Friday, 1 March 2013

Collecting in the Vale

I caught In Our Time yesterday with Dan Hicks and Richard Bradley talking about Victorian archaeologist, anthropologist and collector Augustus Pitt-Rivers which reminded me of the recent publication of a volume on the world archaeology collections in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford. Whilst focussing primarily on the overseas ethnographic collections, it also reviews the local collections. I was intrigued how relatively little from the region ended up in the museum, with the Vale being represented only by a few minor objects from Uffington and Sparsholt. I suspect though that the majority of archaeological material from Oxfordshire ended up in the Ashmolean- I’m not entirely clear how far the collections policy of the two institutions were harmonised, particularly in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries. One of the things I need to do at some point is explore the Pitt-Rivers Museums excellent "The Other Within" proejct which reviewed their English ethnographic (as opposed to archaeological) holdings, with a view to getting my head round the material from the Vale. However, it got me thinking more widely about the history of collecting ethnographic material from the Vale. There are obviously a number of museums in the Vale, such as the Vale and Downland Museum in Wantage, the Champs Chapel Museum at East Hendred and the Tom Brown School House museum in Uffington- though I know very little about their history and the development of their collections. One collection that I do know more about is the Lavinia Smith collection which is now in the wonderful Museum of English Rural Life in Reading. Lavinia Smith was American by birth but spent much of the first half of the 20th century living in East Hendred where she built up a collection of over 400 items connected to rural life in the village. There is a nice blog posting from MERL about it here. The picture is from the Lavinia Smith collection of images still held in East Hendred - reminds me of the shop window at the beginning of Bagpuss.

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