The MSc/MPhil programme in Visual, Material, and Museum Anthropology consolidates long-standing graduate degree programmes in Material Anthropology and Museum Ethnography (MAME) and Visual Anthropology (VA), recognizing the intellectual and empirical links between these areas of anthropological enquiry. The degree combines the strengths of one of Britain’s most important departments of anthropology with one of the world’s great ethnographic museums, the Pitt Rivers Museum, whose collections include ethnographic and archaeological artefacts and ethnographic photographs from around the world.
The degree programme in Visual, Material, and Museum Anthropology offers students the chance to explore some of the most exciting issues in anthropology today. The one year MSc and the two year MPhil degrees focus on current themes within museum anthropology, visual anthropology, and material culture theory, and examines how these areas of enquiry are transforming the discipline of anthropology itself.
The programme uses anthropological perspectives to develop a critical understanding of the creation, function, histories, politics, and contemporary meanings and practices surrounding material and visual culture in different cultural contexts. Topics studied include the production, circulation and consumption of objects and images; the representation of cultures in museum displays, public media, art museums, and other public venues; shifting relations between source communities and museums; problems of landscape, place, and space; art and aesthetics; visual anthropology and issues of representation, including photographic representation and the relationship between photography and anthropology; material culture and social theory, the cross-cultural circulation of objects in the global economy, notions of value and the loss of material form, objectification and consumption.
Teaching emphasizes theoretical and analytical perspectives rather than practical skills training, although some teaching is done with the Museum’s collections, on techniques of analysis and editing in visual anthropology, and on ethnographic methods to study material worlds outside the museum. Tutors on the course endeavor to offer volunteer placements within their own research projects when possible. These have ranged from to transcribing interviews with Indigenous research visitors to the PRM, assisting in source community research visits, cataloguing and scanning photographs and manuscripts, researching the Museum’s collections of objects and photographs, and conducting an ethnography of visitors of an exhibition curated by a member of staff.
The degree can be a bridge toward professional training for those wishing to enter a museum career, a step toward doctoral research and an academic career, or an opportunity for established professionals to spend time thinking about theoretical issues away from the demands of daily work. Previous graduates of the separate programmes have gone on to doctoral research and academic careers, as well as careers in museum curation, media project coordination, independent documentary production, and work with marketing and advertising agencies.
Students on the VMMA course may be able to do short volunteer placements with staff teaching on the degree and in the Pitt Rivers Museum to enhance their learning. Volunteer work undertaken for the PRM by VMMA students is considered to be part of their course. While no degree marks are given for this work (as with tutorial essays), such projects will contribute to students’ overall learning on the course, will enable students to explore applications of theoretical and methodological teaching, and may feed into assessed coursework as content. Volunteer placements are not formalized across the Museum, but will be offered to students as opportunities arise over the year.