The object of Europe: artefacts, collections, and the idea of Europe
Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen)
Paper short abstract:
Predicated on the idea that Europe is a modern historical construct that emerged around 1500, this paper explores the historical and contemporary fragility of the idea of Europe through an ethnographic investigation of collections of art objects and other cultural artifacts in and outside “Europe”.
Paper long abstract:
The idea and subsequent delimitation of Europe is arguably a modern historical construct emerging at the time when the seafaring states in what is now western Europe turned to the Atlantic and "discovered" other continents. This encounter necessitated the demarcation of their own continent (Europe), by turning the Mediterranean - the Mare Nostrum at the heart of the Roman empire - from a zone of connection into a border. And in 1730, Swedish geographer Von Strahlenberg cartographically separated Europe from the Asian landmass along the Urals, making it the only continent that is territorially contiguous with another. Although the historically recent idea of Europe - as continent, as civilization, as social imaginary, as transnational territorial institution - has been naturalized within Europe, it is increasingly challenged at its margins by the aspiration of the successor state of the Ottomans to join the EU; by the flow of refugees from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean; and by "hybrid wars" west of the Urals over whether Ukraine belongs to Europe. In this paper I will sketch a research program that explores the historical and contemporary fragility of the idea of Europe through an ethnographic investigation of collections of art objects and other cultural artifacts in and outside "Europe".