Unpacking the Collection

Part of the series One World Archaeology pp 119-140


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

  • Chris WingfieldAffiliated withPitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University Email author 

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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.