of the Museum in the process of producing the manual’s editions. Nor, sadly, is there much evidence of the reasons why staff and other individuals felt that it was so important to contribute to this process. However, a great deal can be inferred both from reviewing the individual’s contributions and from setting their contributions against their life’s work.

An examination of the names of committee members, editorial staff, and acknowledgments given at the beginning of each edition has led to the identification of a total of 118 individuals associated with the production of the manual from 1874 to 1951 (a full list is given as the Appendix). Of these, five were paid members of staff at the Museum (4.2 percent of total), and a further 13 were very closely associated with the Museum and anthropology at Oxford (15.2 percent of the total). In general a total of 44.9 per cent of all the individuals associated with the editions were linked to the Pitt Rivers Museum in some way (a total of 53 people, of which 34, or 29 percent, were linked by the donation of objects). Sixty-five of the named individuals have no known link to the Museum (55 percent), most of these did have known links to many of the individuals linked to the Museum (as one would expect).

The Appendix shows the breadth of different types of connections that contributors to Notes and Queries across the years had with the Pitt Rivers Museum. Most people were linked through donated objects, but a very significant number were either members of staff or closely tied in with the Museum and the development of anthropology at the University of Oxford. It is their contribution to Notes and Queries on which I will be concentrating. Because of the period of time that these people’s lives spanned, roughly from 1827 (the year of Pitt Rivers’ birth) to 1975 (when Beatrice Blackwood died), or, if one it looks at the period when they were acting professionally, from 1860 (for Pitt Rivers) to 1975 (when Blackwood died, still more or less in work harness), it would not have been possible for them all to have been acting in a professional capacity at the same time. The influence of the kind of work that they themselves undertook and the way they collected can be traced in the public information they gave via Notes and Queries.

Two of the most august men associated with the Pitt Rivers Museum at its founding in 1884 were Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers and Edward Burnett Tylor. Pitt Rivers gave the founding collection to the University of Oxford in 1883 and the donation was linked with the establishment of the first academic post in anthropology in the United Kingdom, a post filled by Tylor. The two men were leading lights in anthropology and general intellectual life in England at this time. Both had been presidents of the Anthropological Institute and of the anthropological section of the BAAS. With both men playing important roles in these organizations and seminal roles in the development of the Museum at Oxford, the link between the Museum and Notes and Queries was established.

Pitt Rivers, a keen Committeeman who served on many institutions’ governing bodies, provided an essential administrative role in ensuring that the first Notes and Queries and its two subsequent editions were published (as has been shown in detail above). In addition, he financially supported the earlier editions. He was also one of the two most prominent contributors, with Tylor, writing sections such as “Archaeology,” “War,” “Hunting,” “Circumcision,”and “Ornamentation” (Pitt Rivers) and “History,” “Etymology,” “Morals,” “Covenants, Oaths, Ordeals,” “Superstition,” “Mythology,” and “Taboo” (Tylor).

Both Pitt Rivers and Tylor had prolonged experience collecting artifacts from other people in the U.K., both with their private collections and, later (for Tylor), with the Pitt Rivers Museum. They were also adept at using secondary sources of information to provide their ethnographic raw data (Petch 1998; Brown, Coote, and Gosden 2000). This experience must have proved invaluable in establishing the tone and content of the first edition and explains why elements of their sections survived until the fifth edition, published in 1929, long after their deaths. In fact, both Pitt Rivers and Tylor believed that it was an essential part of the professionalization of anthropology as a discipline to guide and control the methodology of the producers of raw data (who were assumed to be different individuals from the theoreticians).

What neither man possessed was much first-hand experience in field collecting (either of data or of material culture). Pitt Rivers had visited foreign parts whilst in the British army (serving in Ireland, Canada, Malta, and the Crimea), and had visited Egypt and many parts of Europe on holiday. None of his trips abroad was primarily for archaeological or anthropological research though, except perhaps for his tours of northern France to look at archaeological sites. Tylor had traveled more widely than Pitt Rivers, but again whilst on vacation. His stays in the United States, Mexico, and Cuba, when he was convalescing from signs of tuberculosis at the start of his professional life, are often quoted as though they were, in a sense, fieldwork (see, for example, Street’s [2006] entry for “Tylor” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica), but they were not fieldwork as it would later come to be universally accepted.

