Donors, Loaners, Dealers and Swappers: The Relationship behind the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

  • Chris Wingfield
Part of the One World Archaeology book series (WORLDARCH)


Deriving from research conducted as part of The Other Within research project at the Pitt Rivers Museum, this chapter is intended less as a theoretical argument about materiality, agency and identity and more as a methodological contribution. Its intention is to examine and critique, as well as develop the potential of museum databases as a source of information on the relationships that lie behind museum collections. While ‘making the museum central’ and unpacking the collection ‘along the grain’ have been advocated, this does not necessarily mean that databases should be taken at face value. They are tools for museum professionals, and the way in which they present information tends to direct attention in particular directions – in the case of the Pitt Rivers Museum to the place of their ultimate origin, and to techniques of manufacture and use. However, alongside this information there remain traces of the donors, loaners, dealers and swappers who have been involved in the wider network out of which the Museum has taken shape. These traces can provide a means to explore and evaluate the complex and diffuse operations of agency in relation to the assembling of the collection.


Stone Tool Museum Collection Auction House Acquisition Event Collection Size 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Banks, M. M. 1945 Folk Museums and Collections in England. Folklore 56(1): 218–222.Google Scholar
  2. Gell, Alfred 1998 Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  3. Gosden, Chris, Frances Larson, and Alison Petch 2007 Knowing Things: Exploring the Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum 1884–1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  4. Harrison, Rodney 2006 An Artefact of Colonial Desire? Kimberley Points and the Technologies of Enchantment. Current Anthropology 47(1): 63–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hill, Jude 2007 The Story of the Amulet: Locating the Enchantment of Collections. Journal of Material Culture 12(1): 65–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Kavanagh, Gaynor 1993 History in Museums in Britain: A Brief Survey of Trends and Ideas. In Social History in Museums: A Handbook for Professionals, edited by David Fleming, Crispin Paine, and John G. Rhodes, pp. 13–26. HMSO, London.Google Scholar
  7. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara 1998 Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. University of California Press, London.Google Scholar
  8. Larson, Frances, Alison Petch, and David Zeitlyn 2007 Social Networks and the Creation of the Pitt Rivers Museum. Journal of Material Culture 12: 211–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Latour, Bruno 2005 Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  10. Livingstone, David N. 2003 Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge. University of Chicago Press, London.Google Scholar
  11. O’Hanlon, Michael, and Robert Louis Welsch 2000 Hunting the Gatherers: Ethnographic Collectors, Agents and Agency in Melanesia, 1870s–1930s. Berghahn, Oxford.Google Scholar
  12. Owen, Janet 1999 The Collections of Sir John Lubbock, the First Lord Avebury (1834–1913): ‘An Open Book?’ Journal of Material Culture 4(3): 283–302.Google Scholar
  13. Owen, Janet 2006 Collecting Artefacts, Acquiring Empire: Exploring the Relationship between Enlightenment and Darwinist Collecting and Late-Nineteenth Century British Imperialism. Journal of the History of Collections 18(1): 9–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Petch, Alison 2004 Collecting Immortality: The Field Collectors who Contributed to the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. Journal of Museum Ethnography 16: 127–139.Google Scholar
  15. Petch, Alison 2006 Counting and Calculating: Some Reflections on Using Statistics to Examine the History and Shape of the Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Journal of Museum Ethnography 18: 149–156.Google Scholar
  16. Pitt-Rivers Museum 2010 Acquisition Events: Comparison Over Time. Accessed 15 August 2010.
  17. Sahlins, Marshall 1974 Stone Age Economics. Tavistock Publications, London.Google Scholar
  18. Schildkrout, Enid, and Curtis A. Keim 1998 The Scramble for Art in Central Africa. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  19. Stoler, Ann Laura 2009 Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
  20. Trigger, Bruce G. 1984 Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist. Man New Series 19(3): 355–370.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford UniversityOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations