The Other Within: An anthropology of Englishness

Major ESRC award for work on ‘Englishness’ at the Pitt Rivers Museum

The Economic and Social Research Council has awarded £370,500 to Professor Chris Gosden* and Dr. Hélène La Rue**, then both lecturer-curators at the Pitt Rivers, for their project The other within: An anthropology of Englishness at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

pistol tinder-box
Pocket pistol tinder-box purchased
in 1890 by Henry Balfour.
1938.35.1101

From the late nineteenth century the nature and history of Englishness was a matter of public discussion. This has been much remarked upon by historians and English literature specialists, but has been subjected to little anthropological analysis. The public reputation of the Pitt Rivers Museum (founded in 1884) is perhaps as a home for the exotic. However, the Museum has some 44,015 objects and 6,593 photographs (and an unknown quantity of manuscript collections)*** from England and this collection can be seen as part of the broader concern for what it meant to be English. The project will analyse the collections of the museum, together with the history and motives of the people making the collections (who were often heavily involved in institutions such as the Folklore Society) to throw new light on what was being collected and how this was used through display or writing to throw light on a variety of issues including the concept of 'survivals' within English culture, which were taken to be the mark of long-term histories. The overall aim of the project is to use a major museum collection with its connected documentation to throw light on the modern construction of Englishness. The changing structure of the English ethnographic collections will be analysed, focussing on several counties including Somerset and Oxfordshire. Archival resources will be used to provide rich contextual information on the artefacts and the people who collected them.

match box
Dowler's nocturnal vesta match box,
purchased 1899 and bequeathed by
Henry Balfour 1938.35.827

The core project team from October 2006 comprise:

  • Chris Gosden, Professor of European Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford
  • Hélène La Rue, Curator of the Music collections (Pitt Rivers Museum) and the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments.
  • Alison Petch: Researcher and Registrar of the Museum
  • Chris Wingfield: Researcher

The project began in April 2006 and end March 2009. During the next year http://england.prm.ox.ac.uk will be augmented with:

  • A series of detailed databases containing information about the Museum's English artefact collections (both ethnographic and archaeological), and its photographic collections
  • People: A database of all individuals associated with the English collections
  • Detailed statistical information about the English collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum from 1884
  • Detailed biographies of specific objects
  • Mapping of collections
  • Articles tackling some of the themes which have presented themselves during the project

Core project team:

automatic lighter
English automatic lighter for bed-side use,
in the shape of Greek hand-lamp, made by
Bewick and Alex Bewick of Chelsea London
c. 1889 1938.35.1183

  • Chris Gosden
  • Alison Petch
  • Chris Wingfield
  • David Harris

Associate Researchers:

  • Jeremy Coote
  • Ollie Douglas
  • Elizabeth Edwards
  • Mike Heaney
  • Frances Larson
  • Arthur Macgregor
  • Nicolette Makovicky
  • Peter Riviere
  • Alison Roberts
  • Phil Platt

Six monthly progress
reports:

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

- October 2006
- April 2007
- October 2007
- April 2008
- October 2008
- April 2009

* Now Professor of European Archaeology, University of Oxford.

** The project team is very sorry to announce the death of Dr Hélène La Rue in July 2007. Her contribution to this project's research will be greatly missed. The project team is hoping that the fruits of some research she was working on during the project can be added to the website at a later date.

An obituary for Hélène was published in the Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 20 (March 2008) pp. 7-10. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the author, Elizabeth Edwards; JME editor, Jeremy Coote and the Chair of the Museum Ethnographers Group, Alison Petch.

*** As calculated in March 2008.