By the time Tylor was working at Oxford he was in regular correspondence with people abroad who could collect both data and artifacts, and he used this correspondence to furnish the Museum with additions to its collections (Stocking 1992:18; Brown. Coote, and Gosden 2000). It is interesting to note that Tylor’s copy of Notes and Queries from 1892 is held by the Balfour Library in the Pitt Rivers Museum and, in several places, has additional questions or rephrasing handwritten in by him (particularly in the sections relating to religious matters).

Pitt Rivers’ own contribution to the first to third editions of Notes and Queries was very considerable. They probably represent the most long lasting of his contributions to anthropology in the U.K. Very few of his intellectual theories are still acceptable and his writings now seem quite rooted in the time and place of their writing, essentially of historical interest only. Only his collection (still very much the source of much intellectual debate and discussion, as being of very great importance both as a collection and as individual artifacts) and his contribution to Notes and Queries have stood the test of time.

Some anthropological interests and theoretical orientations are compatible with displays of material culture, and some are not. Pitt Rivers’ own interests in the slow evolution of design were reflected (in his conservative mind) by the need for similarly slow social evolution: “Anything which tends to impress the mind with the slow growth of stability of human institutions and industry and their dependence upon antiquity, must, I think, contribute to check revolutionary ideas” (Pitt Rivers 1888:828). This conservatism was reinforced by his displays in London and Dorset, which showed how similar types of objects apparently evolved by small incremental changes in design and technology. In this way his social theory was translated into visual display. This sort of visual display was continued when part of his collection transferred to Oxford but the conservative evolutionary message was no longer implicitly or explicitly associated with the displays. Once the displays were divorced from their creator and added to by museum staff, other social theories (such as diffusionism) became more relevant (Larson in press).

Did Pitt Rivers himself follow Notes and Queries’ advice? Much of the secondary collecting (that is, from dealers and auction houses) of his objects that ended up at the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford had been completed by 1874—also the date his collection was first permanently displayed in a public museum (at Bethnal Green Museum, a branch of South Kensington Museum) and the date of the first publication of Notes and Queries. By the time that advice on field collecting was first published, in the second edition of 1892, the founding collection had been long transferred to the ownership of the University of Oxford. Any influence of the second and third editions of Notes and Queries’ guidance on material culture and ethnographic (and archaeological) collecting would only be felt on his second collection displayed at his personal museum at Farnham, Dorset and in his homes. One can trace his influence however, the other way; that is, his influence on the wording of the second edition. It was in his interest to increase the number of objects available to him to purchase, and Notes and Queries should have had a great effect on this. What secondary collectors, like Pitt Rivers, required was a steady stream of artifacts entering the marketplace and for that stream to be as varied as possible.

Pitt Rivers had always believed in the collection of the everyday object as well as art objects:

I have confined myself mainly to the common forms in which chiefly continuity can be traced, and have avoided giving large sums for rare things because such things do not fit into my series generally. For the same reason I have not purchased entire collections as a rule because superfluous specimens spoil the series. [Pitt Rivers 1880, the stress is the author’s own]

He continued these themes with his second collection, acquired after 1880, but by that point he also had sufficient funds to acquire rare art, archaeological and ethnographic specimens. The founding collection, however, is principally composed of items in everyday use throughout the world. The largest numbers of objects are pottery, weapons, and tools; nearly one in every five founding collection artifacts is pottery (21 percent). It is clear that the importance that Pitt Rivers gave to the everyday mundane artifact was carried through in each successive edition of Notes and Queries.

Another way that Pitt Rivers’ first collection conforms to that suggested by Notes and Queries is that he was also interested in collecting models of items, such as boats and houses, where he was unable to acquire full-size specimens for practical reasons. In addition to acquiring models for practical reasons he also used models to fill “gaps” in his typological series (Chapman 1981:36; Bowden 1991:143–144). Oxford has very few such models in the founding collection....

