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  • As a continuation of the commemorations of the bicentennial of the Geographical Society, created in Paris in 1821, and in connection with the exceptional congress of the IGU centennial, created in 1922, the National Library of France is organising from 10 May to 21 August 2022 a major exhibition, entitled: "The Faces of Exploration in the 19th Century - From Myth to History". It will be held in gallery 1 of the François Mitterrand site, and will cover approximately 350 m2. Hélène Blais, professor at the École normale supérieure, and Olivier Loiseaux, general curator at the Maps and Plans Department of the BnF, are in charge of the curatorship.

    Based on the exceptional collection of the Société de géographie, and on major loans from outside sources (Musée du Quai Branly, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Musée de l'Armée, Musée Guimet, etc.), the exhibition brings together notebooks and sketches, maps and photographs, measuring instruments, objects and specimens collected in the field, i.e. nearly 200 items that offer a new look at the scholarly curiosities and "discoveries" of the period.

    In the mirror of this mythology, the exhibition will show, alongside famous explorers, the multiplicity and role of invisible figures such as porters, guides, relays, auxiliaries and interpreters, and will revisit the place of women, who are often sidelined or forgotten in the grand narrative. The role of certain non-European actors in the history of exploration in the 19th century will also be highlighted: sponsors, travellers, cartographers. Between ethnographic presuppositions and military collusion, the exhibition will also bear witness to the participation of these exploratory ventures in a vision of the world, and a political project, dominant in 19th century Europe.

    On deposit at the BnF, the collections of the Société de géographie, whose role in encouraging voyages of discovery and disseminating geographical knowledge, is emblematic of the cultures of european exploration that developed in the 19th century, are a rich source of material that will be studied and enhanced on this occasion.
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