Saturday, 28 January 2012

Christmas Oxford Adventures

One of the nice things about sticking around Oxford over the Christmas vacation was that Tim and I got to do some more exploring around the city, including a massive walk around our neighbourhood.  We also visited two museums we had kept meaning to see but hadn't quite got round to: the Natural History Museum and (in the same building, handily) the Pitt Rivers Museum.
The central hall
The Natural History Museum is a lovely neo-Gothic building (thanks to John Ruskin, who said it ought to match the style of the gothic university buildings).  It has all manner of fossils, the last remains of the Oxford Dodo, and artifacts, such as a chunk of  fossilized tree trunk that one can touch.  It also has its share of creepy crawlies, including preserved giant centipede, some of Linnaeus' bees, a real, working bee hive, and a case full of burrowing cockroaches (pictured below).
This museum also hosted the 1860 debate on evolution between Thomas Henry Huxley ("Darwin's bulldog") and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.  We could go into the room (which now stores artifacts), but there is a helpful plaque outside.

The Pitt Rivers Museum was so fabulous I forgot to take pictures.  Or, rather, I unjustifiably forgot to take pictures.  The museum was built onto the back of the Natural History Museum in the 1880s and has a massive collection of anthropological artifacts, grouped by theme with few explanatory cards.  The creepiest case was "Treatment of Dead Enemies," featuring skulls and shrunken heads.  There are also large collections of ship models, pottery, spears, jewelry, guns - just about anything you could think of.  My favourite case was one called "Combination Weapons" that feature a cane that could double as a gun.  There was also a strange implement that was part shield, part lance, part knife, and part gun but was probably never intended for actual use.

That same day, we ran across the street to Keble College, the most gorgeous Victorian monstrousity (right up there with St. Pancras Station in London), with connections to the Oxford Movement.
Central quad

Over the vacation, we also made a return visit to the Museum of the History of Science (which originally housed the Old Ashmolean).  We had to see their special exhibit "Time Machines" featuring clocks of all sorts.  I love old clocks - they are just lovely.

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