Collecting English Magic
: Materiality, Modernity, Museums

  • Tabitha Cadbury

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study focuses on the collection and interpretation of English material magic by English museums in the modern era. Based on a survey of English amulets in English museums, the thesis addresses the question ‘how have museum collections of English popular magic materialised relations between people and things in practice?’ Melding two academic perspectives — historical interpretations of English magic and analyses of ethnographic collections — it contributes to both fields of study. Theoretical approaches from material culture studies, museology, anthropology and history are used. Building on four areas of current academic concern — magic, modernity, materiality and museums — the thesis explores four themes: changing attitudes to magic, shifting attitudes to the material world, the growth and definition of academic disciplines, and relationships between amateurism and professionalism. The thesis' temporal scope extends from 1850 to the present, with a focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when most of the collections were amassed, and on their re-interpretation in the second half of the twentieth century. Taking English amulets as its starting point, the thesis examines why and how these have been juxtaposed with artefacts from the rest of Britain, Europe and the world. It investigates networks of institutions, people, objects and ideas which formed and were formed by the collections. The study pivots around a number of key case studies, both of people who collected and interpreted amulets and of institutions that assembled them. Institutions encompass the Pitt Rivers Museum, Folklore Society, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Brighton Museum, and Museum of Witchcraft and Magic; individuals include General Pitt-Rivers, Edward Burnett Tylor, Frederick Elworthy, Edward Lovett, Henry Balfour, Alfred Cort Haddon, Herbert Toms, Beatrice Blackwood and Cecil Williamson. The thesis concludes that collections of English material magic have materialised relations between people and things in specific and significant ways.
Date of Award11 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJames Thompson (Supervisor) & Ronald E Hutton (Supervisor)


  • Museums
  • Magic
  • Materiality
  • Modernity
  • Collecting
  • Museum interpretation
  • Museology
  • Museum Studies
  • History of museums
  • History of magic
  • Victorian
  • Edwardian
  • First World War
  • First World War soldiers
  • Trench art
  • Englishness
  • National identity
  • Folklore
  • Folk-life
  • Modernism
  • Material magic
  • Museum documentation
  • Cataloguing
  • Ethnography
  • Anthropology
  • Ethnology
  • History of ideas
  • Ethnographic collections
  • Cultural history
  • Social history
  • History of science
  • Nineteenth century
  • Twentieth century
  • Twenty-first century
  • Grand Tour
  • Charms
  • Amulets
  • Talismans
  • Superstition
  • History of geology
  • History of palaeontology
  • History of natural history
  • History of medicine
  • Folk medicine
  • Folk magic
  • Popular medicine
  • Popular magic
  • Witchcraft
  • Cunning folk
  • Pitt Rivers Museum
  • Folklore Society
  • Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Brighton Museum
  • Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
  • Museum of British Folklore
  • General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers
  • Edward Burnett Tylor
  • Social evolutionism
  • Frederick Elworthy
  • Antiquarianism
  • Edward Lovett
  • Henry Balfour
  • Alfred Cort Haddon
  • Herbert Toms
  • Beatrice Blackwood
  • Cecil Williamson
  • Gerald Gardner
  • Margaret Murray
  • Paganism
  • Wicca
  • Edith Durham
  • Enid Porter
  • Ellen Ettlinger
  • William Ridgeway
  • Occultism
  • Professionalisation
  • Amateurs
  • Beatrice Blackman
  • Barbara Freire-Marreco
  • Museum of Cambridge
  • Cambridge and County Folk Museum
  • International Folk-Lore Congress
  • Frederick Starr
  • Mary Alicia Owen
  • Charles Godfrey Leland
  • Robert William Theodore Günther

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