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The Collège de France Institute of Civilizations

Thomas Römer
Cet article est une traduction de :
L’Institut des civilisations du Collège de France

Notes de la rédaction

Interview by Sarah Lacoste, Cultural Affairs and External Relations Division

Source: La lettre, no. 39, March 2015

Texte intégral

1The Cardinal-Lemoine site will undergo an important phase of internal and external redevelopment. The building work, which should start in the summer of 2016, will be completed in 2018 / 2019. The entire site will then become the Collège de France Institute of Civilizations.

Can you present the organization of this new structure?

Until now, the Cardinal-Lemoine site hosted a number of Chairs that were established there ad hoc, and that happened to bring together research interests as well as highly specialized libraries. Many of these had no equivalent in France or even in the rest of the world. From there came the idea of creating an institute of civilizations, to give them more visibility. The Institute therefore has a concrete reality: it is a site that belongs to the Collège de France and that brings together professors, researchers and libraries, following a certain rationale.

The Institute will be comprised of four centres, which represent its main orientations:

The anthropology centre, established around Prof. Philippe Descola’s Chair, which studies the foundation of all these civilizations: human beings. Quite logically, this centre comes first. It hosts the very large Anthropology Library that we inherited from Claude Lévi-Strauss (Social Anthropology, 1959-1982).

The Ancient Mediterranean centre, covering the whole Mediterranean basin, and which corresponds to our Western culture. It hosts the large Byzantine Library, already on site, and the Library of Turkish Studies, around two Chairs that have just been created: Ancient Byzantium, and the Origins of Islam. Either concretely or simply through collaboration, this centre will be completed with Chairs studying the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations: currently that of Prof. John Scheid (Religion, Institutions and Society in Ancient Rome), and previously that of Prof. Denis Knoepfler (Epigraphy and History of the Ancient Greek Cities, 2003-2014).

The Ancient Near-East centre. It hosts the Libraries of Assyriology and Western Semitic Studies, which until now were part of the Ancient Near East Institute (this name will probably be changed for clarity). Add to this of course Egypt and its large library, and all of the Near East is represented. This centre is therefore currently comprised of three Chairs: that of Prof. Nicolas Grimal (Pharaonic Civilization: Archaeology, Philology, History), that of Prof. Dominique Charpin (Mesopotamian Civilization), and my own Chair of the Hebrew Bible and its Contexts.

The Ancient Far East centre, which includes documentary collections extending from Iran and Iraq to Japan. It brings together the Chair of Prof. Anne Cheng (Intellectual History of China) which studies Confucian philosophy, that of Prof. Jean-Noël Robert (Philology of Japanese Civilization) on Japan and its Buddhist traditions, and that of Prof. Frantz Grenet (History and Cultures of Pre-Islamic Central Asia), which links up the Near East and the Far East.

The African and American continents are of course still missing, although they already feature in the research of the anthropology centre. The Institute of Civilizations already includes a considerable number of people who offer different perspectives on these different civilizations.

What are the missions of the Institute of Civilizations?

The purpose of the Institute of Civilizations is really to foster knowledge sharing across boundaries – the interdisciplinarity so dear to the Collège de France. It will not just be an adminis-
trative grouping, but a very concrete reality, which will materialize through common activities. In addition to bringing the libraries together on the same site, the Institute will organize interdisciplinary symposia, as well as more long-term projects (of the ANR type), in which several but not necessarily all the professors will be involved around common questions. The Institute will also endeavour to forge contacts with colleagues from other universities, in Paris, in France and abroad. It will continue to host research teams, as is already the case, notably for the geographical area of Korea.

The Institute of Civilizations also has the mission of joining together two things that until now were sometimes difficult to reconcile: the permanence of the libraries and the in-
dependence of the Chairs, which may not be renewed with the same title. The idea is the following: when a professor retires, the libraries must have sufficient consistency, thanks to the librarians and the resident research teams, to allow for real continuity, irrespective of the nature of the new Chairs subsequently created.

We thus wish to protect the great freedom that the Collège de France has for reorganizing itself at the level of the Chairs, while maintaining excellence for the libraries. This is possible only if there is continuity in the libraries activities and supervision.

How will Institute’s libraries function?

The professors concerned agree on the fact that we should not create a single large library. The four centres will each have their own, identifiable and highly specialized libraries, which will allow the professors and the Chair teams to communicate directly with the relevant library. In fact the researchers’ offices will be at the very heart of the libraries, which are the equivalent, for the humanities, of laboratories for scientific disciplines. Groupings will of course be possible, but that remains to be defined.

Following an essential research approach, these libraries will be free and open to researchers, including those who are not directly linked to the Chairs and who may come from elsewhere: PhD students, or Master’s students recommended by their supervisor.

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Référence électronique

Thomas Römer, « The Collège de France Institute of Civilizations », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 9 | 2015, mis en ligne le 29 septembre 2015, consulté le 18 août 2019. URL :

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