Workshop 2: ‘Comparative Museologies: case studies from Asia’

27th September 2017, Musée de l’Homme, Claude Lévi-Strauss room.



9.00 Arrival and registration
9.30 Welcome and Introduction to the project and themes of the workshop (André Delpuech, Sandra Kemp, Hervé Inglebert)
10.00 ‘Setting the Scene: The Trocadéro’ (Christiane Demeulenaere-Douyère, Archives Nationales)
10.30 ‘Emile Guimet’s Museum of Religions (1878-1918)’: a collection of ideas (Pierre Baptiste, Musée Guimet)
11.00 Coffee
Roundtable: Histories of Museums of Asian arts, their collections and displays: UK contexts (chaired by Kate Hill)
11.15 ‘Where in the World is Asian Ethnography?’ (Claire Wintle, University of Brighton)
11.45 ‘India: Collecting Strategies and visitor responses at the East India Company’s museum in the early 1800s’ (Arthur MacGregor, Ashmolean)
12.15 ‘The presentation of India at the Paris Exposition: critical and curatorial perspectives from 1878’ (Sandra Kemp, V&A and Imperial College London)
12.45 Resumé and Roundtable Discussion, linking to larger themes of the project with 10 minutes on universal museums, chaired by Kate Hill, University of Lincoln)
13.15 Lunch
14.30 Gallery visit and view of the 1878 Trocadéro building
15.30 Tea/Coffee (Claude Lévi-Strauss room)
Roundtable: Histories of Museums of Asian arts, their collections and displays: French contexts (chaired by André Delpuech)
15.45 ‘The unlikely genesis of the Chinese collections of the Mission of China (1843-1846)’ (Christiane Demeulenaere-Douyère, Archives Nationales)
16.15 ‘Angkor at the museum: the paradoxical destiny of an Asian art collection (Thierry Zephir, Musée Guimet)’
16.45 Resumé and Roundtable Discussion chaired by André Delpuech (Musée de l’Homme) starting with 10 minutes by André Delpuech on “La galerie ethnographique du Musée de l’Armée (1877-1917)”
17.15 Closing remarks (Hervé Inglebert, University Paris Nanterre)
17.45 Ends

Link to participants’ biographies



Christiane Demeulenaere-Douyère

Setting the Scene: The Trocadéro, a palace for a museum
The Musée de l’Homme is the direct heir of the Musée Ethnographique du Trocadéro, inaugurated in 1879, in direct connection with the Universal Exhibition of 1878. This exhibition was the third held in the French capital since the ‘Universal Exhibition’ was invented in 1855. It offered the public two architectural foci that would draw the admiration of the press and visitors: the Rue des Nations and the Palais du Trocadéro, built at the top of the Chaillot by the architects Davioud and Bourdais.

Back to the top

Pierre Baptiste

Emile Guimet’s Museum of Religions (1878-1918): a collection of ideas
When he opened the museum he dreamt about for many years, Emile Guimet was following the encyclopaedic spirit of the Lumières. But in the 19th century, the progress of transport allowed that spirit to be open to the entire world. This wealthy industrialist, who was also an adept of Saint-Simonianism, was convinced that social progress was linked to a better understanding of the people and their way of thinking: “I studied the History of Civilisations, I searched in every country, at all times, who were the men who wanted to make people happy, and I found they were all founders of Religions”. Emile Guimet found many answers to his questions in Egypt. But soon, he became equally passionate about Eastern civilisations. In 1876, he organised a field trip to Asia, together with the painter Félix Régamey. He travelled to Japan, China and India, where he discovered the importance of Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism and Brahmanism. With the support of the French Ministry of Public Education, he conducted a study on religions and was able to purchase an important collection of art objects. This collection was to be exhibited in the museum he built since 1878 in Lyon. But it was only after the transfer of the entire institution to Paris, in 1889, that Emile Guimet was in a position to give his museum its full status. The success was so large, that the neoclassical galleries were soon full of collections from many countries, classified, labelled and carefully displayed. They bear witness to what Guimet called a “collection of ideas”.

