Dictionnaire encyclopédique de muséologie, edited by André Desvallées and François Mairesse. Paris: Armand Colin, 2011. 732 p, 48 plates. Encyclopaedic articles on 21 terms, selective 500 word dictionary with definitions, bibliography, amply illustrated in colour; in French.
The Dictionnaire encyclopédique de muséologie, produced by the members of ICOFOM and supported by ICOM, is a momentous publication with a long, ambitious history. In 1978 the ICOM Executive Council adopted the project of a Traité de muséologie, with an outline prepared by Georges Henri Rivière that proposed four volumes. Rivière was already 80 years old at the time, and could no longer lead the work for the years that it would require.
The year before, 1977, at its General Assembly Moscow, in addition to founding the International Committee for Museology (ICOFOM), ICOM launched an appeal to the ”Committees of ICOM to submit their proposals for a uniform museological terminology...” The result was the publication in 1986 by the Hungarian National Committee of ICOM of the Dictionarium, Museologicaum – a volume listing museological terms in 20 different languages, but without definitions.
In 1993 Martin Schärer, then President of ICOFOM, proposed the compilation a dictionary of selected museological subjects with defining articles and a choice of museological terms in a thesaurus form – a project adopted and led by André Desvallées with international collaboration. Joined by François Mairesse as Co-Editor in 2008, with a broad group of museology writers, the impressive result is what we have today.
A brochure of 83 pages entitled Key Concepts of Museology with an introduction to each of the 21 fundamental terms chosen for discussion in major articles, published by Armand Colin and edited by André Desvallées and François Mairesse, was distributed in four languages (French, English, Spanish and Chinese) at the ICOM General Assembly in Shanghai. It is in part an appeal to make a translation of the entire volume, which includes a selective dictionary of 500 fully defined terms mentioned in the articles. In itself this brochure is an introduction to the fundamentals of museology.
Why is this major publication in French, and right now in French only? A quote from the introduction in the brochure explains this choice:
The French-speaking museal world in the ICOM dialogue
Why did we choose a committee with almost exclusively French speakers? Many reasons explain this choice, most but not all of them practical ones. We know that the idea of an international and perfectly harmonious collective work is a utopian vision, when not everyone shares a common language (scientific or not). The international committees of ICOM are well aware of this situation, which, to avoid the risk of a Babel, leads them to favour one language – English – today’s lingua franca. Naturally, the choice of the smallest common denominator works to the benefit of those who master the language, often to the detriment of many others less familiar with the tongue of Shakespeare who are forced to present their thoughts only in a caricatured version. Using one of the three ICOM languages (English, French and Spanish) was unavoidable, but which one? The nationality of the first contributors, under the direction of André Desvallées (who had worked for many years with Georges Henri Rivière, the first Director of ICOM and the founder of French museology) quickly led to the selection of French, but there were other arguments in its favour. Most of the contributors can read if not all three, then at least two of the ICOM languages, even though their command may be far from perfect. We are familiar with the wealth of Anglo-American contributions in the museum field, but we must point out that most of these authors – with some notable exceptions, such as the emblematic figures of Patrick Boylan and Peter Davis, read neither French nor Spanish. The choice of French in connection, we hope, with a fairly good knowledge of foreign literature, allowed us to embrace, if not all contributions in the museum field then at least some of its aspects which are not generally explored but which are very important for ICOM. We are however aware of the limits of our research and hope that this work will inspire other teams to present, in their own language (German or Italian, for example), a different approach to the museum field.
This major work is a volume that should be in every museology – and museum – library; many museologists will want their own copy. We hope that the members of ICOFOM will help to ensure this.