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Dossier / History in the Making

When History Flows Through Us
An Interview with Philippe Artières

by Ivan Jablonka , 12 June 2014
translated by Kate McNaughton
with the support of Institut français

Bodies that are excluded, ill, damaged: this is often the first glimpse that a historian gets of men and women in the past. Philippe Artières talks about the physical and emotional experience that this creates: “Their history flows through my body.” The writing of history is influenced by other people’s suffering, but also by our own.

Born in 1968, and heavily influenced by the thought of Michel Foucault, Philippe Artières has worked on deviance, the prison environment, urban spaces, the infra-ordinary. He has studied a wide range of subjects, from the life of Thérèse de Lisieux to the life stories of a morphine addict or a hermaphrodite.

Under the influence of Philippe Lejeune, he first examined the autobiographies of criminals that were recorded in Lyon prison at the end of the 19th century. He then became interested in the materiality of writing – tattoos, graffiti, neon signs, banners – which contributes to a social history of writing and to an anthropology of the ephemeral. These writings, which are sometimes scrutinised and sometimes repressed, constitute traces that historian, in their turn, must examine.

By bringing to life his “dreams of history”, Philippe Artières has developed an original body of work, without ever losing his taste for experimentation, which forms the basis of his “gay knowledge”. As a researcher at the CNRS, and the former president of the Centre Michel-Foucault from 1995 to 2013, he co-founded the Association pour l’autobiographie as well as the association Sida-mémoires.

His publications include in particular:

Le Livre des vies coupables. Autobiographies de criminels, 1896-1909 (Albin Michel, 2000)
Vidal, le tueur de femmes. Essai de biographie sociale, with Dominique Kalifa (Perrin, 2001)
Les Enseignes lumineuses. Des écritures urbaines au XXe siècle (Bayard, 2010)
Mémoires du sida. Le récit des personnes atteintes. France, 1981-2012, avec Janine Pierret (Bayard, 2012)
La Banderole. Histoire d’un objet politique (Autrement, 2013)
La Police de l’écriture. L’invention de la délinquance graphique (La Découverte, 2013)
Vie et mort de Paul Gény (Seuil, 2013)
Reconstitution. Jeux d’histoire (Manuela éditions, 2013)
La révolte de la prison de Nancy, 15 janvier 1972 (Le Point du Jour, 2013)
The blog Scriptopolis

For English subtitles, click on the “cc” button on the upper right-hand corner of the video.

For English subtitles, click on the “cc” button on the upper right-hand corner of the video.

Dossier(s) :
History in the Making

by Ivan Jablonka, 12 June 2014

To quote this article :

Ivan Jablonka, « When History Flows Through Us. An Interview with Philippe Artières », Books and Ideas , 12 June 2014. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL :

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