17 th AIMA International Congress
at the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM)
the Museum of Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean,
Marseille, November 5-7, 2014
"Agriculture collections: a new dynamic"
Theme 1: Interactions between museum visitors and agriculture collections: reintroducing useful bearings for visitors to follow.
Theme 2: the main tools for understanding collections in agriculture museums.
Theme 3: How can agricultural collections contribute to contemporary issues?
Global context of the international congress (CIMA 17)
The way agricultural, and more broadly, rural heritage is dealt with differs greatly from one country to another and among museographic traditions. In Canada, a museum is a place where the past is not separated from the present. Visitors discover yesterday’s agriculture as well as today’s, through agricultural activities or stockbreeding on a real-life scale. Ethnology museums, particularly in Europe, are experiencing a major attendance crisis, and many private museum collections have been dispersed. At a time when few museum renovations are allowing space for agriculture in the broad sense, the 2014 AIMA congress proposes to address the questions of relevance, representativeness and the role of museum agricultural collections. Most ethnology museums have collections pertaining to agriculture and animal husbandry. With the exception of museums dedicated to these themes (there are large agricultural museums, called such, in a number of countries but not in France), these collections are given little if any space in general museums. In France, neither the Musée des Arts et Métiers nor the Musée du Quai Branly have exhibits on agriculture or animal husbandry. Their collections accumulate in repositories and risk dispersal. Only in the MuCEM
's new "Gallery of the Mediterranean" does agriculture feature prominently.
Attitudes about agriculture collections are different from continent to continent and from one culture to another, due to the varying importance of agricultures in relation to other human activities. The approaches to agricultural heritage are immensely varied and it is these common points or, on the contrary, the divergences that the CIMA 17 wishes to highlight, those interested in museum, wherever they are in the world.
The aim of the 2014 AIMA congress, following an introductory reflection on the nature of museum agricultural collections, is to get a panoramic view of the narratives being attached to agricultural collections. Are certain objects better represented than others? What story do these collections tell through their museum displays? What historical or geographic contextualization is provided for these collections? How can the stories be adapted to cover the evolution of agriculture? And how can these collections address contemporary issues? What links can museums establish between humans and their foods ?
Classical issues surrounding agricultural collections in museums
The first step will be to get an overview of the most significant agricultural collections. AIMA affiliates and other participating museums will then be invited to present their collections, in a format yet to be determined. The main considerations will be the following:
- The most classic case is the re-enactment of production lines, or successive phases of processing of a raw material into a finished product, such as wheat to bread, or grapes to wine, at some unspecified time prior to mechanization.
- Objects can also be arranged typologically, showing morphological variations on a basic implement, for example the plough or the scythe.
- Relationship between museums that focus on ethnology, folklore or society and museums that feature agricultural machinery: the ethnological museums generally leave little room for mechanization or motorization, preferring to accentuate the "primitive" or "archaic" nature of the implements on display. Museums that highlight industrial agriculture specialize in machine typologies (tractors, threshers, etc.).
- In open-air museums, or ecomuseums, the in situ display of objects gives some contextualization in relation to the architectural heritage, which remains the primary concern.
Certain collections can feature in touristic festivals and fairs, reintroducing the human factor in events like "old-time" harvest festivals, herding and transhumance demonstrations or re-enactments in open-air museums or ecomuseums, etc.
Interactions between museum visitors and agricultural collections
There is no denying that in most countries, museum visitors have an increasingly tenuous connection with rural life, and we must acknowledge that agricultural artefacts, in the broad sense, are no longer evocative for visitors, or even for curators or museum administrators.
Efforts have been made to refresh the museographic narrative associated with agricultural collections. Some museums are introducing reference points or markers corresponding to the curiosity or expectations of different audiences. These may be chronological, geographical, historical, social or technological. Ultimately, they can be cast in a perspective that has a bearing on contemporary issues, such as food sufficiency, water supply, globalization, sustainable land development, as well as a social dimension, like the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty in the rural environment, family farming, agricultural unionism, land use, or local or national agricultural policies. While the museum cannot solve these problems, it can at least, in the long term, contextualize them historically.
Deficiencies in the intrinsic knowledge of agricultural collections
We must also recognize that, more often than not, the documentation on objects in these collections is inadequate because the collectors considered their use to be self-evident. Intrinsic knowledge of these objects is often lacking: no accurate dating, poor knowledge of constituent materials or of the actual use of the objects (in subsistence or commercial farming, etc.). The elements of contextualization on which the knowledge of these objects is based are often limited (photographs, films, etc.), though modern means of information dissemination (websites, tablets, mobile phones, etc.) have never been so abundant.
Another problem, in terms of museographic presentation, is physically combining early museum collections that illustrate long-gone ancestral practices with huge modern equipment representing agriculture and animal husbandry over the past sixty years or so. The aesthetic appreciation of the beauty of the materials and morphology of the early ethnographic, now "archeological", objects, contrasts with modern, industrialized agricultural objects lacking any trace of handicraft or any notion of the "aesthetics" so sought after by museum officials. The visual contrast between these two types of objects is often problematic. This melds into the larger issue of collecting contemporary objects in museums.
