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Peoples Ethnographic: Objects, Museums, and the

Colonial Inheritance of French Ethnology


Daniel J. Sherman

In 1998 Michel Colardelle, director of Frances Muse National des Arts


et Traditions Populaires (ATP), called for an expansion of the museums
scope, limited since its creation sixty years before to rural France on
the eve of industrialization, to the entire European world of the second
millennium. The museum would thus become, in Colardelles words,
a tool for understanding the conditions that gave Europe its social
and cultural forms, from what unites it to the deepest level of its organization, its practices, its consciousness, and its myths, and a place to
reect on the reasons for its transgressions: colonialism, genocide. . . . 1
The museums founder, Georges-Henri Rivire, would undoubtedly
Daniel J. Sherman is professor of history and director of the Center for Twenty-rst Century
Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He is author of Worthy Monuments: Art Museums
and the Politics of Culture in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge, MA, 1989) and The Construction of
Memory in Interwar France (Chicago, 1999) and coeditor, with Mary D. Sheri, of the French Historical
Studies special issue French History in the Visual Sphere (2003). His current research concerns
primitivism and constructions of the other in France after World War II.
Research for this essay was supported by travel funds from the School of Humanities at Rice
University, as well as by grants from the National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, NC,
and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, for which the author is most grateful.
He thanks Isabelle Le Masne de Chermont, director of the Bibliothque et Archives des Muses
Nationaux, and Jacqueline Christophe, archivist of the Muse National des Arts et Traditions
Populaires, for their help accessing materials in their care. Earlier versions of the essay were delivered at the 2000 annual meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies in Tempe, AZ, and
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Stanford University, the University of Glasgow, the University of Lisbon, and the University of California, Riverside. The author extends
very warm thanks to the many colleagues whose thoughtful questions and comments sent him
back to the drawing board; to the editors of this special issue, Alice L. Conklin and Julia ClancySmith, and the journal editors, Jo Burr Margadant and Ted W. Margadant, for their advice and
encouragement; to Judy Con, Nlia Dias, Patricia Morton, Sherry Ortner, Mary Louise Roberts,
Aron Rodrigue, and Gary Wilder for their incisive and critical readings of various drafts; to Claire
Richter Sherman for practical assistance; to Angus Lockyer for a crucial phrase; and to Eduardo
Douglas, whose thinking about these issues has informed the authors in more ways than he could
ever acknowledge.
1 Michel Colardelle, Que faire des arts et traditions populaires? Le dbat, no. 99 (1998):
117; ellipsis in original.
French Historical Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Summer 2004)
Copyright 2004 by the Society for French Historical Studies

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FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

have been startled by this relegation of colonialism to the status of a


crime against humanity. Along with the Muse de lHomme, the ATP
formed part of a larger ethnographic project of the 1930s to promote a
nonracist appreciation of human diversity, a project that viewed colonialism, admittedly an imperfect political system, as more importantly
oering an unparalleled forum for scientic research and a particular manner of seeing. Yet the presence of colonialism in this program
of museological reform oers an apt coda to a long history of appropriation of colonialisms scholarly and scientic structures, a history in
which Rivire and the ATP played an important role.
Science and colonialism, of course, have long had relations so close
as to aect their very constitution as elds of knowledge and power. In
a 1913 essay on ethnography in France and abroad, Marcel Mauss, one
of the most inuential gures in the history of the human sciences in
France, dened ethnography as the description of so-called primitive
peoples [peuples dits primitifs] and declared that France, as a great scientic and colonial power, had a moral obligation to study the primitive
inhabitants of its own colonies, as well as the inferior populations of
the rest of the world.2
But just as colonial power was never monolithic and changed over
time, colonialism itself comprised a multitude of dierent practices,
including, often, projects for reform in the metropole.3 One such project of reform through the transfer or repatriation of colonial practices
involved the transformation of Pariss Muse dEthnographie into the
Muse de lHomme in 1938. As the institutions director, Paul Rivet, put
it, The smell of the bush [lair de la brousse], in thus [through ethnographic research] entering our laboratories, our museums, and our
teaching, can only renew their atmosphere and make it more vital. 4
Like Mauss, Rivet, a man of the Left, emphasized the common humanity of Europeans and so-called primitives, and he clearly aimed at
a more humane colonial regime, though not its complete abolition.5
His views helped develop what James Cliord has called ethnographic
2 Marcel Mauss, Lethnographie en France et ltranger, Revue de Paris, Oct. 1 and 15,
1913, rpt. in Cohsion sociale et divisions de la sociologie, vol. 3 of Oeuvres, ed. Victor Karady (Paris,
1969), 395, 405.
3 See, e.g., Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler, Between Metropole and Colony:
Rethinking a Research Agenda, in Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed.
Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (Berkeley, CA, 1997), 4; and John Comaro and Jean
Comaro, Homemade Hegemony, in Ethnography and the Historical Imagination (Boulder, CO,
1992), 26595.
4 Paul Rivet, Ethnologie: Rapport prliminaire, in Congrs de la recherche scientique dans les
territoires doutre-mer (Paris, 2026 septembre 1937), 9.
5 Paul Rivet, Lanthropologie et les missions, in Congrs des Missions Protestantes, 911 June
1931 (Paris, 1931), 5; Jean Jamin, Le Muse dEthnographie en 1930: Lethnologie comme sci-

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

671

humanism, which would become the dominant paradigm of French


ethnology, a disused term from nineteenth-century anthropology that
Rivet revived in a new sense, to mean the comparative study of human
cultures. While the new school of ethnology rejected the racist tradition of physical anthropology, it remained xed on a notion of cultural
dierence or alterity, which it became the task of ethnology to explain
in social rather than biological terms.6 That notion of alterity, which
Rivire helped develop as assistant director of the Muse dEthnographie under Rivet, would in turn inform Rivires own project for reforming ethnology in the metropole.
The new ethnology espoused a mission of preservation, born of the
sense that the very structures of authority that gave Europeans access
to other peoples, whether direct rule or its heritage in greater intellectual and material resources, at the same time threatened to uproot
and even destroy their cultures.7 Like the practices it accompanied, that
sense of mission could easily transfer to the metropolitan arena. In 1948
Marcel Maget, a curator at Rivires ATP and head of its research center, wrote that nothing about ethnography justied its connement to
so-called primitive peoples.8 From the moment he began ethnographic
research in the late 1930s, Maget had seen a diminishing gap between
peoples ethnographic and ethnographicable (peuples ethnographes and
peuples ethnographiables).9 In this formulation, based on the normal pattern of ethnographic inquiry up to that time, ethnographic means
white Euro-Americans; ethnographicable, nonwhite non-Europeans,
peoples classiable as savage or primitive. But, as Catherine Velay Vallantin has remarked, as early as the 1930s scholars of French popular
culture appropriated those [tools] used to approach savage, primitive, archaic, unlettered, inferior societies, which could lead them
ence et comme politique, in La musologie selon Georges-Henri Rivire: Cours de musologie, textes et
tmoignages (Paris, 1989), 113.
6 James Cliord, On Ethnographic Surrealism, in The Predicament of Culture: TwentiethCentury Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, MA, 1988), 13540; Jamin, Muse dEthnographie en 1930, 11112. In France anthropology is the biological or physical study and measurement of humanoid remains, while ethnology, in the nineteenth century the study of racial
dierence, now designates what Americans more commonly call cultural anthropology, the cultural study of mankind. The original denition of ethnography as the practice and descriptive
method of ethnology is common to both countries. My usage of the terms tries to follow those of
the particular times, gures, and texts under discussion. On the persistence of notions of dierence indebted to colonialism, see Benot de lEstoile, Des races non pas infrieures, mais direntes: De lExposition coloniale au Muse de lhomme, in Les politiques de lanthropologie: Discours
et pratiques en France (18601940), ed. Claude Blanckaert (Paris, 2001), 391473.
7 Jamin, Muse dethnographie en 1930, 11213.
8 Marcel Maget, Remarques sur lethnographie franaise mtropolitaine: Buts, mthodes,
dsignation, Bulletin de la Socit neuchteloise de gographie, t. 51, fasc. 2 (1948): 58.
9 Marcel Maget, Ethnographie mtropolitaine: Guide dtude directe des comportements culturels
(Paris, 1953), xxxiv.

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FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

to consider those imbued with [les tenants de] popular cultures as so


many natives of another savage or natural culture. 10 After the war
Maget formalized the analogy in an inuential book titled Ethnographie
mtropolitaine: Guide dtude directe des comportements culturels, oering a
methodology for students of French society in the Hexagon.11 Maget
described his own work as an attempt to study French reality with
as much solicitude and method as has gone into the study of certain
colonial or foreign peoples. 12 The apparent smoothness of the transition, which silently removes power from the problematic of colonial
power/knowledge, raises the questions with which the present study
begins: What were the stakes of claiming a colonial inheritance for
the ethnology of metropolitan France? Of what did the relationship
between colonial and metropolitan ethnology consist, epistemologically, discursively, and professionally? How did it operate, and with what
consequences?
In exploring those questions, this essay seeks to contribute to
several interconnected histories: those of French ethnology, particularly its metropolitan variant, of museology, and of the relationship between colonialism and scientic knowledge.13 Anthropologys dependence from the beginning on collections of artifacts constitutes, as
Nlia Dias has persuasively shown, one of its chief singularities as a
eld.14 Whether with respect to human remains, the preoccupation of
nineteenth-century anthropologists, or to objects of human fabrication removed from their context of use, the need to know, as Daniel

10 Catherine Velay Vallantin, Le congrs international de folklore de 1937, Annales: Histoire, sciences sociales 54 (1999): 496.
11 On Maget and his career, see Jean-Claude Chamboredon, Marcel Maget et lethnographie des socits paysannes, Cahiers dconomie et sociologie rurales, no. 11 (1989): 4755.
12 Archives du Muse National des arts et traditions populaires (hereafter AATP), series
ATP Historique 193764, Maget, Notes concernant la rorganisation du fond dethnographie
franais des Muses de France, Mar. 4, 1945.
13 On the relationship between colonialism and the sciences of man, see, among others,
Talal Asad, ed., Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (New York, 1973), the pioneering collection; Grard Leclerc, Anthropologie et colonialisme (Paris, 1972); Jean Copans, ed., Anthropologie et
imprialisme (Paris, 1975); Daniel Nordman and Jean-Pierre Raison, eds., Sciences de lhomme et conqute coloniale: Constitution et usage des sciences humaines en Afrique (XIXeXXe sicles) (Paris, 1980);
James Cliord, Person and Myth: Maurice Leenhardt in the Melanesian World (Berkeley, CA, 1982;
paperback rpt., Durham, NC, 1992); Jean-Claude Vatin et al., Connaissances du Maghreb: Sciences
sociales et colonisation (Paris, 1984); Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago, 1985); Johannes
Fabian, Language and Colonial Power: The Appropriation of Swahili in the Former Belgian Congo, 1880
1938 (Cambridge, 1986); Comaro and Comaro, Ethnography and the Historical Imagination, among
their many works on this topic; and Nicholas Thomas, Colonialisms Culture: Anthropology, Travel, and
Government (Princeton, NJ, 1994).
14 Nlia Dias, Le Muse dethnographie du Trocadro (18781908): Anthropologie et musologie
en France (Paris, 1991), 1314; Dias, The Visibility of Dierence: Nineteenth-Century French
Anthropological Collections, in The Politics of Display: Museums, Science, Culture, ed. Sharon Macdonald (New York, 1998), 3652.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

