Research Study Trip – The Ashmolean Museum and The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford
I almost forgot to write about the Oxford trip… It was an enriching experience (not only because I saw one of the buildings where Harry Potter was filmed 🙂 ), and even though it has been two weeks since we went there, I still insist on writing about it.
The trip was more interesting than I initially expected. After all, a museum trip doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing to do. But, it turned out, there was a lot to be observed and learned, and in the end, I was very thankful I had the chance to do it.
The first museum we visited was the Ashmolean. It is a classic museum, where every floor represents a different historic period, everything is in retrospective order, based on time, geographic location and cultural space. It had all sorts of artefacts from every period and region, with a clear focus on the historically important people and events. It was politically correct, trying to be as objective as possible, and to stick to one clear point of view about the periods represented.
What I noticed about the Ashmolean, was that it was too straightforward, too polished, looked almost artificial (some of the artefacts were duplicates, which, even though it made the collection more complete, added to this feeling). In their effort to show a full collection covering everything important, and to make it as usable as possible, they had turned the museum into an inventory, with an index, strict organization and sterile looks. It wasn’t about exploring – it was like going through a checklist of important history. So the museum fulfills its purpose very well – to be educational (and somehow authoritative). The whole building and collection is organised like a textbook, so you can easily find your way around and learn history.
It was good that we first visited the Ashmolean and then – the Pitt Rivers museum. This way, we could get a clear impression of what a classic, typical museum – an institution – looks like (with the Ashmolean as maybe the perfect example), and then see the totally different approach the Pitt Rivers museum has.
The Pitt Rivers museum started as a Cabinet of Curiosities anthropological collection. Unlike the Ashmolean, where everything was ordered and labeled with a scientific accuracy, the Pitt Rivers museum felt completely different – more authentic, natural, unpolished and real. You could feel the collections were alive – you can always add a new artefact which can perfectly fit. The only criterium for ordering artefacts was not history, but rather sphere of interest. Each display was organized thematically, around a specific subject – for example, musical instruments or tattooing methods, and objects were simply put there with a handwritten label for period and region of origin. So whatever you are interested in, you can simply go to that part of the museum and explore. It’s more approachable and accessible, because you don’t need to be a historian to understand and learn something from the museum – you just need to be interested in one particular field. A downside of it though could be that objects are out of context.
Actually, the whole concept of museums is about putting things out of context. And while it can be confusing, you can also find inspiration in it – because, when things are put in a different context, new associations and subconcious connections start to emerge, which encourages creativity and innovative thinking.
So I promise to always remind myself how enriching and eye-opening a visit to a museum can be :-).