Museography and the narrative associated with collections sometimes casts them in a light where social and historical sciences, as well as the nature of the collections (archeology, ethnography, natural history, fine arts, contemporary art, etc.) suggest openings, interactions, juxtapositions or oppositions, all rich in meaning.
Recreating a dynamic between agricultural collections and today's museum
We must also rethink how we relate to our visitors. A museum is no longer simply a place of learning or knowledge, or just a place of aesthetic pleasure (rarely so for agricultural museums): form counts as much as content. What visitors want today is a well-devised display, with adapted lighting and a simple but well-structured narrative.
Clearly, the issues surrounding agricultural collections are complex and multi-faceted. During the few days of this congress, the goal is to focus on agricultural collections in and of themselves. The objective is for participating museums to share and compare how they handle their collections and their experience with narrative elements that museum administrators want to be seen and understood by visitors.
For museums currently being developed, selection criteria could be established in order to define and pass on the principles and best practices that have prevailed in the gathering and exhibition of collections, and as a result of international networking (Algeria, Senegal with its project for a Fulani Museum).
The foregoing offers several topics for discussion, most of which involve issues common to all agricultural museums. The comparison of experiences can be a valuable source of learning and reflection for all participants.
Theme 1: Interactions between museum visitors and agriculture collections: reintroducing useful bearings for visitors to follow
Beyond the usual ethnological approach to museum collections, it is a question of reintroducing a set of bearings that is comprehensible to visitors.
- Historical approach: major chronological bearings (Neolithic, Antiquity, Industrial Revolution)
- Social history: family agriculture, peasant revolutions and revolts, labour union movements
- Agricultural policies: capitalism and communism, major works (irrigation, drainage…)
- Technological developments: pre-mechanical agricultural, mechanisation, farm machinery…
- Major geographic context: varying territorial scales
- Cultural bearings (and some would include proposing religious criteria)
Attachment to a strong territorial identity (state, region, village…), for example, the Ecomusee d’Alsace or the National Museum of Country Life in Kittochside, Scotland.
Theme 2: the main tools for understanding collections in agriculture museums
- Documents, virtual libraries, film and photo archives…
- events and other festive activities, preservation of skills and intangible heritage
Theme 3 How can agricultural collections contribute to contemporary issues?
- Globalized agriculture, North-South trade, etc.; protectionism, free trade
- Sustainable development: sustainable farming practices, maintenance of know-how
- Retaining populations on farmland: family farming, subsistence farming, regional produce and food products, etc.
- Food self-sufficiency
- Food security, food education, nutrition, etc.
Apposition of collections of different types: archeology, ethnography, natural history, fine arts, contemporary art, etc.
trend towards the spread of trade or skill-related museums in collaboration with businesses or professional groupings
Examples of museum renovations, temporary exhibits, sharing of best practice, etc.
During the Congress, several workshops and meetings will be organized around the work of the late François Sigaut, Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, who encouraged much internationally recognized work on the history and ethnology of agricultural techniques. François Sigaut was a founding member of the French AFMA (Fédération des musées d’agriculture et du patrimoine rural), created specifically to host the AIMA congress in France (1984), and was among the finest connaisseurs of agriculture museums in the world.
contact : http://www.francois-sigaut.com
Speakers will voluntarily limit their presentations to 10-12 minutes.
References to agricultural collections will be quite broad in scope and can include collections of many sorts: archaeological, ethnological, fine arts, contemporary art, natural specimens...
A maximum number of short presentations will allow a greater number of experiences to be shared and will encourage debate.
There will also be space and time alloted for the presentation of posters.
Although, by virtue of the issues addressed, the congress truly has worldwide relevance, the fact that it is being held at the MuCEM
in Marseille may mean greater involvement by European and Mediterranean museums which are also open to other areas of the world where museography is becoming important, such as Asia or Africa.
Provence is a region rich in history, but also in highly diversified agricultural production in Mediterranean climate conditions. As an additional offering to the CIMA 17 conference themes, a post-congress tour will be available from 8 to 10 November in the area, which will include a dense network of agricultural museums, collections, mills, and an interesting living heritage highlighting plants and animals, as well as much savoir-faire in matters of food.
The Congress and the MuCEM context
• The last CIMA to be held in France was in 1984 (CIMA 7), in the former Musée national des Arts et Traditions populaires - MNATP (Paris) and the Abbaye de Saint-Riquier (Somme department), which was a satellite location mainly for agricultural collections.
• 1984 > 2014: The 30-year anniversary of the 1984 Congress will now be hosted by the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM
), successor to the MNATP.
• 2013: Inauguration of the MuCEM
in Marseille with a "Gallery of the Mediterranean" (building J4) devoted to "the dawn of agriculture, an invention of the gods". At the same time, a complete retrospective inventory of the agricultural collections was conducted and they are now housed in a new, specially designed building, the Centre de Conservation et de Ressources (CCR), near the Saint-Charles railway station in Marseilles.
• Being featured in building J4 is a temporary exhibit entitled "FOOD", co-curated by the NGO Art for the World (Geneva) and the MuCEM
, which explores the issue of access to food through contemporary art and a selection of works from the MuCEM
CIMA 17- AIMA
c/o AFMA 15 rue Convention 75015 Paris. France