673

Jenkins puts it, was marked o and limited by the need to have. 15 Thus
the collecting and display of indigenous objects has proved a stimulating ground for critical reection on the nexus of imperialism, science,
culture, and exchange.16
The ATP oers a logical site for such an inquiry for several reasons.
First, the museum had close connections to the colonial ethnology
Rivet, Mauss, and others were reinventing in the form of ethnographic
humanism, notably through Rivire, who served as Rivets assistant director at the Muse dEthnographie for nearly a decade before becoming the ATPs founding director in 1937. Second, the museum
played a vital role in shaping metropolitan ethnology in relation not
only to scientic ethnology as a whole but also to another eld, until
that time largely antiquarian, the study of traditional French folk culture. Because folklore studies had roots in museum displays of local
artifacts as well as in popular literature, the reformist projects of the
ATP strikingly illuminate the ways ethnology and museum practice
intersect. Beyond the disciplinary and institutional level, nally, the
ATP oers a revealing case of intellectuals attempting to come to terms
with Frances heritage, including the colonial heritage, and its problematic relationship to modernity.
Although World War II played a decisive role in discrediting folklore as a scholarly eld and replacing it with ethnology as the ATPs
dening paradigm, the conict between the two elds had its own dynamics, which predated the war and which the founding of the museum in 1937 fundamentally altered.17 At its beginnings in the nineteenth century, when it involved mostly wealthy urban professionals
and provincial antiquarians, the ethnography of rural France had not
needed the colonial analogy to treat peasants as other: dierences of
class, of education, and even of language had constructed that alterity
well enough. Nor did the dynamic of progress as moralizing the back15 Daniel Jenkins, Object Lessons and Ethnographic Displays: Museum Exhibitions and
the Making of American Anthropology, Comparative Studies in Society and History 36 (1994): 249.
16 See, e.g., Sally Price, Primitive Art in Civilized Places (Chicago, 1989); Nicholas Thomas,
Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacic (Cambridge, MA, 1991),
chap. 4; Thomas, Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture (London, 1999); Suzanne Marchand,
Orientalism as Kulturpolitik: German Archeology and Cultural Imperialism in Asia Minor, in
Volksgeist as Method and Ethic: Essays on Boasian Ethnography and the German Anthropological Tradition,
ed. George W. Stocking Jr. (Madison, WI, 1996), 298336; Tim Barringer and Tom Flynn, eds.,
Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture, and the Museum (London, 1998); Dominique Tafn, ed., Du muse colonial au muse des cultures du monde: Actes du colloque organis par le Muse national
des arts dAfrique et dOcanie et le Centre Georges-Pompidou, 36 juin 1998 (Paris, 2000); and Alice L.
Conklin, Civil Society, Science, and Empire in Late Republican France: The Foundation of Pariss
Museum of Man, Osiris 17 (2002): 25590.
17 Florence Weber, Le folklore, lhistoire et lEtat en France (19371945), Revue de synthse,
4th ser., 34 (2000): 458.

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FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

ward necessarily demand a colonial precedent.18 The creation of the


ATP, however, formed part of a program with ambitions akin to those of
colonial administrators: to bring advanced technology and social organization to rural agriculture while preserving traditional crafts and promoting tourist development.19 The ethnology of so-called primitive
peoples, bound up with colonial power relations, furnished a convenient model for the research this project required and, with its freshly
acquired status as a science, a means of preventing the eld of folklore studies from emerging as a rival center of disciplinary authority.
When, much later, the colonial model in turn became embarrassing,
it could be quietly jettisoned, but like the elds Vichy past, the concealment of which Daniel Fabre has placed at the center of its postwar
preoccupations, it has had lasting consequences.20 Indeed, and against
the scholarly silence surrounding the colonial heritage of metropolitan ethnology, most recently in Nina Gorguss study of Rivire, I would
argue that we cannot fully understand one of the most puzzling aspects
of the ATPs history, the coincidence of its institutional maturation with
its growing isolation from ethnological research, without paying heed
to that complex legacy.21
Beginnings
The abundant literature on its founding has made the main lines of
French ethnology quite familiar; accordingly, they need only be summarized here. As a eld of learned inquiry rather than a scholarly discipline, French ethnology has roots going back to the nineteenth century,
and arguably to the Enlightenment. What Dias calls an anthropological domain, with its own associations, publications, pedagogy, and
collections, emerged in the mid-nineteenth century out of two traditions, themselves intersecting: a philosophical inquiry into the nature
of human behavior and, predominantly, an attempt to construct a natural history of man. Although some of the central gures in this emer-

18 See Isabelle Collet, Les premiers muses dethnographie rgionale, en France, in Musologie et ethnologie, ed. Jean Cuisenier (Paris, 1987), 8387.
19 See Isabelle Collet, Le monde rural aux expositions universelles de 1900 et 1939, in
Cuisenier, Musologie et ethnologie, 10712, 11522; and Shanny Peer, France on Display: Peasants, Provincials, and Folklore in the 1937 Worlds Fair (Albany, NY, 1998), esp. chaps. 23.
20 Daniel Fabre, Lethnologie franaise la croise des engagements (19401945), in Rsistants et Rsistance, ed. Jean-Yves Boursier (Paris, 1997), 319400, esp. 378.
21 Nina Gorgus, Le magicien des vitrines: Le musologue Georges-Henri Rivire, trans. Marie-Anne
Coadou (Paris, 2003). Apart from a passing mention of lethnologie exotique (149) as one of
the sources of Rivires ethnographic method, Gorgus, in this otherwise thorough study, fails to
consider the possibility that the colonial connections of exotic ethnology could have had some
inuence on the practice of metropolitan ethnology.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

675

gence, notably Paul Broca and Paul Topinard, disagreed on the scope
of the eld and the relationship of its various partsphysical anthropology, ethnology, ethnographyby the 1870s most anthropologists
saw their task as the study of human races, a term that encompassed
groups dened in both physical and cultural terms.22 Because of the
entrenched conservatism of the university system, anthropology remained marginal there, although Brocas laboratory and Ecole dAnthropologie gained the support of the University of Paris medical
school and, later, of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes; instruction in the eld also took place at the Musum dHistoire Naturelle, a
research institution with its own professorial chairs.23 By the late nineteenth century, physical anthropology had become the dominant paradigm, in part because of its stronger organizational base, and notwithstanding the establishment of an ethnographic museum at the Palais du
Trocadro following the Exposition Universelle of 1878. Yet a broader
philosophical interest in human societies never entirely disappeared,
although in the generation before 1914 it found a more sympathetic
home in the new sociology practiced by Emile Durkheim and his followers at the Anne sociologique, an ambitious attempt to establish an allencompassing discipline of the social sciences.24
Although Frances colonies had since at least the conquest of Algeria played an important role as a supplier of specimens with which to
test the evolutionary schemas and racialist classications of physical
anthropology, the nonliterate societies that had largely occupied ethnographers had little claim to recognition within the university. This
situation changed only in the 1920s, in response to pressures for a more
eective and better-informed French colonial administration.25 Ethnologys emergence as a scientic discipline in France thus is usually dated
to the founding of the University of Pariss Institut dEthnologie in
1925, with funding from the separate colonial governments. It followed
by less than a generation the eorts of Maurice Delafosse, Arnold van
Gennep, and others to professionalize and grant scientic status to the
22 Dias, Muse dethnographie, 17; Jamin, Muse dethnographie en 1930, 111; Donald Bender, The Development of French Anthropology, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
1 (1965): 14042; Marie-France Piguet, Observation et histoire: Race chez Amde Thierry et
William F. Edwards, Lhomme, no. 153 (2000): 93106.
23 Dias, Muse dethnographie, 2172.
24 Bender, Development, 14244; Lucette Valensi, Le Maghreb vu du centre: Sa place
dans lcole sociologique franaise, in Vatin et al., Connaissances du Maghreb, 22829.
25 On ethnographys colonial ties in the nineteenth century, see, e.g., Dias, Visibility of
Dierence; and Patricia M. E. Lorcin, Imperial Identities: Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Race in Colonial
Algeria (London, 1995), chaps. 23. On disciplinary status, see Victor Karady, Le problme de la
lgitimit dans lorganisation historique de lethnologie franaise, Revue franaise de sociologie 23
(1982): 1925.

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ethnographic work of colonial administrators in sub-Saharan Africa.26


The Institut brought together three distinct intellectual traditions: the
old physical anthropology associated with the Ecole dAnthropologie
and dominated by doctors, including Rivet; Durkheimian sociology,
incarnated by Mauss, Durkheims nephew and the Instituts rst dominant teacher; and a Sorbonne philosophical tradition in the person
of Lucien Lvy-Bruhl.27 Celebrating the creation of the Institut, LvyBruhl vaunted the assistance ethnographic information could provide
in the mise en valeur, or development, of the colonies most valuable
resource: their people.28
In this new constellation, Durkheimian sociology shone the brightest, endowing the discipline of ethnology and its descriptive method,
ethnography, with scientic status. Mausss notion of the fait social total,
the idea that every action and every object in a given society has meaning as part of that societys larger signifying system, and his belief
that ethnographic research should aim to reconstitute an ensemble in
which the internal coherence of the observed society becomes clear,
had several lasting consequences.29 First, because the ethnologist had
to probe beneath surface behavior and events to nd their deeper,
underlying meanings, eldwork became essential. Second, from a museological standpoint, Mausss paradigm both enabled and in a sense
compelled a shift in the ordering scheme of the old Muse dEthnographie du Trocadro. That museums installations employed a typological classication based on function and sought to convey a sense of

