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    30-09-2023 - Ore 23:59
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    Colloquium 25-26 mars 2024

    INALCO, Paris, France 


    Madalina Vârtejanu-Joubert (PLIDAM/Inalco), Alexandra Kolakovic (Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Belgrade), Nicolas Pitsos (CREE/Inalco, BULAC)

    Scientific Comittee:

    Gilles Bertrand (Université Grenoble Alpes), Simona Corlan-Ioan (Université de Bucarest), Blanche El-Gammal (Université Paris Nanterre), Didier Francfort (Université de Lorraine), Cristina Ion (Bibliothèque Nationale de France), Sarga Moussa (CNRS, UMR THALIM), Frosa Pejoska-Bouchereau (INALCO), Sylvain Venayre (Université Grenoble Alpes)

    For Silvestre de Sacy, knowledge of distant countries and peoples can only be gained after "long and arduous preparation", and mainly through "language and travel". Yet "distant" is a relative notion, like that of the Orient, to which this symposium is dedicated. How journeys create the "Orient" is the question we're asking here. 

    Throughout the whole 19th century, the Orient and its imaginary world inspired artists, painters, and writers, as well as political theorists, diplomats and their governments. The construction of the Orient was both a field of knowledge, circumscribing a field of scientific knowledge, and the site of many fantasies. For some, the journey to the Orient was a true initiation, an integral part of their education, as well as a source of inspiration generating representations of the Other, of Elsewhere, of the Past. For others, who approached the Orient primarily from a political perspective, it was sometimes a place of ideal projection, sometimes a territory of contrasts and tensions. While the Saint-Simonians saw it as fertile ground for the implementation of their theories, the actors of foreign policy found it a highly mined terrain bringing them to grips with the inextricable knot of the "Oriental Question".

    The vogue for travel to the Orient began with Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt, the Grand Tour to the East and the great archaeological discoveries of the 19th century. It underwent a major transformation with the opening of the Orient-Express at the end of the 19th century. Although initially not very accessible, as a privilege of certain socio-cultural elites, travel to the Orient gradually became more democratic in the wake of technological advances in the field of transport. The transition from a solitary undertaking to a collective experience was coincident with the advent of mass tourism, which led to a certain disenchantment among some travelers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Combining a sense of conquest with a taste for adventure, travel to the Orient - essentially through the countries that made up the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean - was bound to revive the nostalgia aroused by archaeological discoveries, which on the one hand helped to broaden factual knowledge of ancient civilizations, and on the other, encouraged in-depth reflection on the past of the regions visited. At the crossroads of the modern world and the perception of otherness, these voyages were at the origin of certain social representations and bonds of sociability.

    In this colloquium, we propose to study how the travelers crossing the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, between the “Grand Tour en Orient” and the Orient-Express, were able to apprehend these countries, their inhabitants, and their past. Our aim is to explore the social representations of travelers, as well as those of the populations they visited. Without limiting ourselves to reproducing the classic schemes for understanding these discourses, indebted to Edward Saïd, we shall historicize, contextualize and define these ambivalent perceptions according to the geopolitical considerations, ideological orientations, and personal affinities of those who produced these discourses.  In parallel, we'd like to study the sociability offered by ships and trains, such as the Orient-Express and its successor, the Simplon-Orient-Express, as well as its Asian extension leading to Iraq and Egypt, the Taurus-Express.

    This project is seeking to answer the following questions:

    Can the study of the interactions between elites from different horizons help us to better define notions such as cosmopolitanism, transnationalism and inter-culturalism?

    How should we understand these journeys, which are often affected by political change: as a network or as a plane?

    Should we think of them as the passage from one point to another, ignoring intermediate distances, or as a continuous line?

    How does the publication of news stories in the press contribute to the creation of a collective imaginary?

    What are the consequences of the new phenomenon of standardized, internationalized production of postcards and souvenirs?

    What does the photographic production of the 19th and early 20th centuries tell us about the Orient and the evolution of its imaginary frontiers?

    Finally, from the Grand Tour to the great archaeological digs, did travelers also become collectors, and in so doing, did they make a decisive contribution to the creation of museums?

    Contact Info: 

    Proposals (500 words) must be sent by September 30, 2023 to The organizers will forward the scientific committee's responses by October 30, 2023.

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