Back to the top

Claire Wintle

Where in the World is Asian Ethnography? Adivasi (Indigenous and Tribal) ruptures to British Museology, 1850-1950
Museums are famed for their attempts to reconstruct the world. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the concept of the museum as global microcosm came to fruition, with displays dominated by geographical arrangements and continents and countries neatly divided and delineated from each other. Indeed, the legacies of these approaches to display continue to be influential today. Yet the racialised scientific hierarchies and imperial agendas of nineteenth century Europe made “Asia” – and even individual countries within Asia – difficult places to display: the “lowly” material cultures of adivasi (indigenous and tribal) communities from across the continent (placed firmly in the realm of “ethnography”) were often perceived as jarring with other objects and images that were more typically defined as “high art”.

This paper explores the case of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, two island groups that today form a Union Territory of India but that, in their far-flung location across the Bay of Bengal, are geographically and culturally distinct, both from mainland India and each other. Famed within nineteenth century anthropology as some of the “most primitive” peoples in the world, but nevertheless forming an important part of imperial British India, indigenous Andamanese and Nicobarese peoples were subject to particularly pernicious, exclusionary and confused policies of collection and display in British museums. Examining the histories of a range of national, university and regional museums in the UK, the museological (and wider) frameworks for including and excluding adivasi heritage as part of “Asia” will be examined.

The official perspectives of British curators will be considered, but the role of visitors’ interpretation and practical museum realities will also be investigated in order to explore how imperial and racialised scientific hierarchies worked (and indeed failed) in practice. This paper explores how geographies and ethnicities were and continue to be accumulated and transformed through museums. Yet it also suggests that for a variety of reasons, museums – like national boundaries – sometimes struggle to control history.


Postcard of ‘Archaeological Room’, Brighton Museum, c. 1912, where Asian ethnographic collections were included in the comparative displays.

Back to the top

Arthur MacGregor

Imagining India: collecting strategies and visitor responses at the East India Company’s museum in the early 1800s
During its comparatively brief life, the India Museum – founded in London by the East India Company at the turn of the nineteenth century and dispersed some seventy years later – presented a variety of faces. Its founding ethos stressed the useful, rational and commercial potential of the anticipated collections. A principal source of exhibits was to be provided by the activities of the Company and its officers in field surveys: “such animals […] or produce of animals, as are objects of commerce” were to be particularly privileged, along with “specimens of all the plants, seeds, and fruits of Asia”, with attention being paid “to such trees and plants whose produce is an article of commerce”. Agricultural practice and industries would be illustrated both by products and by models, as would architecture. Of lesser importance were to be ‘Miscellaneous articles’ including “curiosities, chiefly presents, and generally such things as cannot conveniently be classed under any of the former heads”.

Visitors’ accounts of the museum during the first half of the nineteenth century confirm that many of these ambitions were realized, the only notable failure being in the curation of the thousands of herbarium specimens sent by Company botanists, many of which succumbed to damp and pests in inappropriate warehouses and cellars. What is striking, however, is the much greater impact made on the visiting public by the miscellaneous curiosities. These included the first extensive displays of Indian sculptures seen in Britain, a great deal of booty seized in the course of military campaigns (notably at Seringapatam), and items such as weapons or clothing prized for their historical associations, either with the heroes (or villains) of these campaigns or with the Indian princes whose names were beginning to enter British consciousness.

The vision of the museum and its realization will be compared and contrasted.

Back to the top

Sandra Kemp

The presentation of India at the Paris Exposition: critical and curatorial perspectives from 1878
As Curator of the Lahore Museum and Director of the National College of Arts, John Lockwood Kipling understood the importance of the great 19th century international exhibitions: “those powerfully seductive forms of mass public entertainment and education”. Kipling contributed to the organisation and curation of the Indian pavilions at twenty-eight international exhibitions worldwide from Australia to Antwerp, and used his prolific journalism to present critical and curatorial perspectives. His most detailed reviews were a series written about Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878. Commenting on the British display of works in its India Pavilion, he remarked: “Our India, it must be confessed, makes but a poor figure in comparison; nor is what we show arranged with any approach to the method, lucidity and instructiveness that seem natural to the French”.

