FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en Sciences humaines et sociales

The development of Ethnology in France and Germany: A History of entanglement – Anthropos

Histoire croisée of French and German ethnology at the turn of the 20th century

In the first half of the 20th century, German and French scientific traditions and institutional settings evolved in sometimes very different ways. As for ethnology, certain links between the two respective national epistemologies can be observed, allowing for an interesting study of their «histoire croisée«. This ANR-DFG project aims to do just that.

General objective

The period of formation of ethnology raises several questions that have been addressed during the four years of the Anthropos project. These were 1) the interactions with neighbouring disciplines, 2) the specific concepts of temporality, 3) the apprehension of the field (terrain) as an example of concrete application, and 4) the production of knowledge and collections pertaining to Africa. These subjects were treated by specialists that were invited through calls for application and selection validated by the scientific board; occasionally, renowned experts have been invited directly. The goal was to delimit theses questions in an exhaustive manner and to confront different (sometimes opposite) points of view, so as to identify their pertinence.

In the first half of the 20th century, the evolution of the institutional environment and scientific traditions in Germany and France has in some respects been very different. There have been however certain «front lines« between the national particularities which also were points of convergence - especially in ethnology -, a fact that allowed for very promising research in the manner of histoire croisée. The aim of the project and its use of the histoire croisée concept was to clarify how the research themes of the day evolved within the respective scientific matrices and whether they did so in a parallel, antagonistic or interpenetrative manner. Particular attention has been paid to the establishment and dissemination of German and French ethnological knowledge (later on enriched by interactions with African countries) in the respective cultural areas.

The different approaches (and surprising interacting) of French and German ethnology with regard to their research designs, objects, methodology, structures and individual relations have been treated in a two-fold manner: through intensive personal research on the one hand, and through the organisation of a series of conferences and workshops for advanced researches as well as young talents on the other, allowing for a Franco-German dialogue. These research activities have led to new insights into the first ethnological-scientific expeditions, the creation of ethnological collections, and the history of the reception of their exhibition (see in particular Georget/ Ivanoff/ Kuba, 2016). This research has also led to the interpretation of the then constituted collections as a symbiosis of art and ethnology. This realisation has had considerable influence on the conception of the three exhibitions that have jointly been organised by Richard Kuba, Hélène Ivanoff and Jean-Louis Georget with their various partners. The project director for the ANR-side has also produced, together with Daniel Vigne, a documentary on the ethnology of the Third Reich that was aired on France 5 on February 12th, 2017.

One result of the research project Anthropos was the realisation that an important link between ethnology and prehistory exists. This link is analysed in detail in the research project Anthropos 2.
In fact, the histoire croisée-approach to ethnology led necessarily to the analysis of its links with neighbouring disciplines, namely prehistory, which were fertile. This becomes particular visible when taking into account the hybrid methodological practices, the similar approaches to material culture and the «other« (whether geographically or temporally distant), the common institutions and associations, and the transnational relations between French and German scientists. These interactions between specialists of ethnology and prehistory are analysed in Anthropos 2, for example with respect to their concepts of ethnos and culture. The analysis will reach from the relative unity of theses disciplines when they emerged at the end of the 19th century (they shared e.g. the concept of ethnographic comparison or the evolutionist, later diffusionist paradigm) to the «divorce« between ethnology and prehistory in the 1950s when these hypotheses were strongly questioned - namely by André Leroi-Gourhan - and the two disciplines became consolidated in their autonomy from or even opposition to each other following World War 2. This phenomenon had obvious political traits in Germany, where this question was first closely linked to the search for origins and then to the «Germanentum« of the Third Reich, combining the two disciplines and plunging them into silence and non-communication after the war. The second ANR-DFG programme will further disseminate these findings pertaining to ethnology and prehistory to a large public through various events.