26 See Emmanuelle Sibeud, La n du voyage: De la pratique coloniale la pratique ethnographique (18781913), in Blanckaert, Politiques de lanthropologie, 18995. At the same time, also
in response to the necessities of colonial rule, in this case the establishment of a French protectorate in Morocco, orientalism was expanding from its traditional basis in classical Arabic to a
broader array of academic elds. But the weight of traditional text-based methods in the study of
Islamic civilization meant that this shift would in the long run have much less inuence on the
dominant paradigms of social scientic inquiry. See Edmund Burke III, The First Crisis of Orientalism, 18901914, in Vatin et al., Connaissances du Maghreb, 21326; Valensi, Maghreb vu du
centre, 22744.
27 Karady, Problme de la lgitimit, 33; Isac Chiva, Entre livre et muse: Emergence
dune ethnologie de la France, in Ethnologies en miroir: La France et les pays de langue allemande, suivi
du compte rendu du colloque Ethnologie franaise, Mitteleuropische Volkskunde (Bad Homburg, 1215
dcembre 1984), ed. Isac Chiva and Utz Jeggle (Paris, 1987), 1011; Jamin, Muse dethnographie
en 1930, 111; cf. Georges-Henri Rivire, Muse et socit, travers le temps et lespace, in La
musologie, 54, 56, 59.
28 Lucien Lvy-Bruhl, LInstitut dEthnologie de lUniversit de Paris, Revue dethnographie
et des traditions populaires 2324 (1925): 23336. See also James D. Herbert, Paris 1937: Worlds on
Exhibition (Ithaca, NY, 1998), 64; Jean Jamin, Lethnographie mode dinemploi: De quelques rapports de lethnologie avec le malaise dans la civilisation, in Le mal et la douleur, ed. Jacques Hainard
and Roland Kaehr (Neuchtel, Switzerland, 1986), 4647. Jamins quotation from Lvy-Bruhl is
actually a composite of two passages from consecutive paragraphs.
29 Denise Paulme, Prface la troisime dition (1989), in Marcel Mauss, Manuel dethnographie (Paris, 1989 [1947]), vi. On Mausss inuence, see also Chiva, Entre livre et muse, 1820.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

677

the milieu from which the objects came. But the displays reected the
diering levels of knowledge about foreign societies, and the museums
founding director, Ernest-Thodore Hamy, had regarded the objects on
display as constituents of culture rather than as signiers of embedded
cultural meaning.30 The Maussian conception demanded consistency in
installation strategies, the better to convey the distinctiveness of each
society on display, and provided the ideal motor for a much-needed
radical housecleaning.31
In 1931 Rivet, in a report probably drafted by Rivire, a young
art critic and jazz impresario he had hired as his assistant director
three years before, proposed the creation of a museum of French folklore in one of the pavilions of that years Exposition Coloniale. Nothing came of this proposal in the short run, but it forms the backdrop
to Jean Jamins well-known observation that, at the founding of the
modern ethnography collection, the popular was conceived museologically at the same time and in the same way as the primitive. 32 With
the founding of the ATP in 1937, according to Jamin, the brief union
of the primitive and the popular broke down, and the two concepts
went their separate ways, along with the corresponding collections: the
Muse dEthnographies French objects to the ATP, everything else to
the new Muse de lHomme. But the argument that institutional separation produced a radical epistemological break as well, so that dierent others, from the French past and the colonial present, could not be
subject to the same gaze, seriously underestimates the durability of the
museums constitutive ties.33 Louis Dumonts recollections of his early
career as an ethnologist, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, make
clear that the two museums belonged to the same close-knit world.
Resuming his studies in 1936, when he was in his late twenties, Dumont
worked as a typist at the ATP while attending Mausss lectures at the
Collge de France. At the end of the war he returned to the ATP as
30 Dias, Muse dethnographie, 15362, 199205; Cliord, On Ethnographic Surrealism,
13536.

31 On the dilapidated state of the museums displays by the 1920s, see Jean Jamin, Aux origines du Muse de lhomme: La mission ethnographique Dakar-Djibouti, Cahiers ethnologiques, n.s.,
5 (1984): 41. The conceptual development of ethnology did not alone impel the transformation
of the museum; Gorgus shows that contemporaneous international debates about the purposes
of museums and the organization of their displays also had considerable impact on Rivire and
through him on Rivet; Magicien des vitrines, 7393.
32 Jean Jamin, Les objets ethnographiques sont-ils des choses perdues? in Temps perdu,
temps retrouv, ed. Jacques Hainard and Roland Kaehr (Neuchtel, 1985), 53. The phrase le populaire est musologiquement pens en mme temps et de la mme faon que le primitif is quoted
in Chiva, Entre livre et muse, 12.
33 Jamin, Objets ethnographiques, 58, 6465. Collet makes the same observation in Premiers muses, 90, and Gorgus summarizes and agrees with Jamins argument in Magicien des vitrines, 7172.

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FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

a researcher, alternating periods there with his doctoral research in


southern India; though he later became known for his work on the caste
system, Dumonts rst substantial ethnographic work, La Tarasque, grew
out of his ATP-supported eldwork on a Provenal festival.34
At a conceptual level, the demarcation of areas of research mattered less than the common endeavor of the Muse de lHomme and
the ATP to establish ethnology as a scientic discipline with universal scope. The popular/ primitive binary not only fails to convey
this commonality of purpose but misconstrues the way French ethnologists conceived of their particular domains. Both Mauss and Rivet
rejected the term primitive to describe indigenous peoples living in
French-controlled territories. Mauss wrote that none of these peoples
could accurately be called primitive, in the sense of prehistoric; most
were archaic or protohistoric. Rivet preferred to avoid evolutionary schemas altogether, noting that the people ethnographers would
encounter in the French Empire are as far, perhaps even farther, from
their origins as we; it is just that their civilization has evolved in a dierent direction from ours. 35 For his part, Rivire never liked the name
the Popular Front had given his museum, writing later that he would
have preferred the designation museum of France, or museum of the
French regions.36
The totalizing paradigm of Durkheimian sociology, moreover, enabled Rivire to shift the ATPs theoretical orientation signicantly.
Through Mausss inuence, the traditionalist eld of folklore studies,
rooted in a distinction between popular and elite cultures, gave way
to ethnology, which made no such distinction. The roots of folklore
studies in France went back as far as those of ethnology, to the practice of learned amateurs collecting popular stories, songs, and artifacts
to document the traditional cultures of rural France. The short-lived
Acadmie Celtique, founded in 1804, was the rst group to attempt to
organize such collectes, but in the latter half of the nineteenth century
it found many imitators, most regionally based. Paul Sbillot (1843
1918), founder in the 1880s of the Socit des Traditions Populaires
and a journal of the same name, worked with Armand Landrin, curator
34 Jean-Claude Galey, A Conversation with Louis Dumont, Paris, 12 December 1979, in
Way of LifeKing, Householder, Renouncer: Essays in Honour of Louis Dumont, ed. T. N. Madan (New
Delhi, 1982), 1314; Louis Dumont, La Tarasque: Essai de description dun fait local dun point de vue
ethnographique (Paris, 1951).
35 Rivet, Anthropologie et les missions, 7; Mauss, Manuel dethnographie, 7. See also Jamin,
Muse dethnographie, 113; Herbert, Paris 1937, 52.
36 Genevive Breerette and Frdric Edelmann, Une rencontre avec Georges-Henri Rivire: Le musicien musographe qui inventa aussi les comuses, Le monde, July 89, 1979; Chiva,
Entre livre et muse, 12.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

679

of the Salle de France, the collection of French ethnographic objects


on view at the Muse dEthnographie since 1884, to provide guidance
and standards to local informants, and his eorts had the support of at
least one academic historian, Gaston Paris.37 Like anthropology, folklore seemed perpetually on the verge of recognition as a discipline,
with learned conferences, publications, and, around the turn of the
century, the establishment of museums. But the professionalization of
folklore studies lagged well behind that of ethnology. At best a prospect
by the 1930s, it has never fully taken place. The gure most likely to
have pulled it o, Arnold van Gennep, lacked the temperament and the
inclination to be an academic empire builder. Trained as an ethnologist
at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, with a thesis on totemism and
taboo in Madagascar, van Gennep turned denitively toward French
popular tradition just before World War I; apart from three years as
professor of ethnology at the University of Neuchtel, he spent most of
his prolic career without a formal academic aliation.38
As Daniel Fabre has observed, Rivires project for the ATP posed
a challenge to van Gennep, who was suspicious of ethnographic systems and of the attempt to preserve traditions in museums, which he
saw as a kind of fossilization.39 But Rivire was also promoting ethnology as a universal science of man, in which folklore studies would be
no more than a subeld. Mounting this challenge to folklores own disciplinary pretensions required a great deal of subtlety, even a certain
subterfuge.40 An international congress on folklore, coinciding with the
1937 Paris exposition, marked the opening of the ATP, with Rivet presiding and Rivire the chief organizer. More signicant, the scholarly
work of the edgling institution depended in the rst instance on a
regional network of informants studying contemporary folklore under
the umbrella of Henri Berr and Lucien Febvres Commission de Recherches Collectives; Maget and Andr Varagnac, one of the leading young
folklore scholars of the day and Rivires deputy, directed this eort.41
In his public pronouncements Rivire had no option but to celebrate
37 Jean Cuisenier, ed., Hier pour demain: Art, traditions et patrimoine (Paris, 1980), 2728, 55
59, 121, 12737; Marie-Thrse Duos-Priot, Un sicle de groupes folkloriques en France: Lidentit par
la beaut du geste (Paris, 1995), 1525; Collet, Premiers muses, 6873.
38 Cuisenier, Hier pour demain, 15154; Sibeud, Fin du voyage, 19294; Fabre, Le manuel
de folklore franais dArnold van Gennep, in Les lieux de mmoire, ed. Pierre Nora, vol. 3, Les France,
bk. 2, Traditions (Paris, 1992; 3-vol. rpt., 1997), 3:358588.
39 Fabre, Manuel de folklore franais dArnold van Gennep, 3:3589, 359697.
40 My interpretation of Rivires attitude toward folklore diers substantially from the way
Gorgus reads him. Gorgus takes Rivires words at face value and attributes his divergences from
Andr Varagnac to personal rivalry; Magicien des vitrines, 11216, 15458.
41 Fabre, Manuel de folklore franais dArnold van Gennep, 3:359192; Weber, Folklore,
lhistoire et lEtat, 460, 465; Velay Vallantin, Congrs international de folklore, 48692.

