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Atlases in modern and contemporary artistic and scientific culture: representing, organising, and preserving knowledge and objects

Period: 2012 - 2016

The research project, initiated in 2012 and hosted at the Ecole Française de Rome, originates with a question: beyond the current surge of interest in atlases, manifest in the various above-mentioned works, is there a coherence, a common underlying form, to the productions in these very diversified fields? If there is, how could it be characterised? More generally, can research on the atlas uncover a simultaneously transversal and foundational structure in modern artistic and scientific cultures?

To answer this question, the proposed research maintains as a principal hypothesis that the common feature of these various inquiries appears to be an interest in the form of atlas itself, or rather, in the atlas as an editorial and graphic form of creation, visualisation and organisation of knowledge, images and objects. Considered independently of its contents (particularly geographical), but rather from the vantage point of the visual and graphic strategies it enables and deploys, the atlas is an extremely efficient form of writing, which allows for the recording and the visual presentation of information, as well as for the archival, preservation, organisation and transportation of documents; these documents may be of cartographic, iconographic or photographic nature. The form of the atlas further allows for the composition of knowledge and objects, or even the production of new knowledge through new parallels and combinations, i.e. a reconfiguration and restructuring within the atlas itself. The efficiency of the atlas form is due to its flexibility as well as its inherent incompletion: because the atlas is subject to a rule of accumulation, it is always possible to add an extra page or sheet. Such a combination of rigour and openness in composition is undoubtedly what has captured the attention of scholars and artists in their search for adequate forms of expression.
The objective of this research project, a collective, interdisciplinary and international endeavour, is to propose a history of the atlas form in the modern and contemporary era.

Institutional Partners


UMR Géographie-cités (CNRS, Paris 1, Paris 7)
Equipe EHGO (Epistemology and History of Geography)
Contact: Jean-Marc Besse

École Française de Rome
Department of Modern and Contemporary History
Contact: François Dumasy

Erfurt University
Historisches Seminar, Forschungsbibliothek Gotha et Forschungszentrum
Contact: Susanne Rau

Centro de Historia de Além-Mar
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Lsisbon University)
Contact: Angelo Cattaneo

Researchers participating in the project

F. Andrieux (ENSAP, Lille), J.-M. Besse (CNRS, head of the project), Z. Biedermann (Birkbeck College, Londres), H. Blais (Université Paris 10, IUF), T. Castro (Université Paris 3), A. Cattaneo (CHAM, Lisbonne), M.-D. Couzinet (Université Paris 1), A. Curvelo (CHAM, Lisbonne), J. Dym (Skidmore College), G. H. Herb (Middlebury College), C. Hofmann (BNF, Paris), I. Kantor (Université de Sao Paulo), P. Militello (Université de Catane), G. Palsky (Université Paris 1), S. Rau (Université d’Erfurt), N. Safier (Université de Colombie britannique, Vancouver), M. Schramm (Université de Chemnitz), A. Schunka (Université d’Erfurt), A. Somaini (Université Paris III), A. Stopani (Université de Turin), G. Tiberghien (Université Paris 1), S. Van Damme (Ecole Nationale des Sciences politiques, Paris), N. Verdier (CNRS, Paris), P. Weigel (Forschungsbibliothek Gotha).

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