Workshop on “Collections used in the History of Science”, 2015

Collections used in the History of Science –
Scholarly value, market value, patrimonial value

Organised by Magali Dessagnes (SPHERE, CNRS & Université Paris Diderot, SAW Project), Christine Proust (SPHERE, CNRS & Université Paris Diderot, SAW Project) and the SAW Group
16th of April, 2015 -from 9:30am to 5pm
Bâtiment Condorcet, Room 483A, 10 rue Alice Domon et Léonie Duquet – 75013 Paris


Wendy Shaw (Freie Universität Berlin),
Intersecting Narratives, Interpolating Collections: the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, Abstract
Abstract: This lecture uses schematic graphs to examine the narrative functions of the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin. Arguing that the field of Islamic Art History postulates an imaginary “ideal collection” that is like an ideal line to which each museum aspires, it considers how the real history of collection renders this aim impossible. Rather, it argues that museums would provide a more accurate rendition  of history if they reflected  the history of their own process of collection. Rather than making the museum narrative into a window into the past and onto another culture, such an exhibitionary strategy would allow for multiple vantage points on distant histories in the context of their relationship with European modernity.

Magali Dessagnes (SPHERE, CNRS & Université Paris Diderot, SAW Project)
Elias Géjou, seller of antiquities from Mesopotamia, heart of a network of collectors and scholars, Abstract
Abstract: As part of my researchs, I try to study the circulation of cuneiform tablets (more especially tablets with mathematics content) and the constitution of the collections from the late nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth century. I am particulary interested in a specific aspect in this context of history of collections, which is the market of antiques. This market is difficult to study, because even at this period it is not completly legal, so we have few informations. However, it is also one of the main reasons for the dispersion of antiques coming from the same site in different   collections. For the antiquarian, scientific and historical values of the object seems not to be a priority, he is a merchand so he give them other values, sometimes very different, depending on the case. We naturally think first to the market value.
About Mesopotamian antiquities, starting with the mathematical tablets, it is a name that we can not ignore because he is everywhere. I will try to present him today : Elias Gejou, Parisian antiques dealer. My purpose is to understand through a portrait of Gejou and his activities which values may be attributed to antique objects circulating on the market. This different kind of values of the objects could justify their entry into a collection more than another.
There is no doubt about the participation of Elias Gejou in the formation of major European collections (and even American) during his period of activity. This is what we can find him in the archives of these collections. The case of Elias Gejou is important because he is in the same time present everywhere and poorly documented. He provided almost all major public and private collections of his time, and yet he did not leave many traces, just a few allusions in archives. And more important, for now, I didn’t find any personal archives. However, with the documentation we have about this merchand, we can reconstruct some of its methods. And we can try to better understand the character. It seems that it was not, as we shall see, a simple trader on the antiques market, but he has a much more complex profile.

Round table chaired by Florence Bretelle-Establet with the participation of Agathe Keller (SPHERE, CNRS & Université Paris Diderot, SAW Project) and Jens Høyrup (Roskilde University, Denmark)

This workshop was organized in the context of the seminar “History of science, History of text”, year 2014-2015 which programme is available here.