Our 7 Favourite Oxford Museums and Objects

Oxford is home to some of the most diverse and high-quality collections in the world – ranging from  libraries and archives, art and archaeology, botanical and natural history,  and the history of science. For #InternationalMuseumDay we share some of the treasures from this rich research environment that have inspired academics and visitors alike.

1) Ashmolean Museum: the Alfred Jewel

One of the Museum’s most treasured objects, the Alfred Jewel is a testament to King Alfred’s educational reforms, supposedly one of the mysterious and valuable aestels that would have accompanied the translations Alfred distributed to his bishops. In this bite-size talk Amy Faulkner (PhD Candidate, English Faculty, University of Oxford) explores how the Alfred Jewel is a symbol not only of Alfred’s wealth but also of how he used it to become the hero king we know today.


2) Bodleian Library: the Selden Map

The 17th century Selden Map of China was once described as 'A very odd mapp of China. Very large, & taken from Mr. Selden's'. Today the map is one of the treasures of the Bodleian Library, and this short video explores how the map is interpreted today by scholars from a range of different disciplines.


3) The Museum of the History of Science: The Astrolabe Collection

The Museum of the History of Science building is the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum and was once the home of the Ashmolean collection. The museum is worth visiting for the building alone, and also showcases a diverse collection of early scientific instruments. It has the world's largest and most significant collection of astrolabes. Spanning cultures and regions across thousands of years, the astrolabe illuminates astronomy, time-telling, astrology and religion. Find out more on the Museum website.

4) Oxford University Museum of Natural History: the Oxford Dodo

The world’s only soft tissue dodo remains are found in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The dodo is the most famous of all the creatures to have become extinct in historical times and has inspired authors and academics alike. In this short talk Paul Jepson (Researcher at the School of Geography and the Environment) explores why the dodo has become an animal icon of extinction. A range of other bite-size talks on the much-loved creature can be viewed here.


5) The Oxford colleges

The University of Oxford has more than 30 colleges, which have astounding collections of paintings and objects. Christ Church has a Picture Gallery with over 300 Old Master paintings and nearly 2,000 drawings, which is open to the public. Tucked away in other colleges are a wide-range of artworks. A new project ‘Diversifying Portraiture at Oxford’ is highlighting Oxford portraits illustrating the diversity of its past and present. Some of these images are below, and more can be found on the project website.

Read more about the images below here.

6) The Tolkien Archive: Dust cover of The Return of the Kings

In addition to museums, Oxford is home to an extraordinary wealth of archives. The Tolkien archive has a wonderful collection of manuscripts and illustrations, including this dust cover for The Return of the Kings, which was drawn by Tolkien himself. To celebrate 60 years since the publication of the novel in October 2015, TORCH staged an exhibition and panel discussion with the Tolkien Archive to examine Tolkien’s legacy then and now.

7) Radcliffe Infirmary: A Site of Medical History

Our very own building, now the Radcliffe Humanities, was once Oxford’s first hospital, which was open from 1770 to 2007. Steeped in history, it was the location for the first use of penicillin to treat infections (1941), as well as other significant developments, including the first British accident service and a flying squad to go to the aid of mothers in difficulty during childbirth. The hospital was also a pioneer in other areas including plastic surgery, anaesthetics, physiotherapy, neurosciences and nursing. Discover more about its history on the Oxfordshire Health Archives website. We will open again for this year’s Oxford Open Doors on 10 September, so check back for further details!

- TORCH team

Public Engagement with Research

Oxford University Museum of Natural History