Interestingly, Pitt Rivers had written the section in the first edition on “Warfare” which included a sub-section on “Weapons.” It was particularly concerned with the accuracy and range of weapons, perhaps reflecting his own professional interest in such matters (BAAS 1892:189–191). In the fourth edition (1912) this single section was divided into two new ones, one on warfare by Myres (and Pitt Rivers), and a much expanded section on “Weapons of Offence and Defence,” one of the longest sub-sections of the “Technology” section written by T. A. Joyce. It gave far greater detail about each type of weapon and sought much more specific information. The weapon descriptions are very reminiscent of the ways that museums, especially the Pitt Rivers Museum, described weapons at that time. In 1912 the Pitt Rivers Museum devoted a great deal of its available space to tools and weapons (all of one gallery and significant portions of the other two). The section requested that specimens of weapons be obtained, together with clear drawings and diagrams and careful naming of parts and materials. ...


A question posed to Stocking when he was thinking about his Huxley lecture in 1993 on Notes and Queries was, “What had happened to all the information that [it] had elicited during the century of its use?” (Stocking 2001:166). Well, so far as material culture and artifacts are concerned, the answer is abundantly clear: much of it is preserved in museums where today those people interested in anthropological matters can see them. The Pitt Rivers Museum is no exception, containing as it does not only the fruits of early anthropologists’ collecting but also the records of the people they encouraged to collect using Notes and Queries as a manual—the missionaries, army officers, and colonial officials. The fact that so many of the people who contributed artifacts to the Museum were also contributors to the Notes and Queries process is probably not an accident.

Many of the individuals associated with the Museum in the period 1884–1951 (between its foundation and the final edition of Notes and Queries) are known to have been members of the RAI and the BAAS, the two organizations most involved in the publications. It is very clear that the Pitt Rivers Museum collections, and particularly its staff were involved in a series of complex relationships that place the museum at the very center of the web of anthropology connections in the U.K. ... As Henrika Kuklick comments:

An interlocking directorate joined the leadership of the Institute and Section H of the BAAS, the only other learned body devoted to all varieties of anthropological research . . . To wit: in every cohort I studied, nearly as many members of the governing body of the RAI had at some time been president of Section H (roughly a quarter to a third) as had been at some time president of the Institute (roughly a third to two-fifths). Moreover, in any given year, a considerable proportion of the Institute elite . . . were active members of a range of anthropological societies other than the RAI—including Section H as well as specialized groups devoted to archaeology, antiquities and folklore. The leaders of specialized societies were almost invariably active in the RAI. [Kuklick 1993:60]

The network of relationships that bound the Pitt Rivers Museum to the wider world of anthropology was utilized when long-term projects, such as the development of fieldwork manuals, were carried out. The involvement of Pitt Rivers and Tylor in the earlier editions may well have meant that the influence of the Museum and of Oxford anthropology as a whole was strong.

It would be interesting to be able to compare and contrast the Pitt Rivers Museum’s contribution with those of all other British ethnographic museums and departments, but unfortunately at this juncture this was only possible (to a limited extent) with the British Museum ethnographic collections. Detailed research work that has been carried out at the museum in Oxford over the last decade or more by a number of researchers (including this author) have given the Museum an unrivalled degree of access to information about its historic collections (much of which is now available to the public via the web, see Petch, et al. 2006). Unfortunately other museums in the U.K. are less fortunate and it is not yet possible to obtain comparative data to the same degree. Whilst such data would allow a much more detailed appreciation of the importance of ethnographic museums in the development of professional anthropology in the U.K. since 1874, it is still clear from the data that is available for the Pitt Rivers Museum how important that institution was in British anthropology. In the future it is to be hoped that the contribution ethnographic museums and Notes and Queries made to the development of fieldwork (and field collecting) in the U.K. will be compared with the parallel developments in mainland Europe and North America.

The role that major ethnographic museums have played in the development of anthropology as a discipline in the United Kingdom is often overlooked or diminished. By looking at such seminal publications as Notes and Queries it is clear that anthropological museums and their staff were fully integrated into the discipline between 1874 and 1951 in a way that in the later half of the 20th century may have seemed strange. Today, as interest in material culture grows in “mainstream” social anthropology in the U.K. and elsewhere, museums are once more becoming central to the continuing development of the subject.


[1] The Anthropological Institute did not receive permission to add the word “Royal” until 1907, but for clarity’s sake I will refer to it by the initials by which it is best known throughout this paper.


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