Workshop 3: ‘Museum universalities in Western cultural capitals in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’

17th November 2017, Université Paris Nanterre.



9.30 Arrival and registration
10.00 Sandra Kemp (Victoria & Albert Museum and Lancaster University), Introduction to the project and the workshop.
1. Defining Universalities
10.30 ‘Science, the spectacular exhibition in Britain and the French example: the cases of the 1876 Loan Collection of Scientific Apparatus and the 1908 Franco-British exhibition’ (Robert Bud, Science Museum)
2. Universalities in context: capitals and regions
11.00 ‘Universalities in capital and province: local museums and the South Kensington Museum’s Circulating Collection in the nineteenth century’ (Kate Hill, University of Lincoln)
11.30 ‘The Manchester Museum’s microcosm: universalities in a regional museum’ (Chiara Zuanni)
12.00 Discussion
12.30 Lunch
3. Examples of metropolitan universalities: models around 1900
14.00 ‘Voir le monde à Paris : l’universalité à travers le réseau muséal parisien (1850-1914)’ (François Mairesse, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3)
14.30 ‘The impact of universal museums/ideas in France/the UK on South American museums/national identities’ (Irina Podgorny, CONICET and director of the Historical Archive of La Plata Museum, Argentina)
15 Pause
4. Examples of metropolitan universalities: the evolution of the models
16.00 ‘A sanctuary for art and science“? A universal museum (landscape)“? Universalising effects at Berlin‘s Museum Island from the 19th to the 21st century’ (Annette Loeseke, Lecturer in museum studies at New York University Berlin and at the Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam University)
16.30 ‘Sketching the map dividing the world between French national museums: borders in movement and contact zones’ (Paz Núñez-Regueiro, Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac)
17.00 Discussion
17.30 Conclusion: ‘Histoires universelles et universalités muséales au XIXe siècle’ (Hervé Inglebert, Université de Paris-Nanterre)

Abstracts and biographies

Robert Bud

Science, the spectacular exhibition in Britain and the French example: the cases of the 1876 Loan Collection of Scientific Apparatus and the 1908 Franco-British exhibition

This talk will reflect on the use of spectacular exhibitions as a means of giving public reality in Britain to dreams of science’s place in culture justified by French models. The 1876 loan exhibition of scientific apparatus was organised by the journalist and campaigner Norman Lockyer. He was in search of better public recognition of the cultural standing of science and drew on the authority and power of elite scientists and engineers. Impressed by the development of CNAM in Paris they sought to create a science museum in London with equivalent influence. Over six months 300,000 visitors attended and the success led to the formation of The Science Collections within a reorganised South Kensington Museum in 1880s. Thirty years later Lockyer again used an exhibition to promote the image of science. In 1908 to celebrate the new alliance between Britain and France a huge Anglo-French exhibition was held in London. The campaigning British Science Guild headed by Lockyer fought for space in the exhibition and resources from British science, warning that the French would otherwise show up the British. A large space of 1400 square metres was allocated to science. The French did not in fact exhibit in this section but the British used it to squeeze a huge number of exhibits systematically organised. The idea of French competition was as potent as actual comparisons. The huge exhibition included both inspirational instruments from the past such as Joule’s apparatus and current state of the art equipment. Within months the formal Science Museum for which the Guild had also lobbied was founded.

Robert Bud is Research Keeper at the Science Museum in London where he is working towards a monograph on the history of the concept of applied science over a period of two hundred years. He is currently also part of the Management Committee of the major nuclear history project HoNESt. He holds a PhD in the History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania (1980) and has worked at the Science Museum ever since. He is the author, co-author and editor of a dozen works including (most recently) histories of penicillin, biotechnology and scientific instruments. The current project on the history of applied science has led so far to papers in History and Technology, History of Science, Journal of Science Communication and the Journal of Political Ideologies. In 2012 he was the Sarton Professor at the University of Ghent and has honorary attachments to the University of Cambridge and University College London. At the Science Museum, he has been responsible for major galleries including, in the 1980s, Industrial Chemistry, Plastics and Petroleum and more recently major websites including Ingenious, Making the Modern World and Brought to Life. In 1996, he organised the second overseas SHOT conference in London and has served on SHOT council. Along with Helmuth Trischler and Bernard Finn, he is a founder of the Artefacts consortium concerned with object studies in the history of science and technology. He is also a founding member of the CASTI initiative for conceptual history.

Back to the top

Kate Hill

Universalities in capital and province: local museums and the South Kensington Museum’s Circulating Collection in the nineteenth century

Along with its displays offering increasingly universal histories and geographies of the applied arts, the South Kensington Museum established a Circulating Collection to lend out to local art schools, museums and other institutions. This material was part of Henry Cole’s vision of an integrated national system of design education, but also encoded ideas about the nature of places which weren’t the capital, and the kinds of particularised, non-universal knowledge that were appropriate for them. As the Circulating Collection became more focused on regional museums and less integrated with design education, debates within the South Kensington Museum itself, and in correspondence between regional museums and the South Kensington Museum, took varying positions about the relationship between capital and province, and between local, practical knowledge, and universal, transcendent knowledge. Museums in the regions resisted being positioned as second-, or even third-rate, and insisted their aim was to provide knowledge on the same level, if not always the same scale, as museums in capital cities. The South Kensington Museum saw this as a foolhardy aim which could only end in incoherence – scale, in terms of size, depth of collections and employment of experts, was key to being able to assert universality.

In this paper, I will examine what such debates reveal about the understanding and practice of universality in late nineteenthcentury museums and the particular link forged at that time between universality and cultural capitals. I will suggest that as universality came to be associated with the national capital, practical and particular knowledge came to be downgraded through association with provinciality.