680

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

folklore studies, yet, with what would become his customary ideological
slipperiness, he signaled his desire eectively to bury them. An article
he published in 1936 on foreign precedents for the new ATP approvingly cited a reference to the notion of folklore as necessarily relative
and temporary. Observing that the distinction between high and popular culture could not withstand scholarly scrutiny, he argued that no
class standing or level of education exempted an individual from folkloric observation. Folklore studies, he warned, had a future only as the
study of living traditionsa view directly opposed to that of Varagnac
(and echoed in Rivets presidential address), who saw folklore as purely
the vestiges of past traditions. Here, ironically enough, Rivires views
coincided with those of van Gennep.42
Through this discursive feint, Rivire simultaneously buttressed
the universal ambitions of ethnology and associated the privileged domain of the ATPs collecting and research, for all intents and purposes
the traditional popular culture of rural France, with the entirety of the
French present.43 He thus brought to the ATP the revisionist museology
of the Muse de lHomme, rooted in the Maussian paradigm of the fait
social total. For Dumont, Rivire was the spirit of both institutions . . .
[of ] the hive where a scriptureless humanity was kept alive in its diversity. 44 This ambitious enterprise, the mutual constitution of a disciplineethnologyand of its institutions, conjoined institutional, conceptual, and museological dimensions in complex ways. For purposes
of demonstration, however, we need to examine each of those categories separately and in turn.
The Museum and the Laboratory
Among the institutional paradigms oered by the Muse de lHomme,
none had more importance for the ATP than the notion of the muselaboratoire, a museum combining exhibition spaces for the general
public with a library and other research facilities for scholars. This
dual structure emphasized that the museums mission went beyond
instructing the public, though Rivet never minimized this, to encom42 Les muses de folklore ltranger et le futur Muse franais des arts et traditions
populaires, Revue de folklore franais et de folklore colonial 7 (1936): 5961. On Varagnacs views and
Rivets speech, see Andr Varagnac, Dnition du folklore, suivi de notes sur folklore et psychotechnique
et sur lagriculture temporaire, la prhistoire et le folklore (Paris, 1938), with a preface by Georges-Henri
Rivire; Velay Vallantin, Congrs international de folklore, 494; Fabre, Manuel de folklore franais
dArnold van Gennep, 3:359697; Fabre, Ethnologie franaise, 37475; Peer, France on Display,
13637, 142; and Herman Lebovics, True France: The Wars over Cultural Identity, 19001945 (Ithaca,
NY, 1992), 16369.
43 Chiva, Entre livre et muse, 1924.
44 Galey, Conversation with Louis Dumont, 13.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

681

pass the continual production of knowledge about the other.45 Rivet


also hoped that the museum, which provided oces for the professional societies concerned with its main areas of interest (Africa, the
Pacic, and the ancient Americas), would serve as a nodal point for
the gathering of information from, and its dissemination to, learned
societies in the colonies themselves. Rivire had a similar vision of the
role the ATP would play in relation to ethnographic museums and societies in the French provinces; his vision described a central and synthetic museum that would present the public with a broad picture
of French society.46 Although the old Muse dEthnographie had displayed the booty of ethnographic expeditions going back to the 1870s,
it lacked the systematic connection to scholarly research that both the
Muse de lHomme and the ATP would institutionalize.47 In this sense
the muse-laboratoire represented a truly innovative museum practice. Its scienticity was at once program, self-description, and tool
in Rivires campaign to replace folklore studies with the more universalizing discourse of ethnology. That ethnology could be studied
in a laboratory established its connection to a disinterested search
for scientic truth. 48 The museums Centre dEthnologie Franaise
acquired formal status as a laboratory of the national research institution, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientique (CNRS), in
1965, but starting shortly after the war its predecessor, Magets Laboratoire dEthnographie Franaise, received considerable CNRS support, including the assignment of researchers to projects under Magets
direction.49
The word laboratoire has an additional connotation: French social
theorists and designers had long viewed the colonies as ideal terrain for
45 See Jamin, Muse dethnographie en 1930, 117, 119.
46 Rivet, Ethnologie, 89; Georges-Henri Rivire, Un muse-laboratoire: Le Muse des
arts et traditions populaires (Paris), Archives suisses des traditions populaires/Schweizerisches Archiv fr
Volkskunde 44, no. 3 (1947): 15355; quotations from Muses de folklore ltranger, 6768. See
also AATP, series ATP Historique 19371964, Rponse au questionnaire de lAssociation gnrale des conservateurs de collections publiques de France, Feb. 22, 1945, in which the author,
undoubtedly Rivire, refers to a plan national des muses dethnographie folklorique, involving
coordination with provincial museums.
47 See Benetta Jules-Rosette, Black Paris: The African Writers Landscape (Urbana, IL, 1998),
21; Dias, Muse dethnographie, 16366.
48 Our science, Rivire wrote in a typical passage in 1965, does not conne itself to the
rescue of vanishing patrimonies; engaged with the problems of the present, it contributes to the
prospective of mankind: AATP, series ATP Historique, Report Ethnologie de la France, Jan. 22,
1965. On the scientic pretensions of the term laboratoire, see Martine Segalen, Anthropology at
Home and in the Museum: The Case of the Muse National des Arts et Traditions Populaires in
Paris, Focaal 34 (1999): 86.
49 On the status of the Laboratoire within the museum (semiautonomous, but formally
under Rivires authority), see Archives de Muses Nationaux (hereafter AMN), U 23 ATP, Ordre
de Service, Mar. 28, 1952; on CNRS support, AATP, series ATP Historique 193764, Report,
Oct. 24, 1957; on the formal aliation, AMN, U 23 ATP, Annual Report 1965, June 10, 1966.

682

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

experimentation and innovation.50 Thus the very newness that Rivire


vaunted in his museological practice, including the strong links between collecting, exhibition, and research, had strong colonial overtones. No Paris museum, not even the Louvre, had ever exercised the
kind of authority over its provincial counterparts that Rivire, in the
name of cooperation, was claiming.51 Through Rivires connections,
the museum also remained part of a network of ethnographic research
that extended well beyond metropolitan France. Dumonts work for
the ATP essentially ended with its rst temporary exposition, on Brittany, held in 1951. But Rivire also worked closely with Andr LeroiGourhan, one of the central gures in French ethnology from the 1950s
on as holder of the Sorbonne chair in the eld and director of the Centre de Formation aux Recherches Ethnologiques, which he founded
in 1946.52 The work the museum sponsored, though focused on rural
France, sometimes, and as late as the 1960s, included a comparative
dimension with former colonial possessions, as in the doctoral research
of a CNRS scholar on peasant societies of France and West Africa.53
The design of the ATPs new building in the Bois de Boulogne,
completed in 1969, also reects the museum-laboratory idea (g. 1).
While the exhibition galleries extend in a long, single-story space from
the museums main entrance, its formal emphasis, as contemporary
press reports observed, comes from the tower looming over it, destined
to house research scholars as well as museum sta.54 Although it contains storage and consulting areas for books, documents, and audiovisual materials as well as oces, nothing distinguishes this modernist
oce block from other white-collar enterprises. Its governing rhetoric
retained a scientic inection well after Rivires retirement in 1967; in
1975 his successor, Jean Cuisenier, described the museums research as
providing an ongoing and permanent X-ray (radiographie) of French
50 This is the argument of, notably, Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social
Environment (Cambridge, MA, 1989); and Gwendolyn Wright, The Politics of Design in French Colonial
Urbanism (Chicago, 1991).
51 For the relationship between the state and provincial art museums in the nineteenth century, see Daniel J. Sherman, Worthy Monuments: Art Museums and the Politics of Culture in NineteenthCentury France (Cambridge, MA, 1989), pt. 1.
52 On Leroi-Gourhans career and the Centre de Formation, see Jean Poirier, Histoire de
la pense ethnologique, in Ethnologie gnrale (Paris, 1968), 13233, 15051; and Andr LeroiGourhan and Jean Poirier, Asie, Ocanie, Amrique, vol. 2 of Ethnologie de lUnion franaise (Territoires
extrieurs) (Paris, 1953), 94647. On Rivires connections with Leroi-Gourhan, see Isac Chiva,
George [sic] Henri Rivire: Un demi-sicle dethnologie de la France, Terrain 5 (1985): 83; Dominique Poulot: Identity as Self-Discovery: The Ecomuseum in France, in Museum Culture: Histories, Discourses, Spectacles, ed. Daniel J. Sherman and Irit Rogo (Minneapolis, MN, 1994), 70; and
Gorgus, Magicien des vitrines, 205.
53 AMN, U 23 ATP, annual report on museum activities for 1965, June 10, 1966, 29.
54 See, e.g., Franois Loyer, A Paris: Un muse-laboratoire, Loeil, no. 190 (1970): 3641;
and Jean-Franois Dhuys, Des travaux et des jours, Nouvelles littraires, June 915, 1975.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

683

Figure 1 Entrance facade, Muse National des Arts et Traditions Populaires, Paris.
Photograph by the author

society. By this time Rivire also claimed the status of applied science
for museology, in which he had become an expert and oered a postgraduate course.55
Another structural innovation of the new French ethnology was
the enqute sur le terrain, a term most easily translated as eldwork but
encompassing notions of collaboration as well.56 Rivire took part in
organizing the rst and most spectacular of these ethnographic enqutes,
the Mission Dakar-Djibouti of 193133. After the teams return, Rivire
curated an exhibition of its loot (butin) at the Muse dEthnographie.57
The leader of this expedition, Marcel Griaule, used it to implement
his own notion of eldwork, which often involved years of observation
by a multidisciplinary group of investigators.58 In addition to its scholarly results, the Mission Dakar-Djibouti produced a manual for amateur
55 AATP, series Galerie Culturelle-Inauguration, press release, undated but probably May
1975; Rivire, Muse et socit, travers le temps et lespace, 63; and, more generally on the
museology course, Gorgus, Magicien des vitrines, 18992.
56 On the importance of the enqute for Rivire, see Chiva, Entre livre et muse, 1214.
57 Jean-Franois Leroux-Dhuys, Georges-Henri Rivire, un homme dans le sicle, in Musologie selon Georges-Henri Rivire, 21; Lebovics, True France, 153; Jamin, Aux origines, 810; Gorgus, 67.
58 Jamin, Aux origines, 2324, 30; Poirier, Histoire de la pense ethnologique, in Ethnologie gnrale, 139.

684

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

ethnographers, the Instructions sommaires pour les collecteurs dobjets ethnographiques, without a listed author but apparently the work of Griaule
and another member of the expedition, Michel Leiris.59 A brief handbook that sought to bring amateur collecting practices into line with the
requirements of scholarly ethnologythe need, above all, for extensive contextual annotationthe Instructions clearly provided a model
for Magets handbook of metropolitan ethnography twenty years later.
The missions literary output also included one of the most celebrated
ethnographic diaries of the twentieth century, Leiriss LAfrique fantme (1934), known among other things for its dramatic but unadorned
account of the expeditions looting of indigenous artifacts.60
The terrain of French ethnographers research extended well beyond areas subject to French colonial rule. The Muse dEthnographie
organized no fewer than fty research exhibitions in the 1930s, of which
the Mission Dakar-Djibouti was only the most famous; its last major
stage took place in Ethiopia, and among the ethnographers of Rivires
generation, Alfred Mtraux conducted eldwork on Easter Island, in
South America, and in Haiti; Leroi-Gourhan, in the Arctic; and Claude
Lvi-Strauss, famously, in Brazil.61 But these coordinates nonetheless
sketch a map of European imperial contact and, in some cases, settlement; more generally, ethnology favored the study of groups either illiterate or without signicant literary output, the more remote the better.
The preference for illiterate groups of course heightened the importance to ethnology of their physical artifacts, and hence of collecting
and display as practices central to the discipline.
In the absence of funds for acquisition, expeditions like the Mission Dakar-Djibouti, as well as collecting undertaken by the French
colonists, administrators, and tourists who might read the Instructions
sommaires, provided the only means to ll in gaps in the collections of
the Muse dEthnographie. Similarly, the initial enqutes undertaken by
the ATP sought to augment the new museums collections not only of
objects but of documentary materials for research. Of the nearly eight
thousand French objects transferred from the Muse dEthnographie
59 Instructions sommaires pour les collecteurs dobjets ethnographiques (Paris, 1931); Jamin, Aux
origines, 71, for the attribution.
60 The most convenient current edition of LAfrique fantme, with the added benet of
Jamins authoritative introduction and notes, is in the omnibus Quarto edition of Leiriss writings
on Africa, Miroir de lAfrique (Paris, 1996). Price, Primitive Art, 7073, includes several extensive
excerpts from the book and conveys the impression Leiriss account of the expeditions collecting
practices left on the eld.
61 The number fty comes from Gorgus, Magicien des vitrines, 61; on Leroi-Gourhan, see
Poirier, Histoire de la pense ethnologique, 15051; on Mtraux, the transcript of memorial
tributes by his colleagues published as Hommage Alfred Mtraux, Lhomme 4, no. 2 (1964):
519.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

