17. Report of the Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Department of Ethnology) for the year ending 31 July 1942

Curator: T.K.Penniman, M.A., Trinity College.
University Demonstrator and Lecturer in Ethnology: B.M.Blackwood, B.Sc., M.A., Somerville College.

Letters from friends of the Museum in many parts of the world acknowledging our former reports have greatly encouraged our efforts during this year. General order has been our first consideration in all available time, and work has steadily progressed towards putting all four buildings into such a condition that everything is clean from infection and can be inspected without moving or climbing over anything else, and clearing and grouping material against the time when we leave Museum House to Physical Anthropology and extend into the present Geology Department. Our efforts were somewhat hastened by the Wellcome Museum’s magnificent gift of the M. W. D. Jeffrey’s collection from West Africa, called to our attention by Professor Gunn. Specimens in packing cases alone occupy about 1,500 cubic feet of our exiguous space in Museum House, previously cleared for another purpose, and leave no inch of space for unpacking. To meet this situation, we have completely rearranged the large collections in the iron shed, cataloguing those which were unentered, given our supply of packing cases to the Wellcome Museum in return for theirs, and put into order the valuable small library there given by Tylor and others so that it can be easily and quickly incorporated with the Balfour and Buxton libraries from Crick Road in the eastward wing of the adjoining Geology Department when that is vacated. We can now begin to catalogue and distribute this African collection, not yet knowing how we shall find room to finish, but trusting that things will take shape, and being on the lookout to see that they do. Previous years’ work in refitting the rooms in the south wing of the main building has allowed us to clear Museum House of some of the more valuable specimens and to use the shelves and screens they occupied in fitting our basement so as to collect together all of our lantern slides, negatives, cinematograph films, photographs, and specimens regularly used in some of our courses, together with the slowly growing card catalogues arranged by regions, subjects, and donors. A grant from the maintenance fund by the Delegates of the University Museum paid for such work as we could not manage by ourselves. At the Crick Road annexe Dr. Meinhard has nearly finished the catalogue of the Balfour collection, containing about 700 musical instruments, 1,300 fire-making and lighting appliances, and about 320 general ethnographical specimens, and Mr. Ford has nearly finished cataloguing the Balfour and Buxton libraries, apart from the large collection of pamphlets. The greater part of the Accessions Books have by now been collected, sorted, and uniformly bound in numbered series. The Curator and Mrs. Maspero are indexing them by donors, regions and subjects. Since over a million cards must be written before the catalogues are complete, and we have only odd hours to spare, it may be some time before we can report a satisfactory card catalogue. Among the most useful pieces of work in the general ordering of the collections is Miss Blackwood’s Short Directory of the Series in the Pitt Rivers Museum which lists in alphabetical order every series in the main court and galleries, its position and key-number, and is interleaved to allow alterations. Several copies have been typed and bound so that every member of the staff engaged in finding or putting away specimens can go at once to the right place with the right key.

Various new exhibitions have been placed in the court and galleries. The temporary absence of Captain Cook’s collections allowed us to show the beautiful Maori cloaks lately given to us by Miss Fenwick. These, with the unfinished cloaks given by our former pupil, the late Makereti, chieftainess of the Arawa Tribe, form a complete and probably unique series illustrating the making of Maori cloaks. Warned by her of the ill luck attending such unfinished articles, we have shown with them the ancient Tiki which belonged to her ancestor Te Pahau, a contemporary of Captain Cook, and its well-known mana has so far dispelled all bad influences which may have come from the cloaks. Two tobacconists’ counters which we happen to have in our basement were rebuilt by our staff, and have enabled us to make special exhibitions, one of the uses of bone, horn, antler, and tortoise-shell in the principal areas of the world, the other of the uses of ivory: elephant, mammoth, hippopotamus, walrus and sperm whale. While Miss Blackwood was selecting and arranging these exhibitions, the Curator collected tusks, and asked Mr. Lomax of the Palaeobotanical Laboratories at Bolton to make polished longitudinal and transverse and microsections, which are shown in an adjoining case. The micro-sections are so useful for diagnosis that they have been photographed by Mr. Chesterman of the Department of Human Anatomy, and will be published with a short commentary by the Curator. Blinds have been fitted to shield the cases from direct sunlight, which softens horn and changes the colour of ivory in a very short time. Other new exhibitions in the court show Mrs. Moullin’s Malayan brasses, the Palestinian costumes lent by the Palestine Folk Museum, and Chinese pottery and porcelain of the T’ang, Sung, and Ming periods, exhibited on glass shelves with glass labels to avoid as far as possible breaking the lines of vases with pieces of extraneous material. The costumes are being arranged and shown a few at a time by Miss Canziani, who with Mrs. Barbour helped us to acquire them. The small Chinese exhibition was selected by the Curator from specimens already in the Museum from China, Corea, and Sarawak to follow a course of lectures on Chinese civilization given here by Professor Hughes and Dr. Cohn. In the Lower Gallery Mr. Turner has arranged and catalogued our series of moccasins according to the classification of Gudmund Hatt’s paper in the Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association III, 3, 1916. Other of the twenty classes apart from the Eskimo, we have good examples from I, VI, IX X, XI, XII, XIV, and XV. Mr. Turner’s work has been of value in showing what we have and what we ought to collect, and he is already engaged in seeing that some of our deficiencies are supplied. In the Upper Gallery removal of the false backs from the bow cases has enabled us to show the bows more clearly, and given us wood to make screens to illustrate and explain some of the previously arranged comparative series of ancient and modern Stone Age industries and of techniques. The former is mainly illustrated by photographs taken by Miss Blackwood from sources chosen by the Curator, who has also written the descriptive labels; the latter is partly illustrated with beautiful water-colour drawings by Sir Francis Knowles from which it is easy to understand the workmanship of the Stone Age makers. A good deal of the material for the exhibition on techniques was chosen by him while he was cataloguing the Seligman and other Stone Age collections. Making, covering, and fitting the screens, and framing the pictures and diagrams were the work of Mr. Walters, helped by Mr. Whiting.

