The Museum of Aquitaine scientific and cultural plan 2011-2016

It is well known that history helps us to understand contemporary events.

Since the Museum of Aquitaine was created, the world has changed. In the late 1970s, we were concerned with the discovery of regional cultures and local development; now we are more interested in migratory movements, globalisation and its relationships with the assertion of identity. Our civilisation is now primarily urban and development takes place in the competition between towns. The Atlantic arc and the network of towns that compose it have become a development issue on a European scale.

Trans-Atlantic exchanges have existed since protohistory. They have created a wealth of relationships and communities of thought which it is important now to re-examine, since Bordeaux, our town at the crossroads, is at the centre of this story. It is at the centre of a network of routes for maritime, river and land-based communication which makes it a crossing point between north and south Europe; between the Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds. In addition, the town benefits from a vast hinterland providing it with many economic openings, and the diversity of this region's products have always enabled the town to adapt its commerce to economic fluctuations. The town's exchanges have principally been made by sea: relationships with the Iberian and Breton countries in Antiquity, enlargement to the Hanseatic nations – Flanders initially and finally as far as the Baltic – and later still further afield. For these reasons, Bordeaux is also a town with a long cosmopolitan tradition which has attracted a wide variety of populations.

Trade in ideas always accompanies trade in commodities, and the town also occupies an essential place in intellectual history.

A plan centred on exchanges

For these reasons, the Museum of Aquitaine's new scientific and cultural plan (2011 – 2016) is centred on this notion of exchange and of the circulation of people, goods and ideas. The concept offers a broader vision of the town and the region, provides a historical perspective on today's comprehension of exchanges along the Atlantic arc, and finally enables the organisation of the different collections of the museum in a balanced manner, the regional and non-European collections finding a legitimate place in relation to this guiding thread.

In addition to its didactic aspect, this story also lends itself to the imaginary, offering the opportunity to construct a great tale that leaves space for dreams and emotions.

In this way, the museum also employs contemporary historiographical approaches which suggest a new way of interrogating history.

When the museum opened its doors on its current site in the late 1980s, email and the Internet did not yet exist, and the term "globalisation" had no particular significance. Today, it is at the heart of all discussion, designating as it does a new representation of the world in which the old nation-states give way to the old countries of the third world. These third world nations are metamorphosing into emerging countries and whose economies are beginning to upset the international balance: post-colonial studies, subaltern studies, cultural studies, connected history etc. entail a decentred view and openness to the global history that now permeates the world of research with which the museum must remain in step.

Heritage museum and museum of civilisation

The creation of several major new museums in Europe, in Berlin, Brussels, Marseille and Turin, and the new thinking that has arisen from the notion of the "museum of civilisation" are introducing an era of renewal for the old museums of history. Through the breadth of its collections and the knowledge it possesses, the Museum of Aquitaine wishes to benefit from this renewal in order to adapt its programme to today's challenges.

Strongly based in the museum landscape of the Atlantic arc, the museum will be both a heritage museum, reflecting the prestigious history of the town and its region, and a museum of civilisation open to contemporary questions presented in their historical context.

Opened in 2009, the new rooms dedicated to the 18th century, the slave trade and slavery, and which also show the contemporary consequences of historical events, form a natural part of this approach. The success of these rooms confirms the interest of the public today in this way of presenting history. In addition they have provided the museum with greater visibility in the informal network of museums of the Atlantic coast and numerous exchanges have been created with institutions, both museums and universities, working along the same lines in Europe, Africa, America and the Caribbean.

The main priorities

The new scientific and cultural plan emphasises the importance of the cultural action policy operated by the museum: with its series of conferences, concerts and events, its workshops open to the widest of audiences, its events organised in partnership with universities and numerous associations, the museum is at the heart of the intellectual life of Bordeaux. Visitor numbers now stand at around 140,000 per year. One of the museum's main priorities is the renovation of the conference room and its digital equipment in order to organise videoconferences. In addition to the events organised by the museum or partner associations, this room hosts a great number of international conferences and must be adapted to meet greater expectations in terms of translation and remote communication.

The collections of the museum, amounting to some 1.3 million objects and documents and which are currently being inventoried, enable it to constantly renew its exhibitions and to grant loans to numerous museums across the world. Over 100,000 objects are now computerised, and this data is now being used in the great international document databases such as Europeana.

While the museum will continue to create exhibitions which will arouse great media interest such as "African Arts. Seeing the Invisible" in 2011, priority must now be given to renovating the permanent exhibition spaces. This renovation is therefore at the heart of the scientific and cultural project and the main priority for the period 2011 – 2016.

The programme will affect 1,800 m2 of floor space, dedicated to the 19th and 20th centuries and to non-European ethnology, in which area the museum's collections will enable the dedication of a significant place to the relationships of Bordeaux with distant countries and with colonisation.

In terms of temporary exhibitions, the museum is now presenting on an alternate yearly basis exhibitions dedicated to the region, such as "Iturria, la vie comme elle va!" and "In the time of the Gauls. Aquitaine before Julius Caesar" in 2012, and exhibitions dedicated to other civilisations such as "French engravers in Cuba" and "Australian aboriginal paintings" in 2013.