CFP: From Tokens of Love to Archived Relics: Private Life and Material Culture in Indian Ocean Societies

International conference - University of Reunion Island, France - 21st and 22nd of November 2018

Sponsored by the Observatory for Indian Ocean Societies (O.S.O.I.- FED 4127),

D.I.R.E. (E.A. 7387) and L.C.F. (E.A. 4549) research laboratories Moufia Campus, Arts and Social Sciences Faculty Saint-Denis, La Réunion (France)

Writing the history of the private lives of individuals is no easy task.

As pointed out by French historian Alain Corbin, any attempt to rediscover such a past is practically doomed to failure as "one can't write the history of the private life of those who have left no trace" .

Are the private attitudes of those who are "marginal to or marginalized by society" , or those whose lives appear only briefly in archives, condemned to remain only briefly and superficially documented?

Contributing to the current dynamic wave of scientific research on the history and cultures of Indian Ocean societies, this conference will discuss material culture relating to private and emotional life in the Indian Ocean region . How have past and present societies given shape and depth to affection and emotion and to feelings of love through material culture? In a vein similar to the initial research seminar entitled 'Témoins d'amour, témoins de vie: Objets et images de l'intime'

held on the 12th of November 2015, this conference will focus on the study and interpretation of love tokens and other reflections, representations and expressions of romantic and sentimental feelings and discourses over the centuries. One of the main concerns will be to question the functions and meanings of these material objects in intimate exchanges or in what Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly qualifies as the "deepest corners of the soul".

If giving shape to love and affection enables us to cast a different light on the question of the relation to the other, it also acts as a confirmation of the authenticity of the emotions being expressed: the gifts made to a loved person are tangible proof of the very existence of the love relationship, and as love tokens, they are likewise evidence of past subjectivities. In Rabindranath Tagore's The Supreme Night, the memory of the sensual link which unites the disdainful young narrator to his would-be bride (who is incidentally wedded to a notary in his

absence) is brought back by the sound of rustling fabric and the tinkle of bracelets and by the fragrance of her feminine intimacy . Gifts can also testify to the existence of a contract and thus become a source of alienation. Just like a protraction of the body of the other, absent but reified, the object becomes, in its turn, a fetish. The concept of a material culture, defined by art historian Jules Prown as "the study through artifacts of the beliefs - values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions - of a particular community or society at a given time" , will be at the heart of our discussions. To what extent do people's relation to objects inform us of the relations between sexes and on intimacy?

If objects are a means of discovering the past and working against the oblivion of intimate moments, echoes of past Indian Ocean generations, they are also a key source of information and knowledge of our relation to history and the very practice of historians. As underlined by French scholar Michel de Certeau, the elements selected and highlighted by a historian become a work of memory, a monument of its own . What is the status of the object, a fragment of intimacy, which is unveiled to the public? Who decides to unveil the object? The boundary between the private and public spheres, the notion of heritage, but also of posterity will be vital questions addressed by this conference. It will also examine other aspects of intimacy such as the multiple readings and interpretations of the object at different points in time and space, and the question of popular and family history, with a focus on the amateur historians' contribution to our general understanding of the past.

We welcome a diversity of formats ranging from the visual and the written to the tactile and the three-dimensional, to the gustatory, the audible and the olfactory (photographs, texts, correspondence, food packaging, scented jasmine petals found in love letters...). These tokens, whatever their age, will be analyzed as a means of questioning the relation to the other. This event will be organized along (but not limited to) the following themes:

1. History of private life and material objects: archaeology of daily life, love relations and sexuality, private and public life.

2. Conservation and archives of the Indian Ocean: The objects as vessels for heritage, collective and individual memory, conservation policies regarding objects and artefacts (museums, libraries, archives), the historian and memory, heritage, amateur historians and their contributions, the relation between family, popular and academic history.

3. Specificity of the objects of the Indian Ocean region: Role played by fetishism, the question of taboo, the object as work of art expressing love, the object as a sign (language and knowledge, symbol, hint), the social imagination: the status of the object which crystalizes people's fears, desires, and memory.

The speech proposals (400 words max.) along with a short biographical note are to be sent before the 30th of January 2018 to both organizers:

Françoise Sylvos, Florence Pellegry,

The selection will be confirmed by the 15th of March 2018.


The proposals will be studied by the scientific committee for the conference:

Pr Géraldine Chouard (Université Paris-Dauphine) Pr Evelyne Combeau-Mari, (Université de la Réunion) Dr Florence Pellegry, (Université de la Réunion) Dr Sandra Saayman (Université de la Réunion) Pr Françoise Sylvos, (Université de la Réunion) Pr Vilasnee Tampoe - Hautin, (Université de la Réunion) Pr Gilles Teulié (Université d'Aix-Marseille) Pr Nira Wickramasinghe, (University of Leiden, Netherlands)

The oral presentations in French or in English will last 20 minutes each followed by a 10-minute discussion.

Registration fee for all speakers: 50 euros (30 euros for doctoral students or retired academics).

A selection of articles will be published in a bilingual volume after the conference.

Key words: Object, history of private life, love, memory, imagination, Indian Ocean