The Rise Of Museum Culture In The 19th Century

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The rise of museum culture in the 19th century was paralleled by an increased interest in the discipline of anthropology, and more specifically ethnology. Two individuals in particular - Augustus Pitt-Rivers from England and the German-born Franz Boas, who worked in the United States for the latter part of his career - had differing, sometimes even opposing views on how to approach the anthropological study of artifacts in the museum. In England, Pitt-Rivers adopted the concept of cultural evolution and created decontextualized artifact displays which supported this concept. Boas, on the contrary, rejected the cultural evolutionary theory and looked to show how “primitive” cultures were shaped by their environment. Their attempts to effectively…show more content…
He saw it as limiting to collect, classify, and display and object based solely on it’s seemingly singular functional purpose. As an example, consider a rattle crafted by an individual from a Native American tribe. For Pitt-Rivers, the object would be classified only according to its function as device used to make noise when shaken, and could be compared to visually comparable rattles from the same tribe and others. From these comparisons, a continuum showing the progression of like rattles from simple to complex could be established and, for Pitt-Rivers, effectively present the evolution of one aspect of human culture. For Boas, his studies would reveal more significance in the rattle as an individual and unique object. Not only does the rattle have a functional purpose, but behind that purpose lie deeper meanings. Certain rattles may be religious or ceremonial in their creation, as some noises could ward off bad spirits. Others were perhaps used recreationally by children who enjoyed the noise produced by the rattle. In a Boasian tribal arrangement, that deeper function would be made apparent to the museum visitor, arguably revealing more about the particular rattle in question than a typological sequence of

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