Oxford’s Mind-Expanding Museums

photo (c) John Cairns

Date of Publication: 30 July 2014

Oxford’s Mind-Expanding Museums

Oxford boasts the world’s first University Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, which opened in the 1683.  It has recently been restored, and was reopened in 2009 to massive acclaim. It hosts many phenomenal exhibitions, spanning 1000s of years of world history, and ranging from statues and casts to works of art, pottery and musical instruments. These include drawings by Raphael, Michelangelo and da Vinci, paintings by Turner, Constable and Picasso, a death mask of Oliver Cromwell as well as the lantern carried by Guy Fawkes during the Gunpowder Plot. Not to mention an extensive Egyptian collection, spanning Prehistoric Egypt and the Early Dynastic Period.

You can wander, within the Ashmolean from room to room, passing these breath-taking exhibits, before settling down at the rooftop café for a hot chocolate and a muffin with the spires of Oxford dotting the skyline around you.

The Natural History Museum and the attached Pitt Rivers Museum are another must visit which we take you to here in Oxford. The Natural History Museum is where the famous 1860 Evolution Debate took place, seen by many as the moment at which science triumphed over a literalist understanding of creation in scripture. It is also the place where the first ever public demonstration of wireless telegraphy occurred – in which a signal was sent wirelessly across Oxford to the receiver set up at the Museum.

Today it remains a marvelous museum, containing the most complete remains of a single Dodo anywhere in the world, it also contains some marvelous dinosaur casts and impressive botany and zoological displays. A massive restoration project is almost completed there.

The Pitt Rivers Museum, renovated in 2009 after opening in 1886, remains my favourite of the Museums, dedicated to anthropology and archaeology it is a mind-bending collection of artifacts and exhibits from historic cultures across the world. Its collection is over 500,000 strong, having grown from the initial donation of 22,000 – meaning that when you come you will only be able to see a small glimpse of the whole collection. But that is no matter, because what you do see is a marvelous, almost overwhelming selection of artifacts ranging from the famous shrunken heads, to a mind-bendingly diverse selection of weapons and ornamental masks from around the world. So whether you prefer to wander around the cabinets and displays, taking in bits of each as you pass, or to study one or two closely, or (like the Residential Deans) do the ‘mouse trail’ (recommended for under-fives, but definitely better as you get older); you will find the Pitt Rivers to be an eye-opening and mind-expanding experience.

Learn more history on one of our courses: History of ArtHistory

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