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Knowing Things

The Monograph published by Oxford University Press in October 2007

'Knowing Things: Exploring the collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum 1884-1945'

Authors: Chris Gosden, Fran Larson with Alison Petch

Publisher: Oxford University Press

The Pitt Rivers Museum is in Oxford. This seems a trivial and undeniable geographical fact. However, it hides a broader truth about the innumerable sets of connections between people and objects of which the Museum is composed, which extend over time and through space. The Museum is an aggregation of people and things that stretches beyond its immediate physical confines and involves a variety of events, negotiations, and technologies, from the etiquette of exchange in Southern Sudan in the 1910s, to the design of thorn-lined fishing traps in the New Guinea in the 1930s, to the legal process of executing a person's last will and testament in England in the 1990s. Each object in the collection has a different story to tell, gathering up the experiences of a range of people in different places along the way.

The monograph, published by Oxford University Press in October 2007, derives from the three-year research project, and will explore the relations of which the Museum is composed. In the process we examine the nineteenth century intellectual background and the colonial relations of which the Museum was a part, the changing roles of teaching, writing and display within the Museum and the links with the communities from which materials came. Museums allow privileged understanding of the nature of human knowledge and its relationship to the material world. This aspect of the Museum has hitherto been little studied in the extensive literature on museums.

The monograph will be around 80,000 words and will have some 100 illustrations. It will be broadly arranged within a time-frame raising many issues of broad theoretical interest along the way including setting the history of the Museum within the context of the development of anthropology and archaeology as disciplines, and of other ethnographic museums in the UK; examining objects as the starting point for research and debate, tracking objects through space and time; and examining individuals associated with the collections and their networks.

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The financial support of this project by the ESRC is gratefully acknowledged.