“Damn it woman, you shall burn!”, exclaimed the good general, in reference to the mode of his wife’s burial. Their marriage was seemingly a passionate one, severely affected by monetary concerns. And occasionally the lack of rice pudding.
Having been charged with testing fire arms in the early stages of his military career, Pitt Rivers (a name Augustus Henry Lane Fox only took upon inheriting an estate) became fascinated with the progressive development of rifles, and objects in general. A crude stick could be seen to have developed with human usage into all kinds of tools. And so Pitt Rivers started collecting items ranging from boomerangs to erotica (“objects of a certain, quite private character”), taking special care to also find every day items. “The thing itself” became the motto and purpose; artefacts as evidence and the collections of them filling an important and even counter-revolutionary function in Pitt Rivers’ philosophy.
Possibly the originator of the term typology, Pitt Rivers strongly believed in type of artefact as the organising principle for his collections; this principle was one of his main criteria for setting up a museum. His plans were turned down by the Kensington museum and Cambridge university – after he himself had rejected the British Museum as a location. It seemed to him to resemble an attic – ironic given the attic-like feel of the current museum. Oxford University agreed to Pitt Rivers’ terms, built an annex to the already existing University Museum and started filling it with a never-ending and growing amount of…stuff.
Rows inevitably ensued and Pitt Rivers, by this time disillusioned with the Oxford project, in possession of the inherited estate and considerable funds, built a second museum on his grounds. In order to attract crowds he supplemented his museum with a hotel and a “visitor’s complex”, complete with events such as cycle competitions. A modern idea if anything.
Artefacts as objects of study fell out of fashion, as anthropologists took to travelling and living among the peoples they studies. The typological organisation principle also fell out of fashion and until the new annex (where the lecture was held) the Pitt Rivers museum, bound by the general’s will not to change much, hardly had toilets.
Saved by a tradition of failure, however, the museum survived long enough to become historical in its own right. Objects became fashionable again, and new technology allows for interaction, international research and education. Suddenly the Pitt Rivers museum is the place to be. The new annex has toilets and the visitor can enjoy the architecture and delightfully cluttered feel of a museum which is brim-full of… stuff.