Last March 5th, Mr. Gilles de Robien, Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research, inaugurated the Institut des Amériques, dedicated to the American continent. The creation of this institute is part of the government’s current policy on development of the international dimension of higher learning.
The importance of its network allows for the Institut to position itself as a major European player in the fields of research and teaching about the Americas. The method adopted is innovative due to its transversal nature. The Institut, in structuring the cooperation of specialists from the different linguistic zones affected, implemented a framework that allows for fruitful interpenetration of research. It immediately voluntarily aligned itself with the processes in contact with the new realities shaped by globalization.
Why have an Institut des Amériques?
The American continent, thanks to its story, the diversity of its population, and the contrast between the countries that compose it, is a “centre” of the world. Since this fact, this continent became a laboratory of predilection for social sciences.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the most pertinent works carried out in the field of social sciences had the American continent as its subject. Fernand Braudel, Claude Levi-Strauss, Paul Rivet and the entirety of great intellectuals of the time quickly took note of the particular place that the Americas occupied as a rich and complex research subject. Also, as soon as 1954, the Institut des hautes études de l’Amérique latine –l’IHEAL-, whose duty it was to federalise research, teaching, and documentation about Latin-American, was created. Today, the IHEAL is one of the most prestigious and recognised institutes in Europe: its documentation fund, the second highest in Europe, and its documentation centre are benchmarks.
However, if the IHEAL is the veritable “human and scientific bridge between France and Latin America” , such symmetry didn’t exist yet for North America. From then on, the North Americanists suffered at the inexistence of an institutional structure apt to federalise their research efforts and to ensure them a sufficient visibility, a deficiency which the events of September 11, 2001 gruesomely revealed.
The institutional asymmetries on one hand, along with the de facto partitioning of the linguistic and geographic approaches adopted on the other hand, ended up in a regrettable segmentation for research. Such an obstacle appeared especially anachronistic and counter-productive considering that the Americas are the continent of globalization. Continent of globalization, firstly, because its discovery marks the emergence of the concept in and of itself; continent of globalization, secondly, by the presence of the United States; continent of globalization, finally, thanks to the interpenetration of the “two Americas,” of which “MexAmerica,” the bordering region between the United States and Mexico, is but one example amongst others.
What is the role of the Institut des Amériques?
The project of an Institut des Amériques was suggested in 1998. In the year 2000, it was integrated in the Université du 3ème Millénaire (University of the 3rd Millenium) plan, implemented by the government. Legally, the Institut des Amériques exists only as of its inauguration date of March 5th, 2005, but the scientific cooperation between the different network partners has been active since 2002.
If the decision made to create a structure devoted to a specific geographic space necessarily reflects a vision of the world, then the Institut holds that of the “Atlantic triangle.” . In fact, the objective of this structure is to promote a balanced vision of the relations between the three great geographic areas that are Europe, Latin America and North America without omitting the inherent complexity of their interdependence.
“The Institut des Amériques has the possibility to become the place where French research is concentrated” thus enabling a veritable circulation of knowledge between specialists from the American continent. This will allow for the decompartmentalization of the research fields that are geographically centred, and which until now too often ignored the other part of the continent. The existence of a structure built around sharing and adequate reflection will lead to a renewal of the traditional approach to the transatlantic relation between Europe and North America, but also of a balancing in favour of the influence that Latin American has on the whole of the continent and at the heart of the “Atlantic triangle.”
The creation of the Institut des Amériques does not, however, entail a fusion between the two territories, Latin America and North American, because these two remain distinct from one another. On the contrary, the Institut des Amériques values and encourages the compared approaches, in a Transamerican vision.
How does the Institut des Amériques organise itself?
Legally, the nature of the Institut des Amériques is one from the Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique based on the actual « GIS Amérique Latine ».
The Institut is not a unique place. On the contrary, it forms part of a network of university partnerships that organise themselves around a headquarters located in Paris. Today members of the Institut include 20 partnering establishments, situated in the Paris region and in provinces, representing research laboratories recognised as being essential in this field. The goal is to eventually have a veritable international network with partners from the American continent present.
Structurally, the Institut is based around 3 poles:
A “documentation” pole with a large library and media library
A “research” pole that will allow for joint projects
A “teaching” pole that will, in part, teach a masters program at the post-doctorate level, which will permit for, in another part, each member establishment to insert seminars in their programs entitled “Instituts des Amériques” hosted by guest professors from foreign chairs.
For more information, a website was created for specialists as well as the general public.