The National Museum of Immigration History in Paris, France, was inaugurated in 2014 by former President François Hollande. The museum is major a focal point for the history of immigration in France and counts an impressive number of archives and resources on the major migration movements that have punctuated the history of the country.
Originally called "museum of the colonies" and built for the 1931 international colonial exhibition, that museum used to showcase France’s colonial expansion and is now a place of knowledge on immigration and exile. It is actually one of the most visited museums in the country with nearly 530,000 visitors per year.
In the layout of the permanent exhibition, visitors are led to move chronologically to the rhythm of the migratory movements that have marked France since the 19th century. The aim is to link individual stories of migration to France's common history by showing visitors what migration has brought to the country: culture, knowledge, languages, religions, sports and creative practices, etc.
Going from the arrival on French territory to job search and a residence permit application, passing through the difficulties of integration, the history of immigrants is often moving and hard. By underlining this movement and individualizing it, the museum's collections humanize migration which sometimes remains understood as a far too political or media-oriented phenomenon.
The idea is simple: to change the narrative around this place that was once the pride of colonialism and to tell the stories of many individuals. In this respect, the mission of this museum is simple:
"To gather, safeguard, enhance and make accessible the elements relating to the history of immigration in France, thus contributing to the recognition of the pathways of integration of immigrant populations in French society and changing the way people look at and think about immigration in France"
Archives and testimonies to link migration and culture
A rich artistic and cultural program is the key to the implementation of this mission. Thus, the museum strives to deliver a program based on the conservation of photographic, sound, and video archives, but also on live performances and contemporary creations.
In the composition of the museum's collections, testimonies and archives are at the heart of the curators' work.
For example, an exhibition on the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso is currently being held: from his sketches to his application for naturalization, visitors can discover the difficult path to integration of one of many immigrants.
Of course, while this enormous library of archives and testimonies highlights the stories of better-known and famous immigrants, it also celebrates those whose stories have not yet been heard or celebrated: workers, women, children, etc., who all have the experience of exile as a common point.
Discover the museum here!
Photos by Jean- Pierre Dalbéra