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Geneva Museum of Ethnography – Carl-Vogt

Geneva Museum of Ethnography – Carl-Vogt

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The Geneva Museum of Ethnography, or MEG, includes a large collection of objects from across the world and in 2017 won the prestigious European Museum of the Year Award.

Geneva Museum of Ethnography history

The Geneva Museum of Ethnography, founded in 1901 by the University of Geneva’s anthropology professor, Eugene Pittard, was first housed in Mon Repos villa. Pittard assembled both public and private collections including the ethnographic collections of the Archaeological and historical museums in Geneva. He was a keen anthropologist who argued the study of humans should look beyond biology, and refuted the Nazis’ claim of a ‘pure breed’ of people.

In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, the MEG was moved to the disused buildings of the Mail primary school in boulevard Carl Vogt. Vogt, a 19th century German scientist who wrote prolifically on physiology and geology, was involved in Swiss politics. His approach to physiology, however, contrasted to Pittard; he believed that the races evolved separately and in a hierarchy. The museum opened to the public in 1947, sharing the space with the Anthropology department of the Geneva University.

From 1980, the city negotiated where to build a new museum to hold the collections, ultimately deciding to build a new building on the Carl Vogt site. In 2014, the MEG’s new pagoda-shaped building opened after four years of construction. Designed with a mixture of Indonesian house design and modernism, the museum’s bold grey-white architecture celebrates a fusion of global cultures.

Geneva Museum of Ethnography today

Today, Geneva Museum of Ethnography hosts a popular permanent exhibition, ‘Archives of human diversity’, that displays over a thousand objects from over five continents. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, alongside its permanent collection visitors can expect to enjoy temporary exhibitions, concerts, films, workshops, online talks and an impressive library where you can listen to music from across the world.

The museum is currently undergoing consultations to change its name as a symbolic part of its decolonial process, acknowledging the collections’ colonial origins and the scientific racism that underpinned much of 19th century and early 20th century anthropology.

Getting to Geneva Museum of Ethnography

Located in the lively Jonction district of Geneva, you can reach the MEG via public transport by catching the bus lines 2, 19, 1 or 35 to stop Musée d’ethnographie or École-Médecine, from which it is a 250m walk. Nearby parking includes the Uni-Mail.

Geneva Museum of Ethnography – Carl-Vogt - History

MEG Musée d’ethnographie de Genève

For a museum with such a reputation, the Ethnographic Museum was rather a disappointment.

Geneva is an absurdly expensive city, so the fact that the permanent collection of the museum is free is quite welcome. Perhaps if there were costs involved, however, the museum might have seen its way clear to displaying this collection in some sort of useful manner.
As it was, the exhibits are presented in a dark room and with almost no context to explain their background. The provenance of the items is clearly a major focus, but making the museum less about "How we found all these awesome things" and more about the things themselves would be advisable. The museum plays up its origins as a "cabinet of curiosities", but really doesn't seem to have moved beyond that stage, even after a couple of centuries.

My wife arranged for an audio guide as well, and was even told by the staff that it "wasn't very comprehensive." Not exactly what you want to hear, but again it was free.

The museum trumpets its shop as having a wide range of souvenirs, too. I can only assume that the small stand near the entrance marked as being the shop was something other than the shop, since it had a microscopic range of not very much.

For such a potentially great museum, this is close to the "avoid altogether" department (the fact that it's rather a distance from anything else is a factor, too).

Those involved in running the place should spend some time attending other museums, in order to see what works these days.

Leading scientists associated with biology in Geneva

Remembered in the history of botany as a pioneer of natural methods of classification, he was a precursor in plant geography. He studied law at the Geneva Academy, before going to Paris to study medicine. Before defending his thesis on the medicinal properties of plants, he was appointed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck to revise his Flore française. While in charge of a systematic description of the plant resources of the Napoleonic Empire, the scientist built a theory on the classification of plants. He became professor and director of the botanical garden of Montpellier, before returning to Geneva in 1816 to hold a chair in Natural History (Botany and Zoology) at the Academy. Founder of the botanical garden at the ‘Parc des Bastions’, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle spent the rest of his life describing the plant kingdom in a systematic way, a monumental work detailing some 59’000 plant species, of which 6’350 new ones. A remarkable morphologist and plant physiologist, he provided the basics of plant geography in his Essai élémentaire de géographie botanique. He also embraced plant chemistry, agronomy and pharmacology, while being sensitive to social issues.

Carl Vogt

Geneva naturalist, physician and politician of German origin, 1817 – 1895

Carl Vogt first studied chemistry in Germany and then medicine at the University of Bern. He then focused on zoology and developmