Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part II

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

#13 - Oxford Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum

These two museums, both free to visit, are essentially chalk and cheese.

The Oxford Museum of Natural History is home to a rich array of exhibits - as well it might be, given that it was founded to showcase the university's collections. The towering dinosaur and elephant skeletons are the most obviously visually impressive, but the smaller exhibits are no less worth perusing. Indeed Stan's favourite, on his first ever visit this week, seemed to be Mandy the stuffed Shetland pony, narrowly ahead of the model crocodile, a fox and some of the statues of famous scientists which adorn the stone pillars.

The museum - a slightly foreboding Victorian neo-Gothic edifice from the outside - is spacious, airy and light inside thanks to its high glass roof, which is supported by cast iron columns, and the exhibits are well arranged and accompanied by clear, informative text. While (thankfully) it doesn't pander to the modern museum fashion for interactive gimmickry, neither is it old-fashionedly stuffy or formal - for instance, there are a range of exhibits, including a 230-million-year-old piece of petrified tree trunk, that visitors are actively encouraged to touch.

The Pitt Rivers Museum, accessible through a doorway at the back of the Museum of Natural History, is very different. Much more anthropological in focus, it features glass cases crammed full of items from around the world, with labelling patchy and inconsistent. You feel much more like you're immersed in the dimly lit private collection of a Victorian eccentric, as you try to take in all the artifacts and trinkets he's amassed on his travels. That certainly has its own charm and appeal, even if the scalps and shrunken heads on display don't...

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