Projet de recherche: “Ces chers voisins”

“Ports and rivers”

The project called « Ces chers voisins » has generated a series of conferences, workshops and publications since 2006. In this context, a new project entitled « Ports et fleuves » (Ports and Rivers) has been conceived. As its name indicates, the idea is to take into account an economic component that, on the one hand, plays a central role in the GDP of the countries under consideration and, on the other hand, is conducive to create a melting pot of cultures and to be stimulated by it at the same time.

Serving as interface between overseas territories and European hinterlands, the ports of the European north-west shoreline are places of transfer for material goods. This makes them trading posts of the West, whose symbolic importance is as immense today as it was in the past.

Ports are settling places for alien as well as specific communities, e.g. the Jewish one, from which social and cultural influences spread. They are venues on which so many migrants converge to embark, transforming them into cosmopolitan crossroads of the “Wretched of the Earth. They constitute a source of inspiration for a multitude of long-hauled, imaginary journeys.

Representing specific challenges in terms of political, economic and social governance, the ports that will be considered – from Le Havre to Bremen via Antwerp, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and London – are mainly located in the mouth or upstream of the mouth of important rivers, from the Seine to the Elbe, including the «Golden Delta» (the Scheldt, the Meuse, the Rhine), and the Weser.

There is a vast body of literature dedicated to port cities and rivers considered on an individual basis. However, studies adopting a comparative or transnational perspective on the subject are few. Likewise, no research has been published yet on the Hinterlands and the spaces they constitute, except for older periods.

Taking a long period of time into consideration, this project aims to “Europeanize” the issues that will be dealt with. The purpose is to highlight the respective convergences and divergences in order to ensure a better understanding of the common features forming the complex interplay of competition, or collaboration at times, between these centers of economic activity.

As the scientific literature adopting a comparative and cross-disciplinary approach remains almost silent on the topic, this project intends to tackle the question of multicultural intermixing, using a number of different approaches to convey both the complexity and the appeal of this issue. In order to achieve this, it is essential to foster a fruitful collaboration between several disciplines, as it was the case in the context of “Ces chers voisins”. Likewise, today’s questions express the need for a dialogue to take place with policy makers and economic and social decision makers, who are imbued with a culture that shapes the very strong port identity they embody.

A few examples of the research areas this project aims to explore are the scientific, technical, and educational fields through, for instance, the creation of research and educational establishments (tropical medicine, shipbuilding industry, trade, etc.), geographical societies, institutes for the study of Asian arts, or even zoological gardens.

Port cities have a tradition of hosting international exhibitions and Olympic Games (Antwerp, Amsterdam, London), but they are also used to welcome congresses and attract tourists as seaside resorts, bringing together the “élites circulantes” (traveling elites). Moreover, they played a decisive role in the import of sports such as football. Similarly, the idea that exotic cooking practices have been imported via port cities should be examined.

This research will make good use of the existing literary, iconographic and architectural heritage (including colonial monuments, military architecture, banks, etc. all considered as “lieux de memoires”). Attention will be paid to the variety of printed and unpublished sources, both private and public ones. Someone will be in charge of the general management of the project and will ensure the coordination among the different areas of research to guarantee the cross-disciplinary relations between the different fields of study. The approach will make sure that case studies are not analyzed individually but examined together. Their results will be compared in workshops in order to bring out the common features and differences between the cultures of port cities, while paying attention to the areas in which these convergences or divergences are noticeable. The ultimate step is of course to try to understand why, when, and how these common features and differences appeared and developed.

The operational interest of this project lies in the fact that it is launched by a cohesive group of researchers from Germany, England, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, and The Netherlands who have already cooperated and collaborated actively together and share a great desire to 1) intensify the collaborative process that exists among them, 2) foster the comparative study of the European north-west shoreline by examining a number of Baltic and Adriatic ports.

Professor Michel Dumoulin

27 January 2011

« Ces Chers Voisins»

Prof. Michel Dumoulin and Prof. Hubert Roland (Université catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve) are the kingpins of the project, together with the Historiches Seminar II from the University of Köln (Prof. Jürgen Elvert) and the Frontières, Acteurs, Représentations de l’Europe research center from the Université de Strasbourg (Prof. Sylvain Schirmann), in collaboration with numerous other research centers from Paris I, Paris IV, Lille 3, Luxemburg, Liège, and KU Leuven. It is already intended to establish cooperation with the following institutions: the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum Bremerhaven (German National Maritime Museum), the National Maritime Museum Greenwich and the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel.

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