685

to the ATP in 1937, almost half came without identication or documentation of fabrication and use, which for Rivire meant that they
were unworthy of display in an ethnographic museum. Rivire thus
called the experience of the Muse de lHomme and that of the great
ethnographic missions a model for the ATPs collecting practices.62
Citing this precedent in 1946, Rivire omitted any mention of the prewar research coordinated by Maget and Varagnac. Technically, those
studies did not qualify as eldwork, because they involved part-time
informants such as teachers, but a more serious problem lay in their
regionalist spirit, at the time perfectly compatible with the republican
tradition but now discredited by Vichys glorication of regionalism.
Through the colonial connection, Rivire clearly hoped to obscure the
embarrassing fact that these expeditions to rural France took place
within the framework of the Vichy-organized chantiers intellectuels. He
had reason to do so, having been, along with Varagnac, suspended from
his position at the museum for eight months in 194445 on charges
of collaboration; although both were cleared, Rivires position had at
best been temporizing, while Varagnac had openly embraced the traditionalist rhetoric of Vichy to promote the museums eldwork.63 But the
dierences between the two predated the war, and Rivires invocation
of the colonial arena also marked the silent burial of Varagnacs passiste
notion of folklore, denitively discredited by its associations with the
National Revolution.64
Arguably, however, the model of the colonial enqute had more to
oer metropolitan ethnology than a political alibi. For as a collaborative enterprise, the enqute posits a fundamental dierence between
observers and observed, a gap that coincides discursively with scientic
objectivity, and it accords higher value to the knowledge the observing
team is able to glean of the observed. In this respect it diers signicantly from the relationship of regionalist investigators to their subjects. Although early in the nineteenth century many bourgeois had
regarded peasants as essentially a dierent raceand some anthropological writing of the time supported such a viewregionalist enqutes
often took place in a spirit of solidarity with and commitment to their
subjects and sought to preserve a particularity, that of the pays, that
62 On the Mission Dakar-Djibouti, see Conklin, Civil Society, Science, and Empire, 283
84; and Price, Primitive Art, 2223; on the ATP, Georges-Henri Rivire, Muse des arts et traditions
populaires: Collections dobjets et de documents dethnographie franaise, Bulletin des muses de
France 11, no. 5 (1946): 26, 28; and Rivire, Muse-laboratoire, 14952.
63 On the charges of collaboration, see Lebovics, True France, 17785; Fabre, Ethnologie
franaise, 35961; and Weber, Folklore, lhistoire et lEtat, 45455. On Varagnacs wartime rhetoric, see Fabre, Ethnologie franaise, 37375.
64 Fabre, Ethnologie franaise, 38083; Weber, Folklore, lhistoire et lEtat, 454.

686

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

united observer and observed.65 The assumption of dierence, however, informed the work even of the prewar ethnographers associated
with ethnographic humanism, including both Rivet and Griaule. In
their vision, and in the program of the Muse de lHomme, no one
period or culture could represent mankind, which could be apprehended only in its full diversity.66 The privileged position remains that
of the Western observer, whose superiority enables the museums rearrangement of indigenous objects within the context of profoundly
unequal relations of power/knowledge.
Legitimated by the rhetoric of humanism, this model of alterity as
cultural, not racial, had demonstrated its worth even before the war.
For in Rivires programmatic ambition, typical of the Popular Front
era, the ethnology of France oered a way of sustaining a taste for the
authentic and encouraging a truly vital popular culture.67 After the
war, when rural modernization seemed ineluctable, Rivire quickly discarded the rhetoric of improvement and living traditionthough not,
at a deeper level, the project of a vital common culture respectful of the
pastin favor of a more resonant discourse of loss and preservation.68
But however short-lived the program, its appropriation of another form
of alterity proved more durable, even as, beginning in the early 1950s,
ethnologists like Leiris and Georges Balandier were beginning to criticize colonial ethnography on political grounds.69
A la recherche dune civilisation qui meurt
Nothing better exemplies the seamless, indeed virtually invisible, passage to the metropole of colonial ethnologys conceptual framework
than the publication in 1953 (three years after Leiriss well-known critique Lethnographe devant le colonialisme) of Magets highly inuential and durable manual Ethnographie mtropolitaine.70 Recall Magets
65 Cuisenier, Hier pour demain, 7985; Duos-Priot, Sicle de groupes folkloriques, 2136. On
race theory, see Claude Blanckaert, Des sauvages en pays civiliss: Lanthropologie des criminels
(18501900), in Histoire de la criminologie franaise, ed. Laurent Mucchielli (Paris, 1995), 5588.
66 Cliord, On Ethnographic Surrealism, 13540; Conklin, Civil Society, Science, and
Empire, 258; de lEstoile, De lExposition Coloniale au Muse de lhomme, 46466.
67 Rivire, Muses de folklore ltranger, 70.
68 Here I disagree profoundly with Gorgus, who asserts (Magicien des vitrines, 158) that after
the war Rivire nutilisait plus le vocabulaire pathtique de la priode de lentre-deux-guerres et
de Vichy. Even if conned to ocial memoranda and reports, such a reading seems to me very
wide of the mark.
69 Michel Leiris, Lethnographe devant le colonialisme, Les temps modernes 6, no. 58 (1950):
373; Georges Balandier, La situation coloniale: Approche thorique, Cahiers internationaux de
sociologie 11 (1951): 7375, citing Leiriss argument.
70 On the inuence of the manual, see Chamboredon, Marcel Maget, 47; and Gorgus,
Magicien des vitres, 161. Gorgus writes that Magets manual a servi de guide de nombreuses gn-

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

687

stated purpose: to direct inward the solicitude and method once


reserved for colonial or foreign peoples. Thus the handbook, which
originated as typescript instructions to investigators working during
and just after the war, oers its readers, among other things, advice on
how to deal with the natives. Follow local customs, rules of politeness,
and proprieties, Maget admonishes at one point; obvious enough, perhaps, but he adds, or at least dont show too apparent surprise or disapproval of them. Pertinent compliments and expressions of admiration
can open doors, he notes, but be careful: Dont go into ecstasies before
a cow with bones poking through its skin or whose teat is limp and hopeless, lest you be taken for a bad joker or a city slicker unable to tell a
cabbage from a turnip. 71 Maget has eectively transposed the metropolitan/colonial dichotomy into an urban/rural one, but the operating assumption, of a fundamentally dierent population available for
methodical study, remains the same. For the observer, the characteristics of the others under scrutiny include skills rooted in the particular environment or milieu they inhabit, folk wisdom, and the harmony
with nature attributed to traditional societies. Many folklorists throughout the nineteenth century, of course, had seen their subjects in much
the same way, but the contemporary ethnographer, as a scientista
status derived from the elds colonial beginningsclaimed a unique
ability to synthesize the observed traits into a broader social (and scientic) understanding.
Far from the rst guide intended to orient local ethnographic
studies, Ethnographie mtropolitaine had a precedent in a set of instructions for antiquarians published in 1897.72 But Magets emphasis on
methodology, teamwork, and scientic standards points to the new
colonial ethnography, specically the 1931 Instructions sommaires issued
by the Mission Dakar-Djibouti, as a more proximate source of inspiration. Ethnographie mtropolitaine diers from its much shorter predecessor in the range of topics it covers. Whereas Instructions sommaires is concerned chiey with the collecting of artifacts, Maget oers, in eect,
a blueprint for conducting eldwork in the French countryside. But
the 1931 and 1953 handbooks share the basic conceptual orientation
of scientic ethnology, outlining step by step the meticulous recordrations de chercheurs en France. Although she discusses the Instructions sommaires earlier in her
book (63), she does not posit any connection between the two texts.
71 Maget, Ethnographie mtropolitaine, 17172.
72 Armand Landrin and Paul Sbillot, Instructions sommaires relatives aux collections
provinciales dobjets ethnographiques, in La tradition en Poitou et Charentes, Congrs de Niort 1896
(Paris, 1897), 46575, cited in Collet, Premiers muses, 90n4. On other early ethnographic
instructions, see Dias, Muse dethnographie, 7678.

688

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

ing of fabrication, use, and signication that transforms an artifact


into an ethnographic object. The Instructions sommaires cautions against
aesthetic criteria, notably, purity of form, or the search for rare or
unique examples in assembling an ethnological collection: the objective should be, rather, to nd typical objects, specimens of a culture.
Similarly, a mimeographed section of a precursor to Magets Guide,
dating from 1945, calls the object a visible sign of a world of intentions
and emphasizes typical rather than exceptional objects.73 The ethnographic object itself matters less than what it stands for: the coherence
of a bounded sociocultural system.74 Victor Karady observes that this
Durkheimian vision played a major role in authorizing the academic
study of so-called primitive cultures.75 But the reverse may also be true:
the perceived coherence of well-dened premodern societies invited
their study in ethnographic rather than humanistic terms.
In his lectures at the Institut dEthnologie, Mauss called for nothing less than completeness in ethnographic observation. Such a demand makes sense only in the context of well-demarcated, almost impermeable boundaries between distinguishable groups: his method
grew out of the premise that every society occupies a xed space,
which is not that of the neighboring society. 76 The notion of cultural
boundedness itself, as Nicholas Dirks observes, grows out of the colonial
situation. Indeed, Dirks argues that the anthropological concept of
culture might never have been invented without a colonial theater. . . .
Without colonialism, culture could not have been so simultaneously,
and so successfully, ordered and orderly, given in nature at the same
time that it was regulated by the state. 77 For Nicholas Thomas, social
boundaries thus may come with contingent or more absolute territorial markings. But the basic idea that, in Thomass terms, peoples
dened on some basis or another are understood to dier in essential
ways facilitated the attempt to grasp a supposedly simpler French past
in terms of ordered, bounded cultural systems.78
Rivire and Maget did not minimize the diculty of transferring
research methods developed in the study of non-Western peoples to
more complex or advanced societies. As Maget put it, the various steps
73 Instructions sommaires, 8; AMN, U2 ATP, Dossier Instructions provisoires pour la constitution des collections musographiques dethnographie franaise, Etude de lquipement matriel:
La monographie dobjet, Aug. 29, 1945, 1.
74 This fact is both emphasized and deplored by Jamin in Objets ethnographiques, 6672;
see also Herbert, Paris 1937, 5657.
75 Karady, Problme de la lgitimit, 32.
76 Mauss, Manuel dethnographie, 18 (quotation), 21 (on completeness).
77 Nicholas Dirks, Introduction: Colonialism and Culture, in Colonialism and Culture, ed.
Nicholas Dirks (Ann Arbor, MI, 1992), 3.
78 Thomas, Colonialisms Culture, 80.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

