In the Museum of Man

In the Museum of Man: Race, Anthropology, and Empire in France, 1850–1950

Alice L. Conklin
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt32b4r8
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  • Book Info
    In the Museum of Man
    Book Description:

    In the Museum of Man offers new insight into the thorny relationship between science, society, and empire at the high-water mark of French imperialism and European racism. Alice L. Conklin takes us into the formative years of French anthropology and social theory between 1850 and 1900; then deep into the practice of anthropology, under the name of ethnology, both in Paris and in the empire before and especially after World War I; and finally, into the fate of the discipline and its practitioners under the German Occupation and its immediate aftermath.

    Conklin addresses the influence exerted by academic networks, museum collections, and imperial connections in defining human diversity socioculturally rather than biologically, especially in the wake of resurgent anti-Semitism at the time of the Dreyfus Affair and in the 1930s and 1940s. Students of the progressive social scientist Marcel Mauss were exposed to the ravages of imperialism in the French colonies where they did fieldwork; as a result, they began to challenge both colonialism and the scientific racism that provided its intellectual justification. Indeed, a number of them were killed in the Resistance, fighting for the humanist values they had learned from their teachers and in the field. A riveting story of a close-knit community of scholars who came to see all societies as equally complex, In the Museum of Man serves as a reminder that if scientific expertise once authorized racism, anthropologists also learned to rethink their paradigms and mobilize against racial prejudice-a lesson well worth remembering today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6904-6
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1930s France, the biological study and ranking of the human races was still considered a fully legitimate branch of the human sciences. By the late 1940s, in contrast, a group of Parisian anthropologists had taken the lead in warning the public about the political dangers of such inquiries. With the help of Alfred Métraux (Swiss-born but French-trained), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued in 1950 the first condemnation of scientific racism by an international organization. This condemnation ended with the radical claim that “race was less a biological fact than a social myth.”¹ Shortly afterward,...

  6. Chapter 1 Races, Bones, and Artifacts: A General Science of Man in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 19-57)

    In the nineteenth century, physicians and naturalists began inventorying the physical and racial variability of the human species on a much greater scale than ever before. At the same time, a movement among writers, artists, and linguists to study the spirit of vanishing peoples through their customs and languages developed, originally in German-speaking lands but soon throughout Europe and the Americas. Educated French men and women and their governments participated fully in these new trends, by embarking on a long path to professionalize the science that would come to be known as anthropology—that is to say, the science of...

  7. Chapter 2 Toward a New Synthesis: The Birth of Academic Ethnology
    (pp. 58-99)

    With the opening of the École d’Anthropologie in 1876, Broca had completed his anthropological institute: a set of interlinked world-class structures comprising the Société d’Anthropologie, a laboratory, a museum, and now a school as well, all dedicated to professionalizing his vision of general anthropology. By the turn of the century, however, the politicization of Broca’s disciples, and growing doubts about what even the most exacting measurements could yield in terms of the racial classification of humans, were undermining these achievements. At the same time, the few in France who had tried to claim ethnography as their scientific domain remained fixated...

  8. Chapter 3 Ethnology for the Masses: The Making of the Musée de l’Homme
    (pp. 100-144)

    When the Institut d’Ethnologie was founded, neither Mauss nor Rivet saw it as a stand-alone initiative. If ethnologie was to thrive as a new science, its founders took it for granted that their discipline would need a museum-laboratory, complete with a library, conference and seminar rooms, and osteological and ethnographic collections to train students before they went into the field. When it came to skulls and bones, Paris was already amply endowed, thanks to the anthropology gallery at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and the old Broca Museum. Cultural artifacts, on the other hand, were harder to come by, because...

  9. Chapter 4 Skulls on Display: Antiracism, Racism, and Racial Science
    (pp. 145-188)

    In 1938, Rivet’s Musée de l’Homme opened its doors in Paris. After ten years of overhaul, it could proudly boast that it was the most modern of the world’s institutions devoted to the display of humankind’s cultural and racial diversity. Its guiding premise was that the entire natural history of man from the earliest hominins to modern “primitives” could and should be known, ordered, and presented to an audience made up of specialists and the masses. Yet Rivet had another ambition for his new institution. In Depression-era France, and in Europe more generally, racism reared its ugly head in ways...

  10. Chapter 5 Ethnology: A Colonial Form of Knowledge?
    (pp. 189-235)

    Was the professionalizing field of ethnology a colonial science? Historians have long taken for granted that the modern age of empire developed “colonial” forms of knowledge, including “colonial science,” which aided and abetted imperialism.¹ Yet there has been little consensus on what the concept “colonial science” actually designates, particularly with respect to the discipline of anthropology. For many specialists the term implicitly refers to any scientific knowledge produced in the colonies, usually by professionals trained in the metropole. Other historians eager to “provincialize Europe” have highlighted the role that colonial administrators played in creating new forms of scientific knowledge, which...

  11. Chapter 6 From the Study to the Field: Ethnologists in the Empire
    (pp. 236-281)

    By the interwar years, thanks to the dynamic leadership of Marcel Mauss and Paul Rivet, it had become possible for students to train in ethnology in Paris. Together, the creation of the “Insti” (Institut d’Ethnologie) and the overhauling of the “Troca” (Musée d’Ethnographie/Musée de l’Homme) marked the arrival of a modern museum- and field-based science of man in Paris’s university system. Yet, appearances to the contrary, this “victory” of ethnology was precarious at best, given that traditional agrégation disciplines still dominated in the university. Mauss and Rivet thus devoted enormous time and energy to building up their school, including soliciting...

  12. Chapter 7 Ethnologists at War: Vichy and the Race Question
    (pp. 282-326)

    In September 1939, France once again found itself at war. When the horrors of the defeat and Occupation began to recede five years later, the ideas and institutions—and indeed the makeup—of the nation’s small community of ethnologists emerged fundamentally changed. The Nazi state throughout Europe politicized the science of man to an unprecedented degree, yoking it to its own murderous ends in ways that had been unthinkable a decade earlier. Vichy, through its collaboration with Hitler, accepted and participated in this process. It not only sent countless Jews to their death but also created France’s first university chair...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 327-338)

    The abrupt departure of the Militärbefelshaber in Frankreich, including its Fourth Group, from the Hotel Majestic in Paris in the summer of 1944 did not end the association of that building with the race question. By a strange irony, just two years later the Preparatory Commission for UNESCO moved from London into this same hotel, where the organization’s headquarters would reside until 1958. In the wake of the Holocaust, one of UNESCO’s first initiatives was to mobilize scientists internationally to condemn racism.¹ In December 1949 a group of race experts met at the Majestic Hotel to draft a statement on...

  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 339-364)
  15. Index
    (pp. 365-374)