Notes for teachers (and students too)
What this project is about
Background to the project
Introduction to the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Founding Collection

What This Project is About

You can use the material here to explore a number of different things, from a number of different angles, in a number of different ways. Possible avenues of exploration include the history of anthropology and ethnography; shields and weapons; ethnographic museums (specifically the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford), and types of museum display; the anthropology of art; and collecting, particularly field collecting.

The material presented here grew out from consideration of a group of shields, gathered together by Lieutenant-General Pitt Rivers, and displayed in Bethnal Green Museum in 1874. Thinking about these shields, and about what lay behind the way in which they were displayed, leads us into some very interesting areas.


Background to the Project

The Pitt Rivers Museum is part of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford. In 1997 the Museum was approached by University of Kent, enquiring whether or not the Museum wished to take participate in a HEFCE- (Higher Education Funding Council) funded project to examine the usefulness of employing multimedia techniques in the teaching of anthropology at university level. After some initial doubts, the Museum agreed that it would take part, preparing a short project (of approximately 4 months' worth of woman hours) on one of the parts of Lieutenant-General Pitt Rivers' displays at Bethnal Green. It was agreed that the project should concentrate on Screen 2 of the Bethnal displays, which had shown shields from Australia, Africa and Asia.

From the museum's point of view, it was interesting not only to examine the historical use of shields similar to those in the Bethnal display, but also to highlight some of the other ways in which such material can be useful in anthropological studies. The limited funding available to the Museum for this project and the large amounts of information that it could be possible to bring into a project of this nature, have meant that the finished product might not be as fully rounded or all-encompassing as was hoped. Nevertheless, the project has shown some interesting ways in which multimedia can be used both for teaching within universities, and for informing members of the public.

Two members of the Museum's staff were primarily involved in this project:
Alison Petch, Leverhulme Researcher (Pitt Rivers Project), and
Sandra Dudley, ex-Assistant Curator (Information Technology).
A third member of staff also advised: Jeremy Coote (Assistant Curator [Documentation]).


The Royal Anthropological Institute for permission to publish several extracts and full articles, originally published in Anthropology Today.

Mrs P. Benitez Johannot and Jean Paul Barbier for permission to publish extracts from Shields: Africa, Asia, Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific in the Barbier-Mueller Museum.

British Museum Press for permission to publish from Paradise, African Arms and Armour and AW Franks.

M. Caygill and J. Cherry for permission to quote from their recent publication on AW Franks.

Bill Chapman for permission to quote from his unpublished D. Phil. thesis, 'Ethnology in the Museum'.

Julia Cousins for administering the financial aspects of our part of the project.

Maria Economou, Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, for advice on applications and Greek text

Inka Heeren for translating part of a German publication about African shields.

Chantal Knowles for proof-reading and 'road-testing'.

Linda Mowat, editor of the Journal of the Museum of Ethnography, for permission to quote from 'Weapons and the "Museum of Museums"'.

Michael O'Hanlon, Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum, for permission to quote at length from Paradise.

Bob Rivers, Head Technician at the Pitt Rivers Museum, for information about the past history of the Museum.

Shelley Roffey of the University of Canterbury, for kindly typing the Anthropology Today articles and several other parts of the project

John Simmons, Technician at the Pitt Rivers Museum, for information about Sir E. Belcher.

Christopher Spring for permission to quote from African Arms and Armour.

Andrew Tavarelli and Boston College Museum of Art, for kind permission to use full extracts from 'Protection, Power and Display'.

Kate White of the Pitt Rivers Museum, for advice about copyright issues.

David Zeitlyn for valuable advice about presentation, information about shields in the Cameroons, and for obtaining copyright permission for us to use extracts from so many sources.

M.W. Thompson and Mark Bowden's excellent biographies of Pitt Rivers have provided much of the basic information for parts of this project, as has Bill Chapman's unpublished D.Phil thesis. Full citations of all of these are given in the overall bibliography.