A decade later in 1887, the ethnographer Dr T.E. Hamy, who had played a significant role at the 1878 Exposition Universelle, published an extensive study of the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition at the South Kensington Museum in London. In his introduction, Hamy noted: “none of the great exhibitions, whether general or special, which have lately succeeded each other in the capitals of the two worlds, have offered the scientists an interest comparable to that presented by the Colonial and Exhibition, open from the beginning of May to South Kensington”. L’Exposition Colonial et Indienne de Londres included a detailed description of the thirteen rooms of the Indian section of the exhibition, including the display of people as living exhibits, many of whom had been engaged for the purpose by Kipling, according to the Times of India. Hamy’s conclusion pointed out how the works of art and industry in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition were “already the core” of a permanent Indian Museum: “this permanent museum will be utilitarian above all without a doubt; men who are particularly interested in science and art will find there many elements of study”.

Drawing on Kipling and Hamy’s reviews, this presentation will explore the impact of international/’universelle’ exhibitions on the acquisition, display and reception of works from South Asia into permanent museum collections. It will also consider how their interpretations reflected contrasting national scholarly traditions.

Paris Exhibition

View of the Indian Court of the International Exhibition of 1871. Photograph. The British Library Board, Photo 1000/47(4717)

Back to the top

Christiane Demeulenaere-Douyère

The unlikely genesis of the Chinese collections of the Mission of China (1843-1846)
As China opened its doors to trade with the West, to which it promised an immense reservoir of potential customers, the French diplomat Theodore de Lagrené made a long journey to the Celestial Empire in 1843. Notably, it also included four representatives of French industry, appointed by the chambers of commerce, who were responsible not only for gathering commercial information but also for collecting raw materials, finished products, tools and documents. One of them, a ribbon weaver of Saint-Étienne Isidore Hedde, put together a very important collection of samples and objects related to the silk industry. On their return to France, these objects give rise to several public exhibitions in Paris and in various sericultural areas.

But the era is not yet favorable at ethnological museums or commercial museums. Due, no doubt, to the political and economic difficulties of the mid-19th century, the ‘China Museum’ of the China Mission, once envisaged by the administration of commerce, soon fell into oblivion. What to do with these very voluminous collections? Very quickly, the intent of their acquisition was overlooked, especially since various heritage institutions were interested in them primarily for their aesthetic, artistic and cultural interests. These collections are therefore destined to be dispersed between establishments without links and without common practice and, little by little, even the memory of their common origin is effaced. The communication will deal with the constitution of these collections in the field, their status(es) in France and finally their current dispersion.

Back to the top

Thierry Zephir

‘Angkor at the museum: the paradoxical destiny of an Asian art collection’
Among the major European Asian art museums, the National Museum of Asian Art-Guimet houses the largest Khmer art collections in the world outside Cambodia. The collections of the Musée Guimet include original works and castings brought back to France in the second half of the 19th century by Louis Delaporte and his collaborators.

Within spectacular displays, these pieces were previously exhibited for many years in the galleries of the Indochinese Museum of Trocadéro. Following the closure of this institution in 1936, the originals were sent to the Musée Guimet, whilst the casts began a long journey through various storage sites that were ill adapted to the fragility of their construction. Saved from total destruction at the instigation of Pierre Baptiste between 2002 and 2012, these unique and precious casts were the subject of a temporary exhibition in 2013-2014 entitled ‘Angkor, birth of a myth – Louis Delaporte and Cambodia’.

This presentation will be an opportunity to return to an original museum adventure that is rich in twists and turns.


Légende de l’illustration : Restitution d’une tour du Bayon dans les galeries du musée indochinois du Trocadéro. Tirage à l’albumine sur papier. Début XXe siècle. Archives photographiques du musée national des arts asiatiques-Guimet.