Teaching and research continued throughout the year, though the greater part of our time for research has necessarily gone towards the descriptive and definitive cataloguing of our collections, past and present. The Curator gave the usual course on the Origins of Civilization with some extra lectures on the development of musical expression in the different areas of the Old World, illustrated by a specially chosen collection of gramophone records, and gave special tuition to Diploma students, students taking Ethnology as a special subject in the Honour School of Geography, and others. Extra lectures in the Curator’s course were given by Professor Barnes on the making of stone implements and the evolution of hand tools, and by Professor Hughes and Dr. Cohn, sometime Curator of Far Eastern Art in the State Museums of Berlin, on Chinese civilization. Miss Blackwood gave her Ethnological Survey of the regions of the world throughout the year to Diploma students and members of the Honour School of Geography, lectured on Malaya, Indonesia, and Melanesia to Diploma students, and gave special instruction to a Colonial Probationer on Sarawak and to a student training as a medical artist. As last year, she undertook the teaching of Physical Anthropology at the request of Dr. Lee’s Professor of Anatomy. Dr. Meinhard lectured on “The Social Organisation and religion of the Santal tribe of Northern India’ to the University Anthropological Society, gave informal instruction to pupils, prepared a paper for Man on ‘Avoidance and joking relationships in the kinship system of the Santal, and acted as an examiner for the D.Phil. degree. Mr. Turner gave a lecture to the Ashmolean Natural History Society on ‘An introduction to the American Indian’. The Museum has been visited by large numbers of people, including schools with their teachers, and many members of H.M. Forces.

Entry of past and present accessions continues. Dr. Meinhard’s entry of the musical instruments in the Balfour collection brings our catalogue of musical instruments up to about 4,000. It is one of the richest collections in the world of its kind, and one of the least accessible for lack of a printed illustrated guide. Moreover, it is gradually deteriorating because of unsuitable housing under a glass roof where it suffers extremes of temperature. Another catalogue which ought to be published is that of the even larger collection of fire-making and lighting appliances. Miss Blackwood has given us over 1,000 lantern slides from her private collection of photographs taken by herself mainly in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and North America, and in addition has made about 700 lantern slides to illustrate lectures on various regions of the world. We thank the British North Borneo Company for allowing us to copy part of their collection of slides and Mr. Osmaston and Mr. Smyth for allowing us to copy photographs taken by Mr. Bonington about 1910 in the Andamans and Nicobars. The recent gift of the Skeat Malayan collection has again added to our large, possibly unique collection of slides and photographs of territory on the mainland and islands at present occupied by the Japanese. Miss Blackwood has arranged the whole of our collection of slides in labelled boxes which we were able to buy as salvage, with the exception of the American series arranged by Mr. Turner, and those for lectures on arts and industries arranged by the Curator.

Early in the year the grand-daughter of the Rector of Exeter College found at the entrance to the University Parks a perfect specimen of a black obsidian knife with beautiful oblique flaking made by the American Indians of Oregon or California. This unsolved mystery was figured and published in Man 1941, 88, by the Curator and Sir Francis Knowles.

Apart from gifts mentioned previously, there is space to name a few of the larger collections presented this year. From India we have Mrs Rivers’s collection of religious and other figures and Dr. D. C. Wilson’s gift of furniture, pottery, and metal work collected by her parents. From Africa come a further instalment of Miss Powell-Cotton’s large collection in Southern Angola, and Miss Mary Kennedy’s Zulu collection made by her father in 1879-1880. Among European accessions may be mentioned Miss Phelps’s collection of Greek costumes; Professor Barnes’s small library of archaeological pamphlets on subjects usually difficult of access; gifts of tatting and crochet patterns by Mrs. Blackwood and Mrs. Hood; and a collection of lace and lace-makers’ outfit given by Miss Nevell, who has promised to make an exhibition of lace and lace-making from her own gifts and from material we already have. The Hereford Museum sent a collection of general ethnographical interest. Some other pleasant gifts have been Mrs. Bicknell’s hand-made tea service from the Isle of Lewis, Miss Blackwood’s water-colour made by Huxley on H. M. S. Rattlesnake in 1850, Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Thompson’s cage of singing birds of the kind described by Chapuis and Gélis in Le Monde des Automates, and a splendid large model of the Madalenian bisons from Tuc d’Audoubert presented by the Department of Geology. We gladly record gifts by Sir Francis Knowles and Mr. R. J. C. Atkinson to make possible the publication of the first of our Occasional Papers on Technology when circumstances permit.

A few good examples to illustrate the history of automatic music were bought from the Symons Estate, and Mr. Walters has restored to order the intricate mechanism of those which have arrived and need attention, as well as the mechanism of other instruments already in our collections. A fuller report on types will be given next year. We thank Miss Canziani for the loan of a large number of books and objects illustrating the life of Mediterranean regions, and Mr. Haynes for the loan of collections made by himself in Malaya.

In conclusion, the Curator wishes to thank the all too small academic and technical staff and volunteers who have worked with him, hard and faithfully, sometimes under trying conditions, as on winter days and nights when we were flooded out, and all had to help in salvage, restoring order from disorganization, and doing a good deal of work over again. Their constant efforts for the present well-being and future development of the Department should not go unrecorded.

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