École normale supérieure

Mirjam Brusius

Mirjam Brusius

Formée à l’université de Cambridge, récipiendaire du fameux Dan David Prize, Mirjam Brusius est chercheur au Germain Historical Institute de Londres. Spécialiste d’histoire de l’archéologie, elle travaille sur la culture matérielle et les enjeux de patrimonialisation dans les empires aux XIXe et XXe siècles.


Lundi 18 septembre : conférence inaugurale du master d’histoire transnationale

Preservation and Destruction. Trajectories of an Entangled History

What does it mean to ‘preserve’ heritage and material culture from a historical angle ? This introductory lecture will take a diachronic view of indigenous ‘heritage’ practices from the nineteenth century to current destruction and conflicts and illicit trade. Taking a global angle from Asia to Europe, it will focus on movement in and out of today’s ‘Middle East’, where archaeology and tangible heritage have always played key roles in memory formation and nation-building. What did local resistance against colonial field work, and local engagement with material culture in the Ottoman Empire look like ? How can historians move beyond teleological narratives that prioritizes institutionalised knowledge ? What happened to ancient objects, for instance, if they did not end up as trophies in museums ? Treating preservation and destruction as historical phenomena, which were rarely exclusive, but rather connected and identified in crucial ways, the lecture will argue that a historical understanding of ‘heritage’, a a Western ‘invention’, is crucial for a better assessment of contemporary heritage discourses. Heritage sites have often been created by way of processes which segregated material culture and the societies around them. These realities defy and challenge the disciplinary baggage, canons and categories as well as prevailing methods and concepts in the history of heritage. How can historians acknowledge records and sources outside of the conventional and imperial archive ?

Lecture 2 A ‘Backstage’ History of Museums (History of Collecting Seminar) dans le cadre du séminaire de Charlotte Guichard

Museums put only a fraction of their collections on display. Yet the history of collecting has been centred around issues of museum display. This kind of discourse leaves out from our museum histories millions of objects that have been gathered but seldom or perhaps never been shown. It presents the museum as an organized and stable space, in which only museological ‘results’ are visible, not the intermediate stage of their coming into being. As a result, important historical, epistemological and semantic aspect of the history of these collections are eliminated from our discussions. Historically, the ‘backstage’ of museums have been areas that performed important functions and fulfilled intentions that reveal deep purposes of the museum that go well beyond a mere history of display. Backrooms, for example, often included archives, study rooms and libraries not open to the public, which have been and still are centres of scholarly pursuit. Turning attention to the vast reserve shelves can also cause a shift in our understanding of colonial museum collections today : Museum storage not only re-enacts and perpetuates imperial possession, but also challenges us to rethink questions around repatriation.

Lecture 3 Archaeology, Power and Imperialism (en collaboration avec l’Ecole des Chartes, dans le cadre du séminaire de Nathan Schlanger)

Archaeological excavations that took place in the Ottoman Empire were closely interlinked with imperialism, colonial extraction, and racial ideology. Yet the Ottoman Empire is still not considered a semicolonial space that deserves examination through the lens of uneven imperial power structures between Europe and the Ottoman Empire, notwithstanding the well-known fact that European Orientalism colluded with cultural and economic ambitions. European powers, in other words, used archaeology as a tool for imperial expansion. This lecture, which will draw on Lecture 1, will reassess the history of archaeology in the wider context of colonial history and the scientific disciplines that were closely interlinked with archaeology in the nineteenth century, including race science and ethnology. Many of the objects in questions are e.g. held in the Louvre today. It shows why debates around colonial legacies and repatriation cannot afford to address antiquity collections, ethnology collections and human remains as if they were separate issues.

Lecture 4 (Master Class with Practical Exercise) (date à confirmer)

What other stories can be told about the ‘journey’ of museum objects, from their violent removal, illicit trade to their repatriation ? How can we rethink the varied agencies which surround cultural heritage preservation practices through counter-archives ? This seminar will draw on the previous lectures as well as new methods in ‘object biographies’ . It will teach students that re-engaging such histories can also lead to more inclusive contemporary heritage and preservation practices today. It will ideally include a site visit to a local storage unit in a Parisian Museum.



Stéphane VAN DAMME

stephane.van.damme chez ens.psl.eu

Directrice des études


sylvia.estienne chez ens.psl.eu



secretariat.histoire chez ens.psl.eu

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