689

of the ethnographic inquiry required some adaptation in the metropolitan domain, to take into account the special complexity of French
civilization and the diversity of its material equipment. 79 In an article
published a few years before the manual, Maget observed that no group
exists in complete isolation from others, and he rejected the notion
of groups with xed physical and psychological essences evolving in a
continuous straight line. Ethnographys object, he asserted, was human
diversity, and the identication of groups had to attend not only to
their internal structure but to their relations with the outside world.The
method of ethnographic observation worked best, however, when it
studied a relatively homogeneous cultural group, one capable, whatever its ties to the outside, of being self-sustaining.80 Such an outlook
certainly marked the ethnographic study of North Africa not only in
the 1950s, when Jacques Berque used his position as a colonial administrator in the High Atlas to observe the Seksawa Berbers, but over a
quarter of a century later. In the second edition of his classic Structures
sociales du Haut-Atlas, published in 1978 at the behest of Georges Balandier, Berque argued that the fundamental historicity of the mountain
dwellers, far more in contact with civilization than Western scholars
were prepared to believe, had yet to be acknowledged.81
The ATPs choice of research areas favored the traditionally most
isolated and culturally distinctive French provinces, such as Brittany,
subject of the museums rst special exhibition, in 1951. This search
for boundedness and cultural unity in turn echoes the earlier practices
of ethnographers searching for primitive groups overseas. At the same
time, Magets ringing endorsement of diversity nds an echo in the
vision of a multicultural French Union (the Fourth Republics term
for the association of metropolitan and overseas France) that informs
the magisterial 1953 survey of French ethnology overseas, edited by
Andr Leroi-Gourhan and Jean Poirier.82 This concordance between
metropolitan and colonial ethnography illustrates a signicant continuity from the interwar period. The French Union resembles in many
ways the interwar notion of greater France, and Shanny Peer has
noted that when the Popular Front accepted a degree of regional diversity as compatible with republican unity, the notion of la plus grande
France, originally applied to the association between metropolitan and
79 AMN, U 2 ATP, Etude de lquipement matriel, Aug. 29, 1945, 2.
80 Maget, Remarques sur lethnographie mtropolitaine, 4142, quotation from 48; see,
on this article, Fabre, Ethnologie franaise, 396.
81 Jacques Berque, Structures sociales du Haut-Atlas, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1978 [1955]), 47579.
82 Andr Leroi-Gourhan and Jean Poirier, Afrique, vol. 1 of Ethnologie de lUnion franaise (Territoires extrieurs) (Paris, 1953), 4853. On the signicance of this text, see de lEstoile, Science de
lhomme et domination rationnelle, 31518.

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FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

overseas France, struck many as equally pertinent to the relationship


between Paris and the provinces.83
This sense of parallelism between, say, the Upper Loire and Upper
Volta rested on another conceptual borrowing: the idea of what Jamin
has called ethnographic urgency.84 The urgency that impels ethnographic research comes from the impending disappearance of the culture under study. A passage from the Instructions sommaires typies this
view: As a result of the contact between indigenous people and Europeans, which grows every day more intimate, and of the growing application of modern political and economic methods, indigenous institutions, languages, and crafts are being transformed or disappearing,
and one can already predict that in a fairly short time they will have
vanished forever. 85 This trope of loss recurs in the discourse of metropolitan ethnology from the beginning, but its use shifted after 1945,
when it became virtually a trademark for the ATP and a justication for
the narrow focus of its research. In a 1947 speech Rivire asserted that
rural France had undergone more dramatic change in the past century
than in the previous fteen hundred years; in 1951 he wrote that the
museums duty, in the last days in which there is still time, is to gather
the largest number possible of the last popular monuments of preindustrial society. 86 For Maget, the imminent disappearance of what
he called preindustrial modes of living (genres de vie pr-machinistes)
constituted them as a programme durgence with a special claim on ethnologys limited resources. He thus justied the narrowing of ethnologys
universal focus as a practical, temporary, and well-reasoned measure,
in contrast to what he criticized as folklores unthinking attachment to
the study of virtually the same groups that constituted his own program
of urgency.87
The image of the ATP as preserver of a vanishing past found its
way into publicity for the museum, often with explicit comparisons
to dying non-Western cultures. A 1953 newspaper article, titled A la
recherche dune civilisation qui meurt: Celle de la France dhier, treats
the museums ethnographers as explorers and waits until the third
paragraph to identify the culture they are studying: These explorers
83 See Peer, France on Display, 6072, and, on la plus grande France, 56.
84 Jamin, Aux origines, 22; Jamin, Objets ethnographiques, 54; Jamin, Ethnographie
mode dinemploi, 7375.
85 Instructions sommaires, 6.
86 AMN, U2 ATP, Georges-Henri Rivire, Rle du folklore dans la reconstruction rurale,
speech, Sept. 25, 1947 (typescript), 3; Rivire, A monsieur le directeur des muses de France, in
Muse national des arts et traditions populaires, Premire exposition temporaire, 23 juin23 septembre
1951: Bretagne, art populaire, ethnographie rgionale (Paris, 1951), xixii.
87 Maget, Remarques sur lethnographie mtropolitaine, 50, 53.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

691

were not returning from the Amazon, or from Tibet, or from black
Africa. They had confronted neither forest nor snakes, and they were
not bringing back dried-out human heads in their luggage. So close
to us, they were gathering the remains of a dying civilization, quickly
taking note of its last traces, saving what still could be saved before it
vanishes completely. After noting that the old culture found a temporary reprieve from the onslaught of modernity in a few isolated zones,
the newspaper intoned, These men are researchers from the Socit
dEthnographie Franaise, headquartered at the Muse des Arts et Traditions Populaires, under the direction of Georges-Henri Rivire. The
civilization is that of France. 88
Of course, these two ethnographies of loss, colonial and metropolitan, did not invent the situations, distinct if connected, to which they
were responding, though they both obscure their own implication in
the processes of change they are mourning. But the lament for a vanishing rural past in metropolitan France draws in two signicant ways
on colonial ethnography. First, both employ the technique of temporal
distancing to which Johannes Fabian calls attention in Time and the Other.
For Fabian, much of modern anthropology has relied on the assumption that the observer and the observed in eldwork exist in separate
time frames, the former modern, the latter variously premodern, primitive, or savage. Fabian makes clear, moreover, that this strategy of temporal distancing derived in large part from colonial power relations.89
In turn, this double time frame enabled ATP ethnographers to claim
that they were, well over a century after the beginnings of French industrialization, preserving a preindustrial culture as a living entity. And it
helped construct a French other conceived as fundamentally dierent
from the normative urban Frenchman.
The second element of this shared discourse, just as important as
that of loss, presented the ethnographer as rescuer of the threatened or
dying culture, even if the natives in question do not ask to be rescued,
even if they actively resist such attempts and nd themselves, as a result
of both colonial and ethnographic intervention, consigned to the status
of museum pieces.90 Along the same lines, the collecte of indigenous
artifacts destined to become ethnographic objects, even when accompanied by compensation, takes as its justication a process, the death
of a culture, to which it directly contributes. Thanks to the ostensibly
88 AATP, Notes historiques Muse/ Rangement chrono, clipping, A la recherche dune
civilisation qui meurt: Celle de la France dhier, Samedi-soir, Dec. 31, 1953.
89 Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York, 1983),
2835, 95.
90 Jamin, Aux origines, 22.

692

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

disinterested attitude of ethnography, what in other contexts might be


called spoliation becomes an act of preservation, and the European ethnographers dominant position is subsumed into the humanity of diversity that his discipline seeks to illuminate.
Similarly in the rural French hinterland, the invasive awkwardness
of urbanites nds justication in its mission to preserve the remains
of a vanishing culture, and the ethnographic museum or collection
gives institutional weight and public visibility to that rationale. One
of Rivires most cherished projects was an interdisciplinary research
program in Aubrac, a mountainous area encompassing portions of the
Lozre, Aveyron, and Cantal departments, carried out under the auspices of the CNRS and the national museum administration from 1964
to 1966. Its fruits included both a spectacular installation at the museum and a nine-volume ethnographic survey published in the 1970s
and 1980s.91 With an eye to that installation, the ATP wished to acquire
a set of matched (intgr ) domestic furnishings made for a private home
in 1887. The only diculty was that the house was still inhabited, by a
brother and sister aged seventy-two and sixty-six. The solution, according to one of Rivires assistants: replace the decor with another suite,
similar to the original, but composed of new materials, and while work
on the house was being carried out, move the inhabitants next door,
into a portion of the house where the man had once lived.92 The common claim that a collection of ethnographic objects is above all a
collection of living things animates what eectively becomes a reliquary of a defunct culture.93 Even in espousing a program of urgency,
Maget was conscious of the risk that ethnography would appear to be
a devouring discipline, consuming its very objects; yet he oered no
remedy or alternative.94 Seldom, indeed, has any emanation of the state
so perfectly and with such simultaneity incarnated Michel Foucaults
twinned concepts of right of death and power over life. 95
The Most Difcult Museology
The ATP, and with it the ethnography of rural France as a discipline,
had multiple formative periods. The 1930s brought the founding of
the institution in the context of the Popular Fronts project to democ91 See Andr Desvalles, Collecte en Aubrac, in Musologie selon Georges-Henri Rivire, 185
87; Segalen, Anthropology at Home, 8687.
92 Desvalles, Collecte en Aubrac, 187.
93 Instructions sommaires, 10.
94 Maget, Remarques sur lethnographie franaise mtropolitaine, 54.
95 Michel Foucault, An Introduction, vol. 1 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley
(New York, 1978), 133; the phrase is the title of pt. 5.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

693

ratize culture. The 1940s cemented the scientic status of the disciplines trademark, collaborative eldwork, at the same time enriching
the museums collections. The disciplinary dynamic clearly exceeded
the needs of the institution, however, since the museum mounted its
rst temporary exhibition only in 1951 and had no space to display
its permanent collection for the rst three decades of its existence.
Indeed, securing a site for the museums permanent home, and developing an architectural and museological program for the new building,
occupied most of the 1950s and 1960s, and installation of the permanent exhibition was not completed until 1975, eight years after Rivires
retirement and only a decade before his death.
This nal period of formation coincided with the Trente Glorieuses,
the period of Frances postwar economic and demographic boom,
and also with decolonization. But this long gestation, combined with
Rivires xation on the preservation of the disappearing rural past,
meant that changes in French ethnology largely passed the ATP by.
At Leroi-Gourhans Centre de Formation aux Recherches Ethnologiques, for example, from 1946 to 1969 the principal graduate training
ground for aspiring eld ethnographers, students often chose urban
culture as the focus of their eldwork or, during the weeklong eld
project in the countryside every May, worked on expansive topics encompassing change, such as trac.96 In the 1970s the inuence of
Lvi-Strauss increasingly led ethnographic research away from material
objects and their signieds (technology, techniques of production) to
the more abstract structures of kinship and systems of belief, subjects
consigned at the ATP to the catchall category customs and beliefs.
And while French ethnology adjusted its methods to focus on contemporary society, the museum remained xed on the rural past.97 The
museum, then, represented an odd conjunction of an avowedly innovative method with a resolutely backward-looking content; both derived
in no small measure from the colonial inheritance.
In addition to spaces for temporary exhibitions, which would remain an important part of the ATPs activities, Rivire and his colleagues conceived of two spaces for displaying the permanent collections in the new building: the Galerie Scientique or Galerie dEtude,
open to the public but basically intended as a study gallery for specialists, and the Galerie Culturelle, the permanent installation for the gen96 Jacques Gutwirth, La professionnalisation dune discipline: Le Centre de formation aux
recherches ethnologiques, Gradhiva, no. 29 (2001): 2541.
97 Segalen, Anthropology at Home, 8789; Franoise Loux and Frdric Maguet, Introduction: Une perspective systmique, in Rinventer un muse: Le Muse national des arts et traditions
populaires, Centre dethnologie franaise, Colloque 25 et 26 mars 1997 (Paris, 1999), 35.

