An in/divisible whole : time, space, and technologies of mediation in the Musée de l'Homme
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This thesis examines the development of cinema as part of the broader institutional ecology of the Musée de l’Homme between the 1930s and 1960s. In particular, it asks how film was used to analyse, illustrate, promote, and critique the emerging synergistic theorisation of the unity of humanity as – in the words of the museum’s first director, Paul Rivet – an “indivisible whole, not only in space, but also in time”. Film was adopted by the community of the museum in diverse and innovative ways to bridge numerous paradoxes and lacunae that arose in the institution’s mission and practices. These included how to foster feelings of identification between visitors and various kinds of ‘others’ represented in the museum; how to depict shared human connection across scale, from the particular to the universal; and how to interrelate different orders of information, including anthropological theory, scientific data, museum collections, and the perspectives of visitors. Film, here, integrated various facets of the museum in unique medium-specific ways that most fully actualised the institution’s theories. By examining its place in the museum, I analyse film as what I term a ‘technology of mediation’, tracing its singular capacity to bring otherwise discrete ontological orders into relationship. Methodologically, this involves examining film’s position within the expanded field of the museum, and how it was used to interact with and respond to disjunctures in institutional theory and practice. This thesis is the first extended analysis of the use of film in the Musée de l’Homme. It contributes to the study of film in institutional settings beyond ‘the cinema’, highlighting film’s understudied mediatory qualities. It also offers a novel model for engaging with history and theory, not as ‘context’, but rather as a broader institutional assemblage of which film is a part, and centrally mediates.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2025-12-11
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Electronic copy restricted until 11th December 2025
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