Chris Gosden spoke at the Indigenous Arts in Transition Seminar on Wednesday, September 21, 2011, on “Being English: An Exploration of Identity Through the Collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.”

Chris Gosden’s talk is entitled “Being English: An Exploration of Identity Through the Collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.” English identity is ill-defined, in contrast to that of other groups within the British Isles, having few agreed on material or cultural markers. However, identity is an issue for all nations and is often sought through appeals to a traditional past thought to provide firm roots for the present. The disciplines of archaeology and anthropology developed in the nineteenth century partly as a search for cultural roots through creating a notion of the primitive and casting various people around the world as ancestors for so-called developed groups. Anthropology in particular was ill-equipped to deal with local histories and cultural variations in a place like England. E. B. Tylor, one of the most influential of the nineteenth century anthropologists, developed the notion of ‘survivals’ to cope with the continuing use of magic, handcrafts and folk beliefs in a society like England that he saw as advanced and rational. The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford has some 44,000 objects from England which have been the subject of a three-year project, The Other Within: An Anthropology of Englishness (2006-2009), which is currently being written up. Dr. Gosden will use a selection of these objects, particularly those concerning magic, to examine the cultural construction of English identity from the later nineteenth century onwards.

Dr. Gosden is Professor of European Archaeology at the Oxford institute of Archaeology, a Fellow of Keble College, and Emeritus Fellow of St. Cross College. He received his B.A. and his Ph.D. from Sheffield University in England. He has taught at the Australian National University, La Trobe University, Southampton University, and Cambridge University before joining the faculty at the University of Oxford as both a lecturer and curator of archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Dr. Gosden has published extensively and he co-founded the Journal of Social Archaeology. From 2002 to 2006, he directed the Relational Museum project which examined the history and social relations comprising the Pitt Rivers Museum ethnological collections, and culminated in Knowing Things: Exploring the Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum (2007). Dr. Gosden has conducted fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom. For the last ten years, his fieldwork has centered around the Vale and Ridgeford project at Frilford, Oxfordshire, England, which he directs with Gary Lock.