Back to the top



Pierre Baptiste is curator of South East Asian Collections, National Museum for Asian Art – Guimet, Paris. In charge of the Southeast Asian art department of the Musée Guimet since 1996, Pierre Baptiste is an art historian and researcher. Teacher at the Faculty of Archaeology of the Royal University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh (1998-2002) and the Ecole du Louvre, Paris, he directed the renovation of the Southeast Asian galleries at the Guimet (1996-2001). Author of several essays, and articles devoted to the arts of Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, he participated to the scientific direction of books in this field, such as (Missions archéologiques françaises au Vietnam – 1903-1904, 2005 ; Catalogue des collections khmères du musée Guimet, 2008). With his colleague, Thierry Zéphir, he curated exhibitions on several aspects of the arts of Southeast Asia, such as ‘Trésors d’art du Vietnam – La statuaire du Champa’ (2004) and ‘Dvâravatî: Aux sources du Bouddhisme en Thaïlande’ (2009). He organised an exhibition on Louis Delaporte and the so-called rediscovery of Angkor (‘Angkor Naissance d’un Mythe – Louis Delaporte et le Cambodge’, 2013) and recently curated an exhibition with Vietnam on the iconography of the Dragon (‘L’Envol du Dragon – Art royal du Vietnam’, 2014). He is currently working on an exhibition on Emile Guimet, together with Cristina Cramerotti (‘Enquêtes vagabondes, le voyage illustré d’Emile Guimet en Asie’, 2017).

André Delpuech was appointed Director of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris in April 2017. From 2005 to 2017, he was head of collections of the Americas at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac. From 1992 to 1999, he was regional curator of the archaeology of Guadeloupe, and then a researcher at the UMR ‘Archeology of the Americas’ before heading to the archaeological research office in 2002, under the direction of Archaeology of the Ministry of Culture and Communication. He is currently Chairman of the American Subcommission of the Consultative Commission on Archaeological Research Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. His research focuses on Amerindian societies in the Caribbean and Amazonian areas, and the history of the colonization of the Americas and transatlantic slavery, as well as curio cabinets and the history of anthropology and society museums.

Christiane Demeulenaere-Douyère is General Curator of Heritage and a corresponding member of the Center Alexandre Koyré in Paris. At the National Archives, she was in charge of the Universal Exhibitions from 2000 to 2012 and her research has focused extensively on the history of technology and invention and on international relations and national identities in these exhibitions. She was curator of the Exotiques expositions. Les expositions universelles et les cultures extra européennes, France, 1855-1937 (Archives nationales, Paris, 2010). She has co-edited several books: Les expositions universelles en France au xixe siècle. Techniques. Publics. Patrimoines (with Anne-Laure Carré, Marie-Sophie Corcy and Liliane Hilaire-Pérez; Paris, CNRS Éditions, Coll. Alpha, 2012); The World’s Exhibitions and the display of science, technology and culture: moving boundaries, Quaderns d’Historia de l’Enginyeria (with Ana Cardoso de Matos and Maria Helena Souto; Barcelone, 2012, vol. 13) and Les expositions universelles. Les identités au défi de la modernité (with Liliane Hilaire-Pérez; Rennes, PUR, Coll. Carnot, 2014).

Kate Hill teaches History at the University of Lincoln, and has researched and published extensively on local and regional museums, collecting, and attitudes to the past in Britain in the later nineteenth century. Her books include Culture and Class in English Public Museums 1850-1914 (Ashgate, 2005), Museums and Biographies (Boydell and Brewer, 2012), and Women and Museums 1850-1914 (Manchester University Press, 2016). She is co-editor of the Museums History Journal and Chair of the Museums and Galleries History Group.

