Call for Papers: ‘Museum universalities in Western cultural capitals in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’

Call for Papers: ‘Museum universalities in Western cultural capitals in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’

Université de Paris-Nanterre,  Friday 17th November 2017

Around 1900, each Western capital offered its visitors, a particular representation of human universality through its collections of arts, archaeology, applied arts and design, natural sciences, sciences and ethnography. Different circumstances had contributed to the expansion of these collections (e.g. colonialism, art markets, donations), so that the acquisition of new objects often anticipated reflection on their epistemological raison d’être within a given institution. In addition, other factors influencing the development of Western museums included: intellectually, the move from Enlightenment’s encyclopaedism to subject specialisms; economically, the industrial revolution and new commercial interests; politically, the emergence of new nation-states and empires; socially, the growth of the bourgeoisie and new entertainment spaces. Hence, all these developments, in parallel to the growth of the collections, prompted discussion on museum taxonomies, and on the display of objects.

At the same time, historians were dealing with similar methodological questions in their own attempts to write universal histories. However, the reciprocal impact of historiographical and museological reflections on ideas of universalities has rarely been explored.

The workshop will bring together researchers from both museum studies and history to stimulate discussion across disciplines and national contexts. We invite proposals for papers relating to:

  • Definition of ‘universalities’ in museums – particularly in relation to contemporary developments in historiography, in the philosophy of history, and in the history of disciplines.
  • Case-studies from ‘universal museums’ in Europe and North-America –we are particularly interested in discussions regarding museums in London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Rome, Philadelphia, New York, Washington DC.
  • International exhibitions – in particular their relations with museums and the development of collections.

Important information:

  • Papers – abstract: 300 words (20 minutes papers)

Deadline for abstract submission: 1st October 2017. Please send abstracts to: universalhistoriesmuseums@gmail.com. Authors will be notified by the 10th October 2017.

Please note:  we aim to publish a selection of the papers from the workshops of the ‘Universal Histories, Universal Museums’ research project as a journal special issue.

This is the last workshop of the research ‘Universal Histories and Universal Museums’, funded by the AHRC ‘Care for the Future’ and labex ‘Pasts in the present’ (Université de Paris Nanterre).

– ‘The evolution of the museum’: Science Museum, London, 13th-14th July 2017,

– ‘Comparative museologies: case studies from Asia’: au Musée de l’Homme, Paris, 28th September 2017,

– ‘Museum universalities in Western cultural capitals in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’: Université de Paris-Nanterre, 17th November 2017.

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