Year 11 Inspire – The Pitt Rivers Museum

About The Pitt Rivers Museum:

The Pitt Rivers Museum was founded in 1884 and is located next to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It accommodates over 500,000 exhibits, and this collection continues to grow through donations and carefully considered purchases. Amongst its collection, the museum holds objects of ethnographic and archaeological importance, as well as significant photographic, sound and film resources. Aware of the contentious nature in which many of its objects were historically acquired, the museum is working hard to explain the complicated and sometimes uncomfortable histories of these objects. To do so, the museum it is updating its exhibit labels to highlight contentious acquisitions, as well as initiating co-curational approaches to ensure that diverse voices are heard.

Activity 1 – Talking Threads:

This video highlights how the coronavirus pandemic encouraged the museum to digitise many of its artefacts, including its range of textiles and clothing. By photographing and scanning these artefacts, the curators have been able to produce detailed, microscopic views of complex thread structures. During this process, the museum consulted communities from which these items originate, and used their expertise to give a better understanding of each item’s heritage and original function. This, it is hoped, will facilitate more accurate and transparent exhibit descriptions in the future.  

Activity 2 – Memoirs in my Suitcase

This webpage documents the migration of Turkish diaspora who settled in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Highlighting their lived experience, it provides context behind their decision to leave, as well as their encounters upon arrival in Germany.  Many of these migrants would travel with a suitcase that contained a small number of personal possessions.  The ‘Memoirs in my Suitcase’ exhibit documented these belongings through a series of text, photos and videos, explaining their significance and function to Turkish migrant workers, which you can explore here.

Activity 3 – ‘Matters of Care’: In Conversation with Wayne Modest

In this video Professor Wayne Modest discusses the way museums can use their collections to facilitate discussions about human impact on the environment.

Firstly, he presents museums as a warning against extinction. By exhibiting many animals which have become extinct, museums highlight the material precarity of the planet. Therefore, Professor Modest suggests that these institutions have a duty of care to promote sustainability messages.

He then considers the notion of ‘radical care’, and discusses what this might mean within the context of a museum. Finally, he explores the concept of restitution, and ways that human de-growth could be more sustainable for the planet.

Watch the video between 19:08 – 22:56 for the Introduction. For more clarity on each concept see the following times below:

  • Museums as Spaces of Precarity: 55:56 – 1:01:24
  • Museums and Radical Care: 1:01:30 – 1:02:57
  • Museums and Restitution: 45:30- 47:10


In Activity 3, Professor Wayne Modest outlines 3 ways in which museums can advocate reduced human environmental impacts.

  • To what extent do you think each of these suggestions is plausible?
  • How would you go about implementing these ideas into future museum exhibitions?

Consider this and write your ideas down.