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.

Back to the top

Chiara Zuanni

The Manchester Museum’s microcosm: universalities in a regional museum

The paper will focus on the case study of the Manchester Museum to unpack how global networks of the industrial city and ideas of universalities informed its collecting practices, its displays, and its interpretation.

In the nineteenth century, the city was at the centre of the industrial revolution; at the same time, learned societies and reforming figures were behind the development of its museums. The Manchester Museum originated from the Museum of the Manchester Natural History Society, which was founded in 1825 and in 1867 was transferred to the Owens College (the predecessor of the University of Manchester). The paper will question how the taxonomies underlying the displays of the Society’s Museum on Peter Street reflected contemporary encyclopaedic concerns and it will examine the re-arrangement that followed the move to Owens College. There, William Boyd Dawkins planned the display according to an evolutionary sequence from nature to human cultures. However, this scheme was quickly disrupted by the expansion of the collections, particularly of Egyptology, leading to a series of galleries arranged by disciplines.
By tracing the history of the displays through leaflets, newspapers’ reviews, guidebooks, and minutes, the paper will also explore how these transformations, and the presentation of the collections in temporary events, affected visitors’ experiences and ideas on universalities and disciplinary boundaries. The paper will suggest that diverse universalities were drawn upon, created, and used, to communicate the values of the collections to the population of Manchester.

Chiara Zuanni was the Research Fellow and postdoctoral assistant on the ‘Universal Histories and Universal Museums’ project. Her past and current research focuses on the role of museums in constructing and mediating knowledge in the public sphere.

Back to the top

François Mairesse

Seeing the world in Paris at the turn of the 20th century

What means did Parisians have to apprehend the world at the turn of the 20th century? Beyond books and magazines, museums, exhibition spaces and world exhibitions played a significant role in revealing the distance and evoking the world as a whole. This paper will evoke some institutions created during the preceding centuries (the principal cabinets of curiosities and then the creation of the revolutionary museums) and used for this purpose. Then the paper will aim to present the general organisation of the various spaces which, around 1900, were offered to flâneurs or visitors in Paris to reveal the universe. In this year inaugurating the 20th century, Paris stands as the hub of the world, through its universal exhibition. This temporary event evoking the achievements of dozens of countries widened the offer of existing museums presenting, through the Louvre (the main Universal Survey Museum, according to Wallach and Duncan) but also the Musées de la Marine, d’Artillerie, d’Ethnographie, etc., a vision of the world through its links with France.

François Mairesse is professor of Museology at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle I Paris 3.

Back to the top

Irina Podgorny

The impact of European models of universal museums on the natural history museums of Buenos Aires and La Plata

It has been almost 30 years since Susan Sheets-Pyenson, in her ‘Cathedrals of Science: The Development of Colonial Natural History Museums during the Late Nineteenth Century’, proposed to understand the natural history museums of Latin America, Canada and Oceania as part of the expansion of the architectonic and institutional model of European museums of the late 19th century. Her work, putting museums “in a network”, showed the exchanges between them and also the relationship between the establishment of museums, the development of industry, and the sale of objects for fine arts, education, teaching and the liberal arts.

Taking the cases of the Public/National Museum of Buenos Aires (1823) and the Museum of La Plata (1884), this paper revisits this idea and shows the architectonic and institutional models involved in the different moments of the history of Argentine museums (relationship with university education, organization of sections, nature of collections – universal, regional, national and local). Secondly, it shows that, far from being a “direct European impact”, Argentinian museums (such as Brazilians, Mexicans, etc.) are the result of permanent hybridisation and competition at the regional level for the most modern museum.

Irina Podgorny works at the Museo de La Plata, Argentina, and she is currently John Carter Brown Library Fellow.

Back to the top

Annette Loeseke

A sanctuary for art and science? A universal museum (landscape)? Universalising effects at Berlin‘s Museum Island from the 19th to the 21st century

The paper addresses the key museological shifts that shaped Berlin‘s Museum Island during the 19th and early 20th century. Exploring the roles of historiography and the emerging academic disciplines as well as the political, social and economic interests of varying stakeholders, the paper discusses the various motivations behind the expansions of the collections and the erection of new museum buildings. I shall particularly focus on the different historiographical and museological concepts of the Altes Museum that opened in 1830 and presented the royal collections of antiquities and paintings, and the Neues Museum that was completed in 1855 and originally housed the prehistory collection, the ethnographic collection and the Egyptian collection, among others. Discussing how these shifting historiographical approaches and the respective architecture, decorations and presentations interacted, the paper explores in particular the historicising, contextualising displays at the Neues Museum and the “Egyptianising” effects of its original, restored wall paintings from the 19th century. How has the Neues Museum presented its shifting narratives of the universal museum to its audiences? How could we describe the institutional (self-)image that the museum has developed over time and that (implicitly) shines through the architecture, decorations and displays? To what extent do the displays at the Neues Museum critically reflect the museum‘s institutional history and the ways historiographical as well as museological shifts have shaped the museum‘s narratives and the discipline of Egyptology? Considering the history of Museum Island, the paper also briefly addresses the current historiographical and political motivations behind the decision to reconstruct Berlin‘s former royal-imperial palace at its historical location on Museum Island, and to conceptualise the future Humboldt Forum inside the palace as a “centre of world culture”.

Annette Loeseke works as a lecturer in museum studies at the New York University of Berlin and as an external lecturer in visitor studies at the Reinwardt Academy (Amsterdam University of the Arts). She studied history of art and cultural management at universities in Freiburg, Munich, Paris and London. She holds a PhD (Dr. phil.) in history of art from the University of Bonn, Germany.

Back to the top

Call for papers


Share this...