694

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

eral public. For practical reasons, and contrary to Rivires wishes, the
Galerie Scientique opened rst; the Galerie Culturelle was not completed until 1975.98 Rivire sought in the Galerie Culturelle a global
expression of ethnology, translated into the language of the museum.
The gallery program, a thick bound typescript of 175 pages, begins,
ironically, with a passage from Lvi-Strauss: Every human civilization,
however humble, has two major aspects: on the one hand, it is in the
universe; on the other, it is itself a universe. Being in the universe
means that a society has physical links to the natural world and that
its members are biological entities. The universe itself refers, of
course, to the animating principle of structuralism, which is that all
aspects of a society reect, in largely unmediated form, its hierarchies
and laws. 99
The Galerie Culturelle consists of two main sections, LUnivers
and La Socit, each with several subsections: in the rst part, Milieu
and History, Technologies, and Customs and Beliefs; in the second, Practices, Environments, Institutions (Etablissements), and
Works (Oeuvres), the last category including games, music, dance, art,
and literature. Rivire emphasized that, in contrast to earlier ethnological museums, the Galerie Culturelle would convey a sense of objects
economic, social, [and] cultural meaning; thus the public would not
have to work to reconstruct the message of the societies in which
the objects originated.100 Two main installation types serve this purpose: dynamic sequences, such as From Vine to Wine (g. 2), showing
objects as part of a concrete social process, and ecological ensembles,
for example, a Norman shing boat or a shepherds hut from the
Aubrac. Such an advanced ethnology, Rivire wrote, was, along with
that of natural history museums, the most dicult museology of all.
But the director took great pride in the way the collections, assembled
under the pressure of urgency over the past thirty years, matched the
museums larger didactic program.101
In the 1930s Rivire, still a young curator at the Muse dEthnographie, had called for a museological practice sensitive to both the
aesthetic interest and the larger context of the objects on display, and
in the program of the Galerie Culturelle he abjured the temptation

98 Leroux-Dhuys, Georges-Henri Rivire, 28; for Rivires opposition to the separate


opening of the Galerie Scientique, see AATP, series Galerie Scientique, letter from Rivire to
his successor, Cuisenier, Oct. 6, 1970.
99 AATP, Ste Atp 67.34, Nouveau sige du Muse des arts et traditions populaires: Programme de la Galerie Culturelle, 2nd ed., Apr. 15, 1967, iii.
100 AATP, Programme de la Galerie Culturelle, xv.
101 Ibid., xx, ix, xviii, 21.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

695

Figure 2 De la vigne au vin: Vignoble du bourbonnais, exhibition case, Galerie Culturelle,


Muse National des Arts et Traditions Populaires, Paris. Photograph Runion des
Muses Nationaux/Art Resource, New York

of the book on the wall. Objects, in other words, should be shown to


best advantage, with a minimum of decoration and interpretation that
could distract the viewer from the messages the objects were to convey.102 Thus the ATP avoided the period rooms and mannequins typically found in local history and ethnography museums. One of Rivires
closest collaborators, Andr Desvalles, described this system of display, which avoids naturalism and begins with the principle that the
museum is a world apart, as a form of expression with rules that from
without can look like artice; in no way can it be considered a substitute for reality. 103 Although Desvalles compared museographical
expression to the arts of theater, lm, and printing, the emphasis on
rules and artice equally establish a connection to experimental sci102 Ibid., xvii. The earlier article, originally published in the Cahiers de Belgique, has been
reprinted as Georges-Henri Rivire, De lobjet dun muse dethnographie compar celui dun
muse des beaux-arts, Arts dAfrique noire 56 (1985): 3335; see also Herberts extensive discussion
of it in Paris 1937, 7175.
103 Rivire, Prsentation, 274; Andr Desvalles, Les galeries du nouveau sige, in Musologie selon Georges-Henri Rivire, 293. See also Segalen, Anthropology at Home, 85.

696

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

ence, which also transforms elements of the natural world in the interests of a higher truth.
By the 1970s an acknowledged expert on museum installations,
Rivire emphasized the importance of exibility in display. At the ATP,
therefore, a modular system of panels, cases, and vitrines, based on the
latest exhibition technology, was intended to allow the Galerie Culturelle to adapt as ethnology itself changed. In other words, Rivire proclaimed, total freedom for our successors! 104 Yet as two ethnologists
associated with the museum, Franoise Loux and Frdric Maguet,
later observed, Rivires idea of an evolving display never came to fruition.105 In part the museum lacked the resources to adjust its expensive
permanent installation, but the complex mesh of assumptions that oriented the installation also impeded change.
The neutrality that Rivire and his colleagues vaunted in the display apparatusbackground colors, lighting, cases, and stands all were
supposed to direct attention to the individual objects, or exptsclearly
derived from the practices of art museums. Indeed, Rivire reserved
the cultural as opposed to scientic type of display for collection
highlights, la eur des collections. At the opening of the Galerie Culturelle in 1975, Rivires successor, Cuisenier, presented the public with
objects chosen according to two criteria: that each object or group of
objects represent a series or a type and that the objects presented meet
criteria of formal perfection or stylistic quality. 106 A writer captured the
complexity of this goal more succinctly, saying that Rivire had been
seeking at once to integrate and to separate science and art. 107 In its
rejection of the merely beautiful and, even more, of the picturesque as
criteria for display, such an orientation reveals its indebtedness to interwar colonial ethnography and the legacy of its earlier struggle against
folkloric display.
Like the classic art museum, the ATPs Galerie Culturelle insists
that visitors derive their understanding from objects, but it provides
little instruction in how to look at them. In this way the museum places
the visitor in the subject position of a connoisseur and thus, implicitly,
superior to the cultures on display, but without resolving the defamiliarization and distancing that result from its ethnological orientation.
104 AATP, Programme de la Galerie Culturelle, xiii.
105 Loux and Maguet, Introduction, 36.
106 Rivire, Prsentation, 267; AATP, ATP Muse-Galerie Culturelle inauguration, press
release, MayJune 1975.
107 Dhuys, Des travaux et des jours. Dhuys later edited the collection of writings by and
about Rivire called La musologie selon Georges-Henri Rivire; he was probably already in Rivires
orbit at the time he published this article. The term science is here used in the broader French sense
corresponding to the English word learning.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

697

Moreover, the signied of the Galerie Culturelle, the ostensible referent of its displays, remains baing. Certainly, the displays refer to the
past. But they are largely synchronic, and even the rst, orienting section, Milieu and History, employs the standard structuralist confusion of the diachronic and the historical, as though historicity consisted
solely in chronological sequencing.108 Although in a brief 1966 article
Rivire outlined an overarching history of French peasant society since
the seventeenth century, the ATPs museological program did not leave
room for historical development. If, as Gorgus put it, every vitrine had
to tell a story [raconter une histoire] and at the same time form a unied
ensemble, the unity derived from ethnology, not history.109
Clearly, this installation is not about French history as historians
teach it, for it conspicuously lacks conict, contention, class division,
war, and violence.110 Indeed, change itself is absent: although objects
from the last third of the nineteenth century and rst years of the twentieth probably predominate, the installation makes no attempt to distinguish between dierent eras, except occasionally to note, as with the
display of the products of a Breton pottery town, the disappearance of a
once thriving tradition. Occasionally, the installation program presents
artifacts from both a popular and an elite or learned tradition, as in the
concluding section devoted to Works, where the literature display
was to include folktales in illustrated chapbooks as well as a modern
paperback edition of Balzac. Yet the museum casts these traditions as
parallel rather than intersecting or in any way inuencing each other.
The Galerie Culturelle thus seems to be enshrining not so much an
epoch of the French past as a vision of a simpler life, characterized by
natural rhythms, face-to-face relations, and untroubled community. Its
spirit can be traced back to the rural center annex of the 1937 Paris
exposition, where Rivire organized a small museum that presented
the traditional culture of an actual village, Romenay-en-Bresse, as completely in harmony with its contemporary agricultural development.111
Although quite dierent in purpose, this early presentation of rural
French life shared with the Galerie Culturelle a quality less of timelessness than of being almost literally out of time; their connection to any
108 AATP, Programme de la Galerie Culturelle, 15 (introduction to the section Le
milieu et lhistoire). On conation of the diachronic and the historical, see Fabian, Time and the
Other, 5556.
109 Gorgus, Magicien des vitrines, 174; the cited passage refers to the museums temporary
expositions at its Palais de Chaillot site in the 1950s.
110 For example, the section Practices includes various types of medicine but not law; in
fact, the only two practices included in this section are popular medicine and magic. AATP,
Programme de la Galerie Culturelle, 6774.
111 Peer, France on Display, 12833; Collet, Monde rural aux expositions universelles,
10910.

