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"A new generation of Museums in France (1980-2010) : Politics, Culture and Memory"

The 1980s were periods of intense development for France’s national museums, as the country witnessed an extraordinary multiplication of the number of museums, following on from a period of rather negative consideration of the role of the public museum in the 1960s. Indeed, every president since Georges Pompidou has developed his own museum project – the national museum appears in France as a privileged form of political and cultural legacy toward which the country’s leaders tend to strive. The same tendency may be observed within the hierarchy of regional and departmental politics, where museum projects have benefitted from the direct support of important political players. The relationship between political glorification and the museum is particularly strong in a country in which the most famous museum is still identified as the former palace of the prince (Louvre).

If the 1980s may be characterised by the development of major new projects and building activity, then the policy of the 1990s was very much directed toward (re)organising older and new institutions, establishing a more explicit policy for museum visitors, and normalising the training of a new generation of museum professionals. The process of establishing new forms of management, financing structures and procedures, in order to give the institutions greater autonomy and to develop their own resources independently, is currently one of the major issues that France’s national museums are dealing with.


Dominique Poulot studied the history of France with  Maurice Agulhon and Daniel Roche and took a MA at the EHESS, under the supervision of Pierre Nora. During his stay at Ecole Normale Supérieure, he was awarded the agrégation (history, 1978).  In 1989 his PhD dealt with the emergence of heritage and museums in early modern and revolutionary France. After teaching at the Universities of Grenoble and Tours, he is professor (exceptional class) at Paris 1 since 2000, Director of the School of Graduate Studies of Art History, and of the MA « Politics and History of Museums and Heritage ». He lectured also at Ecole du Louvre (1994-2000), Sciences-Po Paris (2011-2012), and at the EHESS (2006-2008). He has been the recipient of fellowships, including a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the EUI of Firenze (1990), a Junior Felloewship of the Institut Universitaire de France, a CNRS position (2003-2006), a Senior Felloewship at the Institut Universitaire de France, a Getty Scholar Fellowship (full year, 2009-2010), a NYU Fellowship (4 months, 2012), a Senior Visiting Fellowship at National Gallery of Art (CASVA, Washington), and was Visiting Professor for at least one term in the Universities of Laval, Geneva, Columbia. He is president of the Art History and Archaeology section of the national committee of scientific societies (Ecole des Chartes), and qualified member of the Commission des Collections near the Ministry of Culture.

He has written two books about the invention of french Heritage, one entitled Surveiller et s’instruire : La Révolution française et l’intelligence de l’héritage historique (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 1996)  and the other Musée, Nation, Patrimoine (Gallimard, 1997). He has since published several books on related topics, notably a history of French museums (La Découverte, 2005, reprint paperback), an intellectual history of the idea of patrimony in Europe (PUF, 2006, Brazilian translation), and an essay about the European Enlightenment (PUF, 2000). His book about Musées et Muséologie was translated in Italy, Spain, Brazil and Corea. He has published widely in journals and edited collections, including Les lieux de mémoire, Annales, Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Revue de l’art, Oxford Art Journal, Antropologia, Histoire de l'art and Historical Reflections, Hermès, Perspectives, Anais do Museu Paulista, Museologia.PT, Varia Historia, Socio-Anthropologie, etc.

His current research is focused on heritage and visual culture in France from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day, examining the links between patrimony and wider political debates over the social and cultural identity, national memory and history. He is  particularly interested in the role of museums, galleries, monument protection offices, art academies in shaping and communicating ideas of national artistic heritage. He is  currently completed a reflection on the ideas of cosmopolitism and nation in the discipline of art history and in the management of heritage, museums and law during the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries.

He was affiliated with an european multidisciplinary research team (in the framework of the European Commission Research: The Seventh Framework Programme 2007-2013) with  the project to write a comparative history of National Museums in Europe 1750-2012. His team was working on the conditions for using the past in negotiations that create citizenship, on the understanding of layers of territorial belonging beyond the actual nation-state, and on the narratives of art history related to the art displays. This group explored the history of the museum as a form of representation, from its beginnings in the 18th century to the development of the modern international public institution, as well as the ways in which history itself is imagined--in multiple and sometimes conflicting modes--within museological modes.