Research: art historians are at their wits end

In France, art historians and historians are exhausted. Insecurity, overwork and understaffing are their working conditions. Special situation in the field of research.

Is art history a bad relation of the human sciences? “We don’t know where to stand! “, replied Marion Bertin, doctor of anthropology and graduate of the Ecole du Louvre. Of the 82 sections of the National University Council, art history is found in at least three. ” It is a discipline that has changed a lot in recent years, added doctoral student Mathilde Leïchlé. I’m working on a thesis combining social history and gender studies. More and more of us are offering subjects that blend disciplines while few people supervise them. I did not find HDR (teacher is authorized to direct research, editor’s note) to frame myself in art history, so I enrolled in history “. Meanwhile, Marion Bertin spent a long time looking for an ATER position (temporary tutor and research associate) once she defended her thesis.” I am looking in art history, anthropology and museologyhe continued. The only open position in museology is at the University of Avignon, in the department of information and communication sciences. I’m the only anthropologist in this department. Young doctor in art history Quentin Petit Dit Duhal was recruited for the post of art historian (at ATER), but in the department of… plastic arts at the University of Nanterre.

Such scattering does not help to see clearly: depending on the approach, method or period of study, an art history researcher may find himself in different sections or departments. This makes it difficult to find out about doctoral contracts, ATER positions and qualifications. ” Art history research is lonely and we have no unity », Details of an art historian. If there is an association like ApAhAu (association of professors of archeology and art history at universities) or CFHA (French committee on art history), which lists scholarships, prizes and positions and links between researchers, it is Clean it ” that in France art history is the fifth carriage wheel », complained Anaïs*, a doctoral student.

Underfunded discipline

This system creates a big vulnerability. Several laboratories offer doctoral contracts in art history. The National Institute of Art History (INHA) offers six per year. ” The establishment pays attention to parity and ensures that registration is not only Paris. There is a certain balance “, explained Mathilde Leïchlé, under contract since October 2021. In this recruitment, diplomacy was carried out. got nothing. ” I’ve been accused of politics, not researchrecalls Quentin Petit Dit Duhal, who didn’t get a contract for her thesis on representation of the third gender since the 1960s. I was asked if I was able to overcome my militancy “. When he proposed a second time, the question was: which disciplines are not adequately represented “.

Another obstacle: research in art history is valued » in vain, and mless funded than hard science research “, pointed Anaïs. According to Clement*, “Human knowledge is not considered to generate wealth. This is certainly taken into account “. The young researcher explained why he stopped applying: “For me, private financing is the fastest solution. The response time for contracts or scholarships is very long, up to six months, creating a lot of uncertainty and vulnerability “.

By choice or necessity, many researchers work alongside their research. “We can’t all rely on our parents’ money “, explains Anaïs, now on the Cifre contract in the museum (training agreement providing assistance to the company for the recruitment of young doctoral students, Editors note). ” During the first year of my thesis, I was a part-time educational assistant at a college, said Quentin Petit Dit Duhal. Year two and three, I took a vacation at university. My parents have to help me pay the rent “. At best, they find work in the cultural sector, often in the arts market or teaching. ” Research for galleries is what keeps me alive “, abounded in doctoral student Eva Belgherbi. to Clement, “Private funding opens doors, allows for more work flexibility. But it’s tricky: you often have to accept auto-employer status which doesn’t allow you to accept unemployment “.

Job race

In this case, the network is the muscles of war. Throughout his doctorate, Clément worked for a collector. Anaïs obtained his contract thanks to his relationship with a curator. He also admitted that when he got to know the people who were on the organizing committee for the colloquium, it was easier for him to be elected. But the network was more complicated outside Paris, and not all thesis supervisors provided their address books. To make yourself known, you have to know how to communicate and “sell yourself,” as well as the research itself.

I’m getting tiredsighed Marion Bertin. Since 2019, I’ve spent time applying, checking job vacancies, deadlines, writing projects. This constant race shows the precariousness of this sector “. Quentin Petit Dit Duhal uses all of his time (free and research) to apply for a post-doctoral contract. For everyone else, the start of this year was a source of anxiety: offers appeared on the Galaxie platform and registering there was extremely time-consuming. If they have, to one more year, the security of a post at the university (paid around 1,700 euros net per month), the eyes of the two researchers are riveted on this recruiting session. While the ATER agrégé contract lasts for five years, the absence of aggregation in art history guarantees only a two-year contract. Without post-doctoral degree or qualifications to apply for teaching positions, researchers must turn to university vacancies.

And research?

Although civil service holders, masters and mistresses of art history did not escape the further disintegration of the university. Some even plan to resign at the end of the school year, particularly due to excess administrative work due to staff shortages. ” I have no more time for research », is a phrase that often appears, whether researchers are in office, permanent, with or without a contract. Anaïs Cifre’s contract stipulated that she must devote 20% of her working time to research in the first year of her thesis, then 30% in the second year (i.e. 1.5 days a week). ” It is untenable! In order to complete my thesis in three years, as required by the contract, I had to work every night, on weekends, and during my five week vacation. “, he believes. He knows that he won’t be able to defend his thesis within the allotted time. For those without a contract, you have to work to pay your rent, effectively blocking them from advancing in their research.

This mental burden has an impact on the mental health of art history researchers. ” Many are depressed Anais whispered. I left all my friends, my surroundings, my daily life to work on my thesis in the countryside. And I create burned out during my sophomore year “. Meanwhile, Eva Belgherbi asked the question: “Do you have to be rich or helped by your parents to survive? In fact, in this field, equal opportunity seems to be a distant horizon.

*Name has been changed

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