698

FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

period of time other than their own was as arbitrary as it was abstract.
We are, in a sense, frozen in a perpetual ethnographic present: the time
of the other.
Treating objects as part of a single cultural totality, moreover, tends
to conceal geographic variation as well as change over time. Loux and
Maguet rightly identify the museums inability to conceive of culture
within a dynamic perspective as the source of most of its problems.
As they also point out, this aspect of the ATPs approach intended
in the rst instance to combat both the evolutionism of early anthropology and the glorication of local tradition characteristic of earlier
ethnology, folklore, and antiquarian display.112 Rivire acknowledged
that France encompassed considerable regional variety, not only in
languages but in physical types. Yet his plan for the Galerie Culturelle treats these variations as background, asserting that French unity
can be understood only in historical and cultural terms. 113 The highly
political term French unity stands out in this essentially technical
document, complete with an elaborate decimal numbering system. If
the museums internal boundaries seem vague and shifting, moreover,
its external frontiers lie rmly xed at the Hexagon, the notional unity
of a plus grande France having lost both its use and its plausibility
in the wreckage of the French Empire. Although Rivire and his colleagues explicitly rejected racial types as temporary creations of history, French unity, which in another guise we might call national
identity, remains a given. With it survives the certainty that peoples
dened on same basis or another have identiable characteristics, an
approach that, in Thomass words, guard[s] the epistemic privilege of
colonialism without the violence. 114
Susan Stewart has argued that whereas souvenirsa broad category that includes antiques functioning as samples or tokens of past
experienceprompt memory in the observer, collections work through
forgetting. A collection, Stewart writes, comes to exist by means of
its principle of organization, rather than through the objects composing it or the particular area it covers, whether local history, ne
arts, or ethnology. That principle or project, at once a theory and a
method, obliterates the context from which the objects emerge.115 This
may seem an odd perspective from which to consider the ATP, but it
112 Loux and Maguet, Introduction, 36.
113 AATP, Ste Atp 68.44, Nouveau sige du Muse des arts et traditions populaires: Programme de la Galerie Culturelle, 3rd ed., Apr. 30, 1968, 5. Gorgus notes that the installation was
criticized for having attened French cultural diversity; Magicien des vitrines, 18687.
114 Thomas, Colonialisms Culture, 80, 89.
115 Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham, NC, 1993 [1984]), 15055.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

699

illuminates the way the Galerie Culturelle seems to exclude not only
history but memory as well. As in many museums inspired at least in
part by the ethnographic model, visitors memories have an almost subversive quality at the ATP, where they constantly run up against the
institutions overweening discursive structure.116 In 1972 the well-known
French writer Jean Guhenno recounted a visit to the ATPs study galleries in his column in Le Figaro. Guhenno called the museum a
good place for remembering and described the intimate whispers of
visitors asking each other whether they recollected something (Tu te
rappelles? Tu te rappelles?). But he objected to the museums doubtless respectable but perhaps excessive didacticism and gently mocked
its jargon: You thought you were looking at a drum [tambour]? No,
thats a mmbranophone. 117
Combating a persistent folk memory it wants to consign to the
past, the ATP seeks to obscure not one but two contexts. The rst consists of the individual life stories attached to the objects displayed. The
ATP has no room for these stories, however carefully its researchers
gathered them in the eld and classied them in its visual, sound, and
documentary archives. The stories have interest only as part of a larger
picture, not for the dierence or distance from social norms that each
individual inevitably experiences over the course of a lifetime.118 But
the museum also obscures another history: that of the acquisition of
its collections. The discursive framework of these collections comprises
perhaps the starkest vestige of colonial ethnography, for it centers on
the notional transparence of the relationship between isolated and inarticulate groups and their material culture. This equals that: the Papuans
are their canoes.The Bamana are their masks.The Navajos are their weavings, the Auvergnats their hoes. Classied and arranged by science,
these objects tell us everything we need to know about their cultures of
origin.
If the ATP, even more than most museums, found itself trapped by
the logic of its own discursive practice, Guhennos account and others
like it suggest that the museum nonetheless may have both provoked
and satised some visitors nostalgia. But what, exactly, might the initial
visitors to the ATPs Bois de Boulogne locale have been nostalgic for?
Stewart describes nostalgia as always ideological: the past it seeks has
116 See Daniel J. Sherman, Objects of Memory: History and Narrative in French War Museums, French Historical Studies 19 (1995): 4974.
117 AATP, series ATP muse: Articles sur le muse, Jean Guhenno, Lhistoire des
hommes sans histoire, Le Figaro, May 9, 1972.
118 Objects in the Galerie Culturelle, according to one account of its opening, are only pretexts to explain our heritage to us, and perhaps to compel reection about our own lives today:
Dhuys, Des travaux et des jours.

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FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

never existed except as narrative. Hostile to history, nostalgia nevertheless longs for an impossibly pure context of lived experience at a
place of origin. 119 The ATP presents such a vision, of cultures unsullied by any contact with the wider world. Cuiseniers remarks in the
press release announcing the opening of the Galerie Culturelle include
this remarkable sentence: To the African and Asian countries that, in
order to overcome the conicts born of industrialization and colonization, have had to wrench themselves from their past in a brutal way, the
Museum oers the revelation, understanding, and judgment of a relationship to culture and time radically dierent from that with which
they are familiar. 120 The ATP thus implicitly presents a meaningful
French past free of any implication in colonialism or its attendant conicts, yet oering a continuing basis for tutelage of the less advanced.
Just as ethnographers sought to reconstitute the isolated communities
they had themselves (and who else before them?) disrupted, the ATP
put on view a world without the very structures of contact from which it
emerged, both proximatelocal enqutesand systemiccolonial science. The life it has drawn out of its exhibits is, nally, its own. At the
same time, the mission of preservation the museum has accomplished,
that relationship to culture and time unknown in Frances former
colonies, provides a new assurance of superiority based on science. In
this way, metropolitan ethnography, while lamenting the loss of simpler
past cultures, secures the ethnographers eminently satisfying position
as their guardian and preserver.
For Rivire, himself conspicuously devoid of nostalgia and uninterested in any retro mode, the position of guardian was the crucial colonial inheritance, for it left the ethnographer in the role of savior, guide,
and teacher, with unimpeachable moral authority and the admiration
of all parties. It is perhaps tting that Rivire spent his last years oering a course in general museology at the University of Paris IV; a
1974 photograph of the professor with his students shows Rivire with
each arm around a black student, on his left a man in African print
shirt and jeans, on his right a woman in a turban and what appears
to be a batik dress (g. 3). Rivire also had a long-standing relationship with the International Council on Museums (ICOM) of the United
Nations Educational, Scientic, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
and made numerous trips to the Third World as the advocate of a
world museology . . . as a modern means of communication, science,
119 Stewart, On Longing, 23.
120 AATP, ATP Muse-galerie culturelle Inauguration, Press Release, MayJune 1975. The
photocopied press release includes a facsimile of Cuiseniers signature, emphasizing his authorship of these introductory remarks.

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701

Figure 3 Georges-Henri Rivire (top row, center) with museology students in Le


Creusot, June 1974. Photograph from the collection of Jean-Franois Leroux-Dhuys.
Reprinted with permission

education, and pleasure. 121 The phrasing of this description (not Rivires own, but an accurate reection of his views) suggests that, in
the postcolonial world, museology has become a placeholder for colonialism in the dynamic relationship between Western anthropological knowledge and its objects. Even apart from the ATP, this development, too, had a metropolitan echo connected to Rivire: the comuses
or local galleries in which communities were meant to discover their
own characterand, presumably, their unity and connection to the
nationby putting themselves on display.122
In 1997, with the ATPs attendance dropping and its Bois de Boulogne site generally regarded as a white elephant, a conference convened to consider the museums future. The Colardelle article with
which this essay began sums up the program eventually arrived at:
the museums focus would remain ethnological but would encompass
urban life and all classes of society; its chronological coverage would
121 Hugues de Varine-Bohan, Le rle international de Georges-Henri Rivire, in Musologie selon Georges-Henri Rivire, 77.
122 On the comuses, see Poulot, Identity as Self-Discovery, 6684; Segalen, Anthropology at Home, 8991.

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FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIES

extend to include the entire second millennium, its geographic scope


to Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Whereas one project discussed
at the conference had called for the inclusion of overseas French territories, Colardelle considered Europe an adequate frame. France would
thus emerge as the European country par excellence, site of the crossing of Nordic, Germanic, and Latin traditions, as well as, more recently,
those of Islam and even, via the Antilles, of sub-Saharan Africa and
India. 123 The notion of France as crossroads gained plausibility in the
project, announced late in 2001, to transfer the ATP to Marseille, where
it would become, as the provisional name had it, a Muse des civilisationsFrance, Europe, Mditerrane. 124 Ocials undoubtedly had
their eyes on the subsidies available from the European Union for cultural projects contributing to European integration.
The framework of Europe oers conceptual advantages as well.
By casting colonialism as a broader phenomenon, and some of its consequences, like mtissage or cultural hybridity, as both desirable and
part of a longer, supranational history, the new museum may divert the
reection Colardelle calls for away from the specicities of Frances
colonial past. The projects discursive frame, moreover, explicitly relates it to another new museum, the successor to the Muse de lHomme
and the Muse des Arts dAfrique et dOcanie, now called the Muse
du Quai Branly and due to open in 2005. The Marseille Muse des
civilisations would provide the European complement to the Quai
Branlys presentation of non-European cultures.125 Both embody a vision of a diverse humanity that nonetheless shares a number of universal values, a vision that in some ways recalls the orientation of the Muse
de lHomme at its origins in 1937. The curators and scholars responsible for the Quai Branly project have also placed it in a postcolonial
context and see it as an opportunity for increased cooperation with formerly colonized countries.126 Yet in one sense postcolonial seems to
mean not having to say youre sorry: as Maurice Godelier, formerly in
charge of planning the Quai Branlys research program, put it, A resolutely postcolonial museum will permit the West to take a critical view
of its history, without guiltlets say putting ourselves at a distance. 127
123 Colardelle, Que faire des arts et traditions populaires? 116. Among the inuences
Colardelle specically mentions are Basque and Catalan, but not Celtic.
124 Michel Colardelle, Du Muse national des arts et traditions populaires au Muse des
civilisationsFrance, Europe, Mditerrane, Culture et recherche, no. 87 (2001): 89.
125 Colardelle, Que faire des arts et traditions populaires? 116.
126 See Nlia Dias, Esquisse ethnographique dun projet: Le muse du Quai Branly, French
Politics, Culture, and Society 19, no. 2 (2001): 81101.
127 Alain Leauthier, Comment construire un muse post-colonial, interview with Maurice
Godelier, Libration, Apr. 20, 1999, quoted in Dias, Esquisse ethnographique, 95.

COLONIAL INHERITANCE OF FRENCH ETHNOLOGY

703

Certainly, the museum has no intention of returning objects to their


countries of origin, and it has already provoked criticism for displaying,
in its precursor exhibition at the Louvre, Nok artifacts illicitly removed
from Nigeria.128 This is the ultimate legacy of colonial ethnology: the
assumption that objects gathered and exhibited in a scientic context
oer a unique purchase on their cultures of origin. It remains to be seen
whether any of the institutional heirs to this legacy, especially those
that perpetuate that fundamental binarythe West versus the Rest
can nd ways to overcome it.129

128 Jacques Chirac critiqu au sujet des arts premiers devant lUnesco, Le monde, Nov. 18,
2000; Alan Riding, Chirac Exalts African Art, Legal and (Maybe) Illegal, New York Times, Nov. 25,
2000; Accord avec le Nigeria pour les statues Nok du Louvre, Le monde, Feb. 8, 2002.
129 It should be noted that, even omitting Western painting, the Muse du Quai Branly and
the project for an expanded ATP in Marseille do not, in fact, divide the world between them, since
they leave out Asian and Islamic art, of which the French national collections are housed, respectively, in the Muse Guimet and the Louvre (with some loans to the private Institut du Monde
Arabe). See Dominique Michelet, Dfense du futur Muse des arts et des civilisations, Le monde,
May 31, 2000.