Media @ McGill

Shana Cooperstein | Archival research, Paris, France

Submitted by Media@McGill on



The Media@McGill Graduate Research Fellowship coupled with the Institut Française d’Amérique’s Edouard Morot-Sir Research Fellowship allowed me to complete one month of archival research in France in May 2015. Thanks to their generous support, I consulted the materials necessary to complete one chapter of my dissertation titled “Drawing Lines, Contracting Habits: Félix Ravaisson, De l’habitude, and Learning to See À Coup d’Oeil.” This chapter argues that despite the incidence of competing pedagogical models designed to reiterate, reform, or supplant academic doctrine, the impetus for drawing education in late nineteenth-century France largely became habit formation. Therefore, coinciding with the supposed demise of “routine,” academic art instruction, drawing lessons increasingly became revered as an apt tool to impart habits of observation or seeing “correctly.” I argue that this emphasis on the role of habit as a method to cultivate skill possessed a significance that went beyond art pedagogy; it suggested a particular way of conceiving the self and subjectivity within the context of a rapidly modernizing France. In order to complete this chapter, I needed to access key texts and letters by Ravaisson. I also needed to analyze the unpublished administrative documents pertaining to the institution of public drawing programs in mid to late nineteenth-century France. Although I focused primarily on accessing archival material related to chapter one, I also used this time to consult archives pertaining to two other chapters titled “Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran and Visual Memory Training,” and “Guillaume, Viollet-le-Duc and Geometric Rationalism.”

In France, I visited archives holding primary resources by the major figures who set the stage for pedagogical reform in the mid to late nineteenth century, such as philosopher Félix Ravaisson (1813-1900), architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), academician Eugène Guillaume (1822-1905), and artist-pedagogue Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1802-1897). Specifically, these grants funded archival research in Paris at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), the Musée d’Orsay, the Archives nationales, and the Fondation Custodia. Access to the BnF permitted me to view 136 photographs from Ravaisson’s drawing program titled Classiques de l’art, modèles pour l’enseignement du dessin publiés sous les auspices du ministre de l’instruction publique (Cote Kz-365 (1-3)). It also allowed me to read and analyze several letters and key texts written by Ravaisson that are inaccessible in North America. At the BnF, I also read texts published by Guillaume and Lecoq that are not available outside France, such as Discours prononcé à la distribution des prix aux élèves des beaux-arts (1885) and Quelques idées et propositions philosophiques (mid to late nineteenth century), respectively.

In Paris, I not only benefited from access to important nineteenth-century art objects at the Musée Carnavalet, the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay, but also I profited from the Musée d’Orsay’s archives. These archives collate information about primary and secondary literature on artists including Ravaisson, Lecoq, Guillaume and Viollet-le-Duc. Access to their files introduced me to more resources necessary to developing my project, such as more secondary literature written in French. Likewise, at the Fondation Custodia, I accessed letters written by Lecoq to an art critic and pedagogical theorist named Ernest Chesneau (1833-1890).

The majority of my time in Paris was spent at the Archives nationales. There, I consulted many documents pertaining to nineteenth-century French drawing pedagogy in public schools. For instance, I read several administrative documents about the institution of drawing programs and the standardization of drawing methods. In a similar vein, I read several letters by the Inspector General of Public Instruction, such as those by Ravaisson. Most important, I analyzed the key pedagogical debates between Ravaisson and Guillaume in the Procès-verbaux des séances du Conseil supérieur d’enseignement de l’École des Beaux Arts (AJ/52/20)

These fellowships also permitted me to consult materials in Rouen at the Musée National de l’Education. At this institution, I accessed 15 cahiers à dessin, or notebooks illustrating drawing exercises and curriculum instituted in public educational systems. Likewise, I analyzed key texts, such as Eugène Guillaume and Jules Pillet’s Mémoires et documents scolaires publiés par le Musée Pédagogique (1889). While there, I also viewed Charles Abram’s 1897 Traité pratique de perspective à l’usage de l’enseignement primaire, des écoles primaires supérieures, des écoles normales, des établissements d’enseignement secondaire et des écoles de dessin. These objects are crucial to understanding the methods enacted in response to—and to counter—Ravaisson’s program, and will form the foundation of my third chapter.

Overall, the resources I consulted, several of which are not available online, are crucial to my project and contribute to original scholarly research. The ability to view these sources allowed me to analyze carefully how each figure contributed to discussions of drawing pedagogy, focusing on how particular exercises helped develop art students’ observational skills, memory, judgment, and intelligence.