Dr Robin Wilson

Robin Wilson

Research Affiliate

Director of The Wytham Studio (Visual Arts Research) at the University of Oxford's Wytham Woods


Email: robin.wilson@admin.ox.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1865 726832 / +44 (0) 7946 597316

Project Websites:

Twitter: @wythamwoods01 @OxfordAnagama @TheWythamStudio

The Wytham Studio
Sawmill Yard
University of Oxford 
Wytham Woods
Oxford OX2 8QQ
United Kingdom

Teaching and Research Interests

I am a social anthropologist and artist-printmaker who focuses on the study and practice of the production of visual/material culture. My research interests include perceptions of the environment, the commoditization of traditional arts in a global marketplace, contemporary arts practice (ceramics/printmaking/woodcarving), the anthropology of environmental sciences and museum/gallery exhibition.
 My current work is mainly in the UK and Japan; but previous fieldwork sites include the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, where I began work on my Ph.D. in 1993 with an NERC/British Nuclear Fuels Case Award, followed by ethnographic work around the Ok Tedi mine of Western Province, Papua New Guinea (ESRC Research Grant) where I then worked on local perceptions of mining/minerals development mediated through story telling and visual media (Nuffield Foundation Career Development Fellowship) and developed a GIS of social/ecological knowledge in the Was Valley of PNG (British Academy Research Grant). I have also held C-SAP grants to investigate anthropological applications of teaching and learning in higher education.

Oxford Anagama Kiln Project.
 In 2013 I set up a collaborative multi-disciplinary project to build and fire a pair of traditional Japanese anagama kilns at the University of Oxford’s research woods at Wytham. This research uses ethnography to investigate the effects of globalized markets on contemporary production process of traditional ceramics.  The project involves Whichford Pottery (Europe’s largest artisan pottery) and the potter/Japanese Living National Treasure Isezaki Jun from Bizen (Japan’s senior ceramics town).  By providing a kiln-site at the University of Oxford, this project employs an ethnographic method to investigate the complexities and lived lives of contemporary ceramicists attempting to develop traditional forms of ceramic craft in a rapidly changing global economy.  The research also involves museum ethnography, woodland management practice and researchers from geology, ecology and the University Museums. This project runs for five years from January 2015 and is based at Wytham Woods.  

Oxford Anagama Japanese Project Proposal 2015 in English and in Japanese.

The Wytham Studio. In 2010 I set up the visual arts research programme, and subsequently The Wytham Studio as its base in the Oxford University ecological research woodlands at Wytham.  As one of the world’s most intensively scientifically studied places, Wytham Woods have been an important site for the production of ecological research since their incorporation into the University in 1942.   The research undertaken by the Wytham Studio is the first academic study using the techniques of visual anthropology based on long-term work with the scientists from various departments (Zoology, Plant Sciences, Entomology etc) working at the Woods.  The purpose of the work is to thereby reveal the importance of off-stage activities involved in the reproduction of scientific knowledge (with a particular focus on skilled visions and situated practice). I particularly aim to highlight the role of visual knowledge and the validity of scientific representations of the natural world as applied by field ecology.  Part of this work includes a cross-over into my own work as a fine-artist and with other artists active in the field to investigate capacities to visualize the landscape and the stages by which the landscape is progressively transformed and adapted into different kinds of graphic inscriptions.

The work at the Wytham Studio forms the basis for the Oxford Anagama kiln project, described above, which takes for its focus the Japanese Anagama kiln form, a traditional, woodland-based, single-chambered kiln, known in Japan since A.D. C12th for its unglazed tea-ceremony (Bizenware) ceramics, and now in the process of re-creating itself as a material commodity in the C21st global market.  Alongside the practical aspects of creating a research kiln at Oxford, this project provides an opportunity for the anthropological exploration of this form of ceramics as standing for and communicating identities, values and relationships in a wider social/art context.

The Wytham Room at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History The University of Oxford Museum of Natural History exhibitions committee has agreed to host a long-term, regularly updated exhibition room for the purpose of disseminating the output of The Wytham Studio’s visual arts research into the contemporary ecological research undertaken at Wytham.  To generate the material for these exhibitions, I am taking a multi-pronged anthropological approach to working with the 50+ research groups currently active in the woods to produce compelling audio and visual exhibitions for public display that focus on various topics as they emerge from the ongoing science research. 

The first exhibition in 2014 examined a small, uniquely preserved area of fenland within the woods, taking numerical hydrological models as the starting point from which emerged a visual exploration of the development and maintenance of this ecological niche since the last glacial retreat.  The next exhibition examines the recent re-discovery of the field notebooks of Wytham-based pioneering ecologist Charles Elton whose notion of food chains and succession changed contemporary ecological understandings.

These exhibitions of anthropologically-informed investigations into a broad range of contemporary scientific research use innovative visual methods and representations, such as art and the crafts, in a combination of practical workshops, web-based material, and multi-sited activities to disseminate research results more effectively and to involve wider audiences in the topics covered.

‘The Laboratory with Leaves’ Film Series. At the heart of the public engagement component of the  Wytham Studio and Natural History Museum work is the series of short films covering the scientific research groups studied anthropologically for the Wytham Exhibition.   Made in conjunction with Angel Sharp Media, which provides camera and sound technicians, we aim to make researcher-driven short films as a part of the anthropological research. These can be seen on the Oxford University website here.

Areas of expertise

Anthropology of the environment (Oxfordshire, Papua New Guinea), material culture and visual anthropology, ceramics and printmaking, ecology, ethnography, museum/gallery exhibition design.


PhD Geochemistry (University of Durham)
MSc (Distinction) Visual Social Anthropology (University of Oxford)
BSc (1st Class) Hons Geography & Geology 
Post Grad Cert Teaching/Learning in Higher Education (University of Durham)

Selected Publications

Sillitoe, P. and R. A. Wilson 2002   Playing on the Pacific ring of fire: Negotiation and Knowledge in Mining in Papua New Guinea. In ASA Conference Proceedings Vol. 3 Pottier, Bicker and Sillitoe (eds.). London: Pluto.

Wilson, R.A.  2003   Rediscovering their Past: The art of mining at Ok Tedi.  In Prime,October: Brisbane.

Wilson, R. A. 2004  Anthropology, Ethics and Mining: Applying Anthropology at the Ok Tedi Mine. ASA Professional Practice in Anthropology Course, UCL, London.

Wilson, R. A. 2004 Applying anthropology in Melanesia: academic enterprise cultures and mining in Papua New Guinea? The ASA Conference - Locating the Field, Durham University.

Wilson, R. A.  2004 Remaking the World: Myth Mining and Ritual Change among the Duna of Papua New Guinea. Book review in BKI Bijdragen Koninklijk Instituut Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania (Journal of the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology), 160 (4) November.

Wilson, R. A. 2005: ‘Science, Society and Power’ review in Canadian Journal of African Studies, 38.

Lyon, S., P. Sillitoe, P. and R. A. Wilson 2005  Implementation of e-science tools for complex analysis of human-environmental interaction at First International Conference on e-Social Science - 22-24 June 2005, Manchester, UK


2012 – 2013, Oxford University Museum of Natural History ‘Representations of Wytham Woods’

2012 – present, Harris-Manchester College, Oxford ‘Art from Wytham’

2014 University of Oxford Botanic Gardens, ‘British Woodlands in Decline? The British Oak’

2014 Oxford University Museum of Natural History ‘Art&Science from Wytham Woods: Marley Fen’

2015 Oxford University Museum of Natural History ‘Art&Science from Wytham Woods: The diaries of pioneering ecologist, Charles Elton’



22/10/2019 14:48:43
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