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ANR PANSER - Southern natural heritage : a small-scale global history

The ANR PANSER project aims to contribute to produce a global history of the cultural heritage instrumentation, on the basis of the Ethiopian documentation and considering the area from the equatorial Africa to the China Sea. The objective is to follow accross the 20th century the participants (botanists or foresters, geographs or advisors, experts or consultants) who circulate in green spaces, to the point that create an Afro-Asian bio-patrimonial area.


Illustration : Gich Village (Simien, Ethiopia), November 2013 (destroyed in June 2016)


In 1959, at the behest of Emperor Haile Selassie, Unesco sent John Blower to Addis Ababa to guide the functioning of the Ethiopian national parks. Formerly a game warden in British Kenya, Blower wrote upon arrival that : "As democracy does not yet threaten Ethiopia, we can still save its nature". Over the course of the next fifteen years, Blower supervised the management and the implementation of the Ethiopian national parks and, in doing so, the expulsion of their inhabitants, who were considered detrimental to a once pristine and luxuriant African Eden, now overcrowded and deforested. The Ethiopian leaders, far from being helpless victims of a green neocolonialism, received the honour of seeing their parks classified as World Heritage Sites, and obtained the associated funding to impose them along the borders, the lands populated by nomads and the bush, i.e. in secessionist territories.

Ethiopian documentation provides us with an ideal vantage point from which to examine and construct a global history of heritage programs. The same can be said for the archive funds identified by the other members of the PANSER-project. In Cambodia and Malaysia, two initially very different colonial policies converged, after independence, towards the adoption of similar international norms ; however, the policies in Malaysia focused on concerted territorial management while conversely, in Cambodia, the policies were carried out by coercively controlling the local actors. For its part, the Congo case seems to be characterized by greater continuity. From the colonial era to the Democratic Republic, tensions between the elitist appropriation of hunting resources and the adaptations by the locals to the marginalization of native uses deeply marked the evolution of a global conservationism. Finally, in regions as diverse as Zanzibar, the Seychelles and Vietnam, research on protected areas suggests that, in 1900 as in 2017, European and American "heritage makers" have constructed global models of knowledge and government and imposed them on both nature and people by relying on the comings and goings between different African and Asian areas.

These processes are a key point of focus for the project, which aims to investigate from 1900 to 2017 the trajectories of experts (foresters or agronomists, then biologists and experts, ecologists and consultants) who move from one natural space to another, as a way to build a global history of interventions upon environment and heritage. From Equatorial Africa to the South China Sea, focusing upon these interconnected histories in the relevant local territories aims at tracing from below the history of encounters, negotiations and struggles which paved the way, in the twentieth century, towards the construction of an Afro-Asian bio-heritage area.

PANSER will be structured around individual works – each contributor will study his/her archives – and around collective research – the common study of these archives will lead to the construction of a comparative, connected study of an Afro-Asian region. Indeed, if this region is in essence heterogeneous, the circulation of scientists, experts, then consultants from national park to national park encourages its study as a territory in and of itself. Thus, this is the main objective of this project : to study different histories of heritage in order to build a small-scale, global history of natural heritage in the South.

By intermingling field and archive work for 36 months, PANSER will culminate in the construction of an archive database, the training of a post-doctoral fellow, the organization of both an international symposium and a summer school, and the publication of both a special issue of an academic journal and of a synthetic book for a wider public. This history of the global invention of heritage should thereby allow us to think about the environment in the southern areas of the world in terms of adaptation rather than degradation.

ANR membres

Guillaume Blanc, Assistant professor in contemporary history, University of Rennes 2 (Tempora, EA 7468)
Mathieu Guérin, Assistant professor in contemporary history, Inalco (CASE, UMR 8170)
Violette Pouillard, Post-doctoral assistant in contemporary history (2017-2021), Ghent University (ECC) (Belgique)
Grégory Quenet, University professor in history of the environment 17th – 21th centuries, University of Versailles St-Quentin (CHCSC)