Accepted Paper:

Double erasures: rewriting the past in French postcolonial museums  
Nelia Dias (ISCTE)

Paper short abstract:

Analysis of two principles guiding the new museums in France: cultural diversity and the equal value of different cultures. These concerns reflect the legacy of colonialism in contemporary France as if through symbolic efforts museums attempt to palliate government policies and social exclusions.

Paper long abstract:

During the last months, French colonial past has emerged in the political and social sphere giving rise to heated debates about slavery and teaching history in textbooks. Paradoxically, museums have been left aside from this controversy although the new millennium has been the point of departure for several important transformations in ethnographic museums throughout France.

Focused on the Musée du quai Branly (MQB), due to open its doors in June 2006, the paper attempts to examine on the one hand how the recent projects of redesigning the museums of ethnography reflect the ongoing tension between the issue of cultural equality and of cultural diversity; they also mirror the fragile balance in reconciling the republican ideals, namely republicanism's universalizing and egalitarianism tenets, with the reality of a growing multicultural French society. On the other hand, it seeks to explore the new intellectual and ideological framework within which non European objects are put on display. By omitting explicitly the term ethnography and by privileging the geographical location, the MQB clearly expresses a break with the nineteenth century museum legacy based on disciplinary formation.

To what extent do these double erasures of the disciplinary past and of the European collections attest to significant changes in the ways of dealing with the colonial legacy? Why the museological sphere in general and the French anthropological community in particular are quite absent from the recent debates? How the extension of the notion of heritage (with the inclusion of non European objects) is a way of overcoming delicate political issues and of establishing a consensual memory?

Panel P1
Colonial legacies: the past in the present