Hervé Inglebert is Professor of Roman History at the University Paris Nanterre. He is the French Principal Investigator on the UHUM research. He published Le Monde, l’Histoire, Essai sur les histoires universelles (Presses universitaires de France, 2014), and he is the author of numerous publications on Roman history and Late Antiquity, cultural and religious history, Classical and Christian historiography, and the epistemology of the writing of history.

Sandra Kemp is a Senior Research Fellow at the V&A and ICL, and Principal Investigator on the ‘Universal Histories and Universal Museums’ project. For the past fifteen years she has worked in universities and museums, including the Universities of Oxford, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Southampton, the Royal College of Art, the Science Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, as well as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Recent projects include ‘John Lockwood Kipling: Art, Design and Industry’, a research collaboration between the V&A and the Bard Graduate Center (New York) and exhibition in 2017. This project was part funded by the British Council for comparative research in India and Pakistan.

Arthur MacGregor graduated in European Prehistory from Edinburgh before working as a researcher and deputy director at York Archaeological Trust. Later, he served as a curator for almost thirty years at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. His D.Litt. (Durham) encompassed three principal topics: archaeology, anthropo-zoology, and the history of collecting. He has served as Director of the British Archaeological Association, Director of the Society of Antiquaries and Vice-President of the Royal Archaeological Institute. Currently he is a Fellow of the Linnean Society and of the Society of Antiquaries, and is President of the Society for the History of Natural History. A founding-editor of the Journal of the History of Collections, he has also edited and contributed to a number of multi-author volumes on related topics, from The Origins of Museum (Oxford, 1985) to, most recently The Cobbe Cabinet of Curiosities (New Haven and London, 2015). He is also co-general editor of the multi-volume Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo (Royal Collection). His own books to date include Curiosity and Enlightenment (New Haven and London, 2007) and Animal Encounters (London, 2012).

Claire Wintle is Senior Lecturer in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, UK. Her research focuses on museums, material culture, empire and decolonization, especially in relation to South Asia. Her monograph, Colonial Collecting and Display: Encounters with Material Culture from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was published by Berghahn (2013), and she co-edited (with Ruth Craggs (KCL)) Cultures of Decolonisation: Transnational Productions and Practices, 1945-1970 (Manchester University Press, 2016).

Thierry Zéphir is a researcher at the Musée national des arts asiatiques-Guimet (MNAAG) and teaches at the Ecole du Louvre. After studying Art History on India and the Asian countries influenced by India’s culture at the Ecole du Louvre and the Sorbonne (where he attended the courses of Anne-Marie Loth, Albert Le Bonheur, Francine Tissot, Jean Boisselier and Madeleine Giteau), he specialized in the field of ancient arts in South-East Asia. Today, Cambodia is its preferred area. In the South East Asian Art Section of the MNAAG, his research focuses on Khmer statuary and architectural decoration. Under the supervision of Pierre Baptiste, with whom he is a collaborator at the Musée Guimet, he contributed to curating different exhibitions: Angkor et dix siècles d’art khmer (Grand Palais, 1997), Trésor d’art du Vietnam – La sculpture du Champa (MNAAG, 2005), Dvaravati, aux sources du bouddhisme en Thaïlande (2009), Angkor, naissance d’un mythe – Louis Delaporte et le Cambodge (MNAAG, 2013). He was also a curator of the exhibition L’âge d’or de l’Inde classique – L’empire des Gupta (Grand Palais, 2007) and is currently preparing a cross-sectional exhibition on the Buddha: Bouddha – La légende dorée (MNAAG, 2019). Author of several books and scientific articles on the art of ancient Cambodia, he co-edited the catalog of the Khmer collections of MNAAG with Pierre Baptiste.

Chiara Zuanni is a Research Fellow at the V&A and the postdoctoral assistant on the ‘Universal Histories and Universal Museums’ project. She has a degree in Classics and a MA in Archaeology from the University of Bologna and a PhD in Museology from the University of Manchester. She has been a research fellow at the Institute of Cultural Capital (University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University). Her past and current research focuses on the role of museums in constructing and mediating knowledge in in the public sphere.

Back to the top

Call for papers


Share this...