«Ethnologie, préhistoire et esthétique« (public talk) ;
«Art de la préhistoire : images rupestres de la collection Leo Frobenius« (exhibition, Gropius-Bau, Berlin) ;
«Grottes : paléontologie, philologie et anthropologie (1800-2015) « (conference, Gropius-Bau, Berlin) ;
Franco-German doctoral workshop on museology (Gropius-Bau) ;
«Les usages de la temporalité dans les sciences sociales« (public talk) ;
«Savoirs ethnologiques et collections africaines (1850-1950) – Production, circulation, patrimonialisation dans les espaces francophones et germanophones« (public talk) ;
«Médiations africaines dans la construction et la réappropriation d'un savoir ethnologique« (public talk) ;
«Les médiateurs africains de l’ethnologie allemande« (exhibition, musée T. Monod and Goethe-institute, Dakar)
«Saisir le terrain / Terrain und Kultur II – Médias de la connaissance de l’espace« (conference, Zurich)
«Les deux ethnologies d’outre-Rhin« (seminar)

Publications :
Richard Kuba, Hélène Ivanoff et Magueye Kassé (eds.) (2017), Art rupestre : de la contribution africaine à la découverte d’un patrimoine universel.
Jean-Louis, Georget, Gaëlle Hallair et Bernhard Tschofen (eds.) (2017), Saisir le terrain ou l’invention des sciences empiriques en France et en Allemagne.
Karl-Heinz Kohl, Richard Kuba et Hélène Ivanoff (eds.) (2016), Kunst der Vorzeit. Felsbilder aus der Sammlung Frobenius.
Karl-Heinz Kohl, Richard Kuba, Hélène Ivanoff et Benedikt Burkard (eds.) (2016), Kunst der Vorzeit. Texte zu den Felsbildern der Sammlung Frobenius.
Jean-Louis Georget, Hélène Ivanoff et Richard Kuba (eds.) (2016), Kulturkreise. Leo Frobenius und seine Zeit.

During the first half of the 20th century, the scientific traditions of and institutional settings in Germany and France evovled in quite differently. With respect to ethnology however, intersections between the two respective epistemologies existed which render the exploration of their histoire croisée interesting. The objective of this project is to illustrate how the two academic realms influenced each other – be it in concurrent or antagonistic ways or by borrowing from each other – in the sense of histoire croisée. The scope will be to highlight particularly how ethnologic knowledge was received and disseminated in Germany and France respectively and later on in a form of reciprocity via African countries. The scientists partaking in this programme will focus on the ethnologists' methods, the knowledge they acquired through exchanges and their supporting institutions in Germany and France respectively. At the heart of this scientific inquiry will be figures of ethnology in Germany – Adolf Bastian, Franz Boas, Friedrich Ratzel, Leo Frobenius, Richard Thurnwald, Felix von Luschan, Bernhard Ankermann – as well as those of sociology, ethnology, art history, archeology, and prehistory in France – Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, Georges-Henri Rivière, Paul Rivet, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Henri Breuil, Christian Zervos – due to their mutual contacts and the interconnections that exist between the epistemic disciplines they helped to create.

Since ethnology then still was a discipline in the process of institutionalisation, a histoire croisée of ethnologic knowledge also has to consider its links to adjacent disciplines. Subsequently, the africanists' knowledge as well as its fabrication and reappropriation in France and Germany (following African procurement) will come into focus. An international network of scientists – partially already in place – will thus work on the history of the development of ethnology and of the africanist knowledge in Europe relating to these adjacent fields of study. To this end, conferences will be held, exhibitions be organised, and works be published also in the aim of disseminating the know-how in the field of ethnology and prehistory that primarily pertain to the African continent.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Jean-Louis GEORGET (UMR 8131)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Goethe Universität Frankfurt institut Frobenius

Help of the ANR 141,450 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 30 Months

Useful links

Explorez notre base de projets financés



ANR makes available its datasets on funded projects, click here to find more.

Sign up for the latest news:
Subscribe to our newsletter