Dynamics of Civilisation

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Impression of a jade seal designed by Professor Wang Mingming for CREDOC, containing the Chinese characters Xue (interpretation) and Wenming (civilisation).

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Centre for Research into the Dynamics of Civilisation (CREDOC)
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Europe from the outside in? Imagining Civilisation through collecting the exotic

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Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 October 2015

10 a.m - 6 p.m. in the UCL South Cloisters

See here for further information

Deep Pasts, Deep Cultures: Mande, Yoruba and Kongo

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Friday 6 November

9.15 a.m. - 6 p.m. in the Anthropology Common Room

See here for further information


Conference: Europe from the Outside in? Imagining Civilization through Collecting the Exotic 

europe outside in

Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 October 2015

10 a.m. – 6 p.m., followed by drinks reception on Thursday 22nd

No registration required. All welcome.

Location: UCL South Cloisters

Organisers: Pieter ter Keurs (Leiden), Peter Pels (Leiden), Michael Rowlands (UCL), Oscar Salemink (Copenhagen)

This conference will consider the historical emergence of a distinct European social imaginary in terms of Europe’s appropriation and internalization of elements from other continents and civilizations. With a focus on the function of ethnographic collections in facilitating this process, it will also investigate the status of such collections today. How does European museums’ production of the exotic retain its appeal, apparently undiminished, when faced today with global audiences and changing attitudes to colonial pasts?

Europe’s early Modern discovery of the ‘exotic’ fundamentally transformed an existing classical and medieval sense of what constituted the ‘strange’ and the ‘barbarian’, and established a relationship to the ‘outside’ world based on wonder and curiosity, which persists to this day. Through cabinets of curiosity and the development of ethnographic collections that brought together objects from around the world in order to represent it, the world was implicitly divided up into European and non-European territories on a microcosmic scale, for example by distinguishing (European) “rarities” from (non-European) “fetishes”.

We tend to think of this period of curiosity in museums as an event that later gave way to more ‘rational’, taxonomical approaches and the ‘exhibitionary complex’. Yet in terms of the development of specialist museums - the ‘ethnographic museum’, or folklore and antiquities museums - the theme of wonder and the exotic appears to have remained constant. Indeed, the failure of those ethnographic museums that in recent years have cleared their historical materials from display in preference for newly made or everyday objects of socio-political relevance is a case in point. The spectacle of the exotic retains its appeal to a range of global publics.

The temporalities that shaped exhibitions that once declared Europe to be in an exceptionally advanced time and place, have now accumulated into a complex, contested and contradictory assemblage of objects, the assumptions of which need to be historically interrogated in a far more interdisciplinary fashion than before. Bringing together a range of international Classicists, Anthropologists, Heritage scholars and museum professionals, this conference will offer diverse perspectives and makes a timely intervention in considering the role of ethnographic museums, as well as the nature of European identity and civilization, now, in the past, and in the future.

Confirmed Speakers:

Caroline van Eck (University of Leiden); Chris Gosden, (Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford); Giovanni Kezich (Folklore Museum, Trentino); Mark Meadow  (UCLA); Peter Pels (University of Leiden); John Picton (SOAS); Barbara Plankensteiner (Yale University;) Stephen Quirke (UCL Egyptology); Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen) Pieter Ter Keurs (University of Leiden); Miguel John Versluys (University of Leiden); Bente Wolff (National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen)


Wednesday 21st October

09.15 - 09.30 Michael Rowlands, Introduction

09.30 - 10.00 Peter Pels, The Routinisation of Wonder: the degeneration of passionate object relations in Early Modern Europe

10.00 - 10.30 Mark Meadow Across Time and Space: the valuation of cultural distance in early modern collections

10.30 - 11.00 Discussion

11.30 - 12.00 Nicholas Thomas, Collecting Ethnography, Provincialising Europe: Oceanic Art and European Museums

12.00 - 12.30 Stephen Quirke, Defining Objects in the Hands of Others: Egyptian Antiquities in Early Modern Europe

12.30 - 13.00 Discussion

14.00 - 14.30 Pieter ter Keurs, Incorporating the Outside: Anthropology and ’strange’ goods

14.30 - 15.00 Miguel John Versluys, Becoming Roman and the impact of foreign objects

15.00 - 15.30 Caroline van Eck, Triumphs of Caesar in Hampton Court

15.30 – 16:00 Discussion

16.30 – 17:00 Chris Gosden, Magic and the other within: placing the English collections within the Pitt Rivers Museum

17:00 – 17.30 Giovanni Kezich, The Exotic Within: New perspectives on the epidemiology of representations after “Carnival King of Europe”

17:30 - 18.00 Discussion

Thursday 22nd October

09.30 - 10.00 Oscar Salemink, Ethnographic Materialisation, Ethnographic Objects and Presidential projects in Paris and Hanoi

10.00 - 10.30 Bente Wolff, Exotic Wonders in the World. And Local Ones.

10.30 - 11.00 Discussion

11.30 - 12.00 Barbara Plankensteiner, The Welt Museum and its History: the World within but without Europe

12.00 - 12.30 John Picton, The Debris of Events: African acquisitions in the British Museum

12.30 - 13.00 Discussion

14.00 - 14.30 Michael Rowlands, Taking the Outside In: the Mimetic Faculty in the European identification of African ‘primitivism’

14.30 – 15:30 Final Discussion

For more information, please contact: Paul Tourle

Deep Pasts, Deep Cultures: Mande, Yoruba and Kongo

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Friday 6 November

9.15 a.m. - 6 p.m.

No registration required. All welcome.

Location: Anthropology Common Room, UCL

Symposium Convenor: Kevin MacDonald (UCL African Studies/ Institute of Archaeology)

Discussants: Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz (Capetown), Michael Rowlands (UCL)

Speakers: Akin Ogundiran (North Carolina), Karin Barber (Birmingham), John Picton (SOAS), Jan Jansen (Leiden), Ramon Sarro (Oxford), Wyatt MacGaffey (Haverford), Koen Bostoen (Ghent), Cecile Fromont (Chicago)

Over the past two millennia African civilizations, with unique political traditions, artistic corpora, musical styles and oral literatures have grown and flourished along the valleys of the Niger, the Congo River basin and elsewhere in the Sub-Sahara. Often placed to one side by Afrocentrists in favour of Egypt/Kemet, or dismissed as insignificant by the criteria of Eurocentrists, these Deep Cultures have played a profound role in forming the basis of long-lived and enduring African civilizations. A challenge for African Studies today is both to capture the uniqueness of these civilizations and to disentangle the multiple traditions, ideas and histories which have shaped them. Ultimately, a plurality of understandings must come together to comprehend their idealised worlds and their continuing work in making the continent a better place. In this symposium we invite scholars to explore the historical depth configuring the Mande, Yoruba and Kongo civilizations: in the past and the present.

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