Sound at the Pitt Rivers Museum


Reel to Real is the archival sound project at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation Collections Fund.

Reel 2 Real Website

No human sense is more neglected in ethnographic museums than sound. The Reel to Real Project (2012-13), funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, set out to make available for the widest use, both in and beyond the museum space itself, the important sound collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University’s Museum of Anthropology and World Archaeology.

Hundreds of hours of unique ethnographic sound, donated to the Museum since the early twentieth century, had been held in storage, known only to a handful of scholars. These sound recordings – which range from children’s songs in Britain and Europe to music from South America and the South Pacific, and from improvised water drumming to the sound of rare earth bows in the rainforests of the Central African Republic – were preserved but unavailable to members of the public, teachers, students, or to the communities from which the sound originated. Vitally, the capacity of the sound collections to illuminate the Museum’s related artefact and photograph collections remained unexplored.

Drawing on identified expertise and an innovative collaboration with the British Library and the Oxford e-Research Centre, the twelve-month project explored the potential for making the PRM’s sound recordings better understood and used within the Museum and beyond it, for the benefit both of general public and future researchers.

Image: An Edison Bell phonograph at the British Library Sound Archive studios.
Cover Image: T. K. Penniman playing a street piano (PRM 1953.1.1) outside the rear entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum [1998.267.86]

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