Friday, December 08, 2006

The Relational Museum: The History of Anthropology at the Pitt Rivers Museum

In the forthcoming issue of Museum Anthropology, Alison Petch of the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University, will publish an article examining the role of scholars associated with the Pitt Rivers Museum in shaping the seminal fieldwork guide Notes and Queries on Anthropology. Petch's paper derives from a larger research project (2002-2006) at Oxford known as "The Relational Museum." The project organizers framed the undertaking in this way:
This project charts the history and nature of the relations composing the Pitt Rivers Museum through analysing the history of its collections. Ethnographic museums used to be seen as 'us' studying 'them'. A more productive approach is to view museums as trans-cultural artifacts composed of relations between the museum and various kinds of communities. The Museum is convinced that collections represent an unusually rich source for writing the histories of institutions, disciplines, individuals and communities. We see the project as having model value for research in other ethnographic, archaeological and social history collections. []
Petch was the lead author for the project's website, which is now available online. The site is a valuable resource for the work of museum anthropology and the study of the history of anthropology in the United Kingdom and worldwide. As described on its homepage:
This website aims to give information about the history of the Pitt Rivers Museum [PRM] from before its foundation in 1884 to the present day (mainly concentrating on the period up to 1945), its collections and staff. The site also gives access to the detailed statistics produced during the research project which show where the collections came from, what types of artefacts are included and information about the individuals who contributed to the Museum. []
My hope is that Museum Anthropology readers will benefit from the findings and lessons of "The Relational Museum" project and from Petch's forthcoming paper.

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