Biodiversity is at the core of research at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. As a result, researchers at the Musée de l’Homme work on the interactions between humans and the environment, but they also develop their own research on the human species: its evolution and its biological and cultural diversity, thus powerfully reaffirming the laboratory-museum concept.
Creating the laboratory-museum
In 1925, three of the Museum’s scientists – Paul Rivet, Marcel Mauss, and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl – founded the Institut d’ethnologie de l’Université de Paris (Paris University Institute of Ethnology). Paul Rivet considered ethnology as a science of synthesis that studied Mankind in its entirety. In 1928, Rivet took over as head of the Musée d’ethnographie (Museum of Ethnography), breathing new life into it with the help of young museum designer Georges-Henri Rivière. The new museum concept, which reorganised to be more scientific, was a precursor for the creation of a new museum: the Musée de l’Homme.
From its creation in 1938, the Musée de l’Homme was designed as a laboratory-museum, bringing together a museum, a major research laboratory, a library and a centre for higher education. The innovative project involved grouping all of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle’s collections related to mankind in the same location. Thus the collections from the anthropology and prehistory gallery joined the ethnology collections from the former Musée d’ethnographie. Thus all the requirements were met to approach – in Paul Rivet’s own words – “Humans as one and indivisible in space and in time”.
Research today: a unifying entity, a project unique in Europe
That is how Paul Rivet, its founder, summarised the Musée de l’Homme’s aim:
The laboratory-museum legacy (a museum, collections, a library, a centre for education, technological platforms and researchers), combined with the recognition of human sciences’ contribution to addressing current issues (climate change, loss of biodiversity and the future of our species) create an environment conducive to new research dynamics at the Musée de l’Homme.
Ethnologists, ethnobiologists, ethnomusicologists, primatologists, geneticists, palaeoanthropologists and prehistorians mix together, sharing the same offices and technological platforms which leads to the exchange of ideas and collaboration. Human contact and sharing are thus the basis of the interdisciplinary nature that characterises human sciences research at the Musée de l’Homme, and the Museum more widely. Thus prehistorians working with fossils and tools dating back 2 million years or even longer cross paths with primatologists who are interested in the behaviour of our cousins, the apes. They also encounter and exchange with ethnologists, ethnobiologists who explore contemporary societies and biological anthropologists who study human diversity. This collaboration is strengthened by the presence of young researchers and many masters’ students and doctoral candidates.
An original contribution
The Museum’s researchers’ national and international reputation, their expertise and the unifying dynamics at work within the Musée de l’Homme provide an original contribution, putting humans’ biological, cultural and social data, from prehistoric to contemporary times, into perspective. A driving force, both at national and international level, when it comes to understanding our past, the museum is also an environment for discussion, for assessing our species’ capacity to imagine scenarios for the future.
Find out more
This research is carried out by the “Man & the Environment” department of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle.
This department is made up of 4 research units, 2 of which are based at the Musée de l’Homme:
- UMR 7209 Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements (AASPE – Zooarchaeology, Paleoethnobotany: Societies, Practices and Environments)
- UMR 8560 Centre Alexandre Koyré (CAK – Alexandre Koyré Centre)
- UMR 7204 Centre d'écologie et des sciences de la conservation (CESCO – Centre for Ecology and Conservation Sciences)
- UMR 7206 Éco-anthropologie (EA – Ecological Anthropology) based at the Musée de l’Homme
- UMR 7194 Histoire naturelle de l’homme préhistorique (HNHP – Natural History of Prehistoric Man)
- UMR 208 Patrimoines locaux, environnement et globalisation (PALOC – Local Heritage, Environment and Globalisation) based at the Musée de l’Homme
All these research units are actively working on research topics developed at the Musée de l’Homme.