Pitt Rivers Museum - Oxford England


by Sylvia Martinez -

Hi all,

I wanted to share a cool museum experience from my travels. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England was one of the most interesting museums I've visited in a long time. It's organized so differenty than anywhere else - by theme, rather than by time, culture, or other more common organizing principles. So when you walk in, you see massive glass cases with titles like, "Treatment of the Dead" with items from all around the world, different time periods, etc. Then the next case was "Treatment of Dead Enemies"! It's a middle school dream ;-)

In a compact area there were arts, tools, dolls and toys, games, weapons, jewelry, and more. It was like a "cabinet of wonders" taken to the next level. Here's the history of the museum and collection. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitt_Rivers_Museum

You might think this would be confusing or just a big mess, but it's remarkably interesting. It immediately brings up questions of similarities and differences, and I found myself thinking of all sorts of follow on questions and things I really needed to look up - unfortunately no data roaming in England, so it had to wait!

When you see a case full of objects collected together as "Geometry in Art" and see similarities in Hawaiin gourd vases, Native American weaving, and Islamic tiles, it makes you wonder what the connection is? Material? Technique? Cultural restrctions or beliefs?

Here's a few photos of the exhibits - we ran out of time and had to be shooed out the door! https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviamartinez/sets/72157647508564411/



Christa Flores's picture

Thanks for sharing Sylvia, these images really spark your curiosity for sure. What a great experiennce.  

Heather Pang's picture

That is a great museum, and I wonder if the model of currating could lead to some interesting discussions in history class. If different teams of students were asked to currate (virtually, or with models, or with photos) a collection of objects to tell some story about their importance, what objects and what combinations would emerge, and what a great discussion we could have about the role of museum currators in the way we interpret history.  Food for thought...

Sylvia Martinez's picture

Yes, exactly my thinking when I was walking around. James Lowen talks about that in one of his books - that monuments are stories of the time they are built, not of the time they commemorate. Sort of like "history is written by the winners" but taken out of the war context.

There were a couple of areas that I think would be prime for middle school: toys around the world, geometric art, and of course, "treatment of dead enemies" - interesting AND gross, a middle school hit for sure ;-)

The geometries one is a natural for Logo.

I did look up the question about why Islamic tiling and Hawaiin art look similar and didn't find an answer but did find this Symmetric Characteristics of Traditional Hawaiian Patterns: a Computer Model - written by architecture professors in Hawaii and Korea.