On the day of our visit, a press kit hammers it home, in inclusive writing: the new route of the Lyon History Museum, which completed a reorganization that began in 2 on Saturday 2019 December, has been "co-constructed", as much with "expert.es" as with witnesses and... "témouines", anonymous citizens of Lyon. One of the museum's designers explains: "We went to the city, we asked questions of passers-by, of young people who were skateboarding, to ask them their story of the city." A premise that makes you smile as much as it worries and augurs the feeling you will experience throughout the visit.
Above all, she wants to move away from the much-maligned chronological approach. A first room therefore "questions" the city, exhibiting pell-mell recent tourist or sporting objects (football shirts), without any apparent teaching. You'll have to get used to it: history is not really at the center of the history museum. The foundation of the city is evoked in a panel on which a Lyonnais of Antiquity shows off his life... Rolex. A farce assumed by the museum, whose guides warn us that anachronisms will flourish throughout the rooms. One would laugh if the museum were not intended for children as well as adults, with the confusion that this farce will cause for the former.
The white man almost absent from... Lyon's industry
The rooms are magnificent in this hotel in Gadagne, built in the sixteenth century. But the architecture of the place doesn't seem to interest us: a very small label to present a monumental fireplace, then nothing. Historical objects are rare and fade away in favor of photographic montages and stories (all in inclusive writing, of course) of four fictional characters who are supposed to tell the story of the city: three women born in different centuries, and Saïd, a worker who has become an associative volunteer. On the next floor, a fishpond canoe dating from 1540 still takes pride of place, in a bluish atmosphere: this is the part devoted to the Rhône and the Saône. Some (beautiful) paintings depicting scenes of life on the two rivers are exhibited... A few centimetres above the ground: this second part is dedicated to five-year-olds and we learn that two kindergarten groups were consulted to design it. Games have been developed with them, "without the wrong answer so as not to be moralistic" and because the museum is above all a place of fun. We're starting to believe it.
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The rest of the permanent exhibition, which deals with the subject of Lyon's industry, takes a much more unpleasant, even odious, turn. Let's see what we see: an almost total absence of reference to male and white workers. An inanimate loom is the only tangible proof of the existence of canuts, and an empty overalls hanging on the wall represents the proletariat of the twentieth century. This is a real provocation because women workers are well put forward, especially immigrant workers. The director, Xavier de La Selle, warned: "The concept of native Lyonnais makes no sense." A visitor lacking perspective will leave this room convinced that the city was built only by the work of women and North Africans. The social prism of history could have been of real interest here: it is manipulated to serve a political vision that can only be described as delusional.
And we are not at the end of this delirium: the last part, the one that has just been revealed to the public, concerns the "commitments" of the Lyonnais. Here we enter into an astonishing bric-a-brac, an assumed leftist synthesis that makes the political history of Lyon a kind of great convergence of struggles. On the walls and in the shop windows, there are clouds of words, almost all synonymous with rebellion, feminist signs, a loudspeaker, and even a sordid object: a Dutch oven used by a local abortionist, apparently famous, who sterilized her medical utensils but also cooked her pasta there. Father Delorme, a priest known for organizing a large march against racism in 1983, is abundantly glorified. It should be remembered that when it comes to religion, the museum has still not explained to us why and when the Basilica of Fourvière was built! The other reference to Catholicism in the city is that of the sack of Lyon by the Calvinists, a painted wooden work from 1565 depicting scenes of looting, a burning of liturgical objects, and expelled monks: "Not at all a violent scene," we are told.
Desacralization of knowledge
At this stage, the Musée d'Histoire de Lyon succeeds in its bet: it is no longer just an entertainment. We approach a room that covers the Algerian crisis, the Second World War and finally the Revolution. The latter is only the subject of a brief panel. Is the museum bored of having to discuss Lyon's counter-revolutionary tendencies in more detail? Of Joseph Chalier, who had set up a bloody dictatorship in the city before being overthrown by the people in 1793, a comment: "Some considered him a martyr for freedom." The principal historian consulted on this period, Paul Chopelin, is a member of the Society for Robespierrist Studies. Finally, a gallery of the great figures of Lyon's history concludes this strange journey. Miraculously, there are almost as many women as men. Even if it means that the first female municipal councillor will hold the same place as Édouard Herriot, mayor for nearly half a century. There is no portrait of Raymond Barre, however, but a proudly displayed anonymous letter, describing him as "a little regretted [mayor], who throughout his career has paid very little attention to the fate of those whom his economic system has set aside."
Let us draw a positive conclusion: it is not given to every history lover to experience such a distortion and desacralization of knowledge. To the "pedagogical" inventions in vogue, some of which are successful but often useless, the Lyon History Museum adds a militancy that leaves you speechless, and ignores whole sections of Lyon's history, only scratching the surface of the rest. The museum's team is certainly enthusiastic, convinced that they are doing the right thing, but they have misunderstood the notion of commitment. More than a disappointment, for a structure that employs 50 people (and also operates a puppet and puppet museum, perhaps less fun) with an annual budget of about 3 million euros. Its scientific and cultural project, validated by the State, enjoys the full support of the current town hall: Mayor Grégory Doucet (EELV) says he "admires the colossal work" of the museum's teams in a city that is "profoundly human, woven by the lights of the world". A fabric, yes, but not really light.