EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 01 Nov 2023 | 17:00–18:30

Champollion, Appropriation and Repair: French Universalism and the Politics of Memory

Markus Messling (Universität des Saarlandes / ERC Minor Universality), Chair: Leyla Dakhli (CNRS / ERC DREAM)

Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

Jean-François Champollion is a hero of French republicanism. Streets, squares, and schools bear his name. It is his statue that stands in front of the country’s most important educational institution, the Collège de France, sculpted by none other than Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty in New York. If Napoleon’s France staged itself as heir to the universally human civilization that many believed to have begun in Egypt, then Champollion’s philological achievement was to underwrite this claim. Champollion is thus known today mainly for deciphering the hieroglyphs. The social significance of Champollion’s life and thought, however, remains for us to discover, and one telling place to start is the same marble statue at the Collège de France. Restored to shine brightly in white to mark the bicentenary of the deciphering, it has long provoked criticism from Egyptian intellectuals and politicians. This marble figure thus serves as a focal point for fundamental questions about traditions and reparations of the French republic, in that its visual claims appear to be as contradictory as Champollion’s own consciousness of the world.
 

Markus Messling is full professor of Romance literatures and comparative literary and cultural studies at Saarland University where he and his team conduct the research project “Minor Universality. Narrative World Productions After Western Universalism” funded by the European Research Council. He has held fellowships and visiting professorships at the Institute for Advanced Study/University of London and Cambridge University, at EHESS Paris and Kobe University, Japan. His book on Jean-François Champollion has been translated into French, Arabic, and English (Philology and the Appropriation of the World: Champollion’s Hieroglyphs. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2023). From April 2024 on, he will be director of the Käte Hamburger Research Centre for Cultural Practices of Reparation (CURE) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Leyla Dakhli is senior-researcher in Modern History at the French Center for National Research (CNRS). Her work deals with the study of Arab intellectuals and social history of the South Mediterranean region, with a particular focus on the history of women. She also explores the history and politics of languages, archives and revolts in Tunisia. She is the Principal Investigator of the ERC-founded program DREAM (DRafting and Enacting the Revolutions in the Arab Mediterranean. In Search for Dignity from the 1950s until Today). Leyla Dakhli is part of the Arab Council for Social Science working Group “Gendering the Archive in the Middle East and North Africa” and the Berlin-based CO2LIBRI working group “Conceptual Collaboration: Living Borderless Research Interaction”, a research cooperation between Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient.

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