Mediating Museums

Exhibiting Material Culture in Tunisia (1881-2016)


This book documents and interprets the trajectory of ethnographic museums in Tunisia from the colonial to the post-revolutionary period, demonstrating changes and continuities in role, setting and architecture across shifting ideological landscapes. The display of everyday culture in museums is generally looked down upon as being kitsch and old-fashioned. This research shows that, in Tunisia, ethnographic museums have been highly significant sites in the definition of social identities. They have worked as sites that diffuse social, economic and political tensions through a vast array of means, such as the exhibition itself, architecture, activities, tourism, and consumerism. The book excavates the evolution of paradigms in which Tunisian popular identity has been expressed through the ethnographic museum, from the modernist notion of 'indigenous authenticity' under colonial time, to efforts at developing a Tunisian ethnography after Independence, and more recent conceptions of cultural diversity since the revolution. Based on a combination of archival research in Tunisia and in France, participant observation and interviews with past and present protagonists in the Tunisian museum field, this research brings to light new material on an understudied area.

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Virginie Rey holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include cultural representations in museums in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Islamic visual culture in the West. She is currently a research affiliate in the Department of Anthropology and the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies, at the University of California, Irvine.

List of Figures
Notes on Transliteration


Part 1: Mapping Tunisian Material Culture (1881-1956)

Introduction to Part 1
1 Artisanship Revival in the Maghreb
2 The Tunisian Arts

Part 2: Ethnographic Objects (1957-1980)

Introduction to Part 2
3 Le centre des arts et traditions populaires
4 Les musées d’arts et traditions populaires
5 Carving a Modern Tunisian Identity in Traditions
6 Le patrimoine vivant

Part 3: Patrimonialisation (1985-2011)

Introduction to Part 3
7 Turning Traditional Culture into Heritage
8 The Heteronomous Pole of Cultural Production
9 Museums and Communities

Part 4: Revolutionary Museums (2011-2015)

Introduction to Part 4
10 The Field of Museum Production
11 The Journey of an Ethnographic Museum from the Colonial to the Post-Revolutionary

Anyone interested in the fields of museum studies, anthropology, postcolonial studies, heritage studies in the Middle East and North Africa.
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