The City of Student Memory (La Cité des Mémoires étudiantes), created on International Students’ Day November 17, 2008, is an association for the preservation and promotion of documentary and archival sources of French student movements, whatever their material support (paper, audiovisual, digital) or type of producer (structures, mobilisations, militants). By “student movement” we understand any structured, collective action, brief or long-lasting, i.e. general mobilisations as well as permanent student organisations (unions, political associations, youth and religious movements). Our work is both national and international in scope. We have a partnership with the Ministry of Culture (Interministerial Service of the Archives of France and the National Archives) and we can also form partnerships with regional entities, but our primary mission is the preservation of documents for the Paris region where we are based.
The City has drawn its inspiration from several international examples: the European Student Museum in Bologna (Italy), the Museum of Student Life in Assens (Switzerland), the projected Memory of the Brazilian Student Movement, various archival services such as the Centres for the History of Universities in Montreal and Padua. However, in its conception and aims the City is rooted in certain particularities of French higher education and student movements.
Since the French Revolution the French system of higher education has been characterized by a duality between “grandes écoles” (professional schools) and universities.
Indeed during the Revolution the university was actually dissolved. In 1968 and again more recently in 2007 French universities underwent significant structural changes. For this reason it is difficult to discern the permanence of traditions---the universitas magistrorum et studiorum.
Student movements with a representative vocation first arose in the late 19th century. Today such movements often have difficulty producing and transmitting traditions, especially since the Algerian War and May 1968, which led to the breaking up and fragmentation of common structures. In 2013 there are more than six movements of this type.
Supported by an experienced staff, the City aspires to be a pilot program for:
---Encouraging the preservation, treatment and classification of student archives
---Promoting this cultural heritage through research, exhibitions and civic-minded activities
The resources and archives of student life are fragile and in constant danger of destruction. Like other youth movements, student movements suffer from the transitory character of their social status, from the rapid turnover of generations and militant groups. Moreover, unlike many European and western countries, France has few universities endowed with their own constituted archival services (i.e. managed by a professional). Thus the records of student movements, already fragile, scattered and ephemeral, are in even greater danger of being lost to posterity. Finally, unlike most employee unions (and even this is a relatively recent phenomenon), student organisations lack the means to create their own archival services.
As a consequence of constant change and renewal, of scattering and dispersal and other archival “catastrophes,” the safeguarding of this fragmented heritage is akin to reconstructing the pieces of a puzzle. Hence our pro-active strategy: to preserve original archival materials as well as documentary resources. With this goal in mind we initiated in 2008, the project for the City of Student Memory. This was a continuation of a similar project four years earlier in Reims dedicated to collecting, classifying and preserving the cultural heritage of student movements on the national level.
These national documentary resources are made up of original archival material as well as documents stemming from national student movements and from militants who held office in student organisations with national responsibilities (presidents, vice-presidents, treasurers, general secretaries). Among the documents are those actively collected by our team relating to student mobilisations against various reform measures in the years following 1968.
In addition to the collection and treatment of “traditional” archival materials, in paper format, we also collect audio-visual archives (photos and videos) of student events (notably congresses and mobilisations) and internet sites of representative movements. Documentary materials such as reports, brochures, scholarly research, reviews, articles, iconographic and audio-visual documents, objects are also classified. Of notable significance are oral testimonies recorded by members of the City of Student Memory staff. These conversations with former student militants are analyzed in detail before being made available on line.
The City of Student Memory, though based in Paris, would like to bring about a dialogue between student memory at the national and regional levels.
The collection and treatment of documents, while essential, is difficult to finance. It is by promoting and making our work known to a wider public that we are enabled to obtain government subsidies and private grants, as well as support from individual citizens, via our endowment fund (a sort of foundation).
The promotion of these archives has both a scientific and cultural dimension:
--Publications (often in cooperation with the national network)
--Seminars or colloquiums with presentation of archives in relation to a chosen theme
--Exhibitions, physical or virtual, permanent or occasional
--Working on Memory (workshops “Archives of Student Memory”)
We intend to organise a promotional event (exhibition and/or colloquium) once a year. After having organised one of the first colloquiums for the 40th anniversary of May 68, we co-organised with GERME in 2009 a colloquium on the 20th anniversary of the July 1989 law (called the Jospin law) on student “representativity”. In 2010, while participating in the organisation of daylong seminar to “revisit November 11, 1940,” we launched our first travelling exhibition, “One Hundred Years of Student Health.” In early 2012, we organised two days devoted to “unity and schisms”, and at the end of the same year we put together an exhibition on the period of the Algerian War.
For several years we have been experimenting with renting out travelling exhibitions to help self-finance some of our activities. Two exhibitions of eleven panels are currently circulating among universities and communities, one on the theme of student health and the other on French students and the Algerian War.
More fundamentally, the work of promoting our activities enables us to better identify the producers and the circuits of production of student archives and discover new archives yet to be preserved….and promoted! In the last analysis, one might say that in carrying out our work we contribute to the development, indeed to the constitution or at least to the enrichment, of a student culture in general.
In conclusion, let us remember that the work of preservation and promotion can only occur in and through networks, including international networks, if only for the sake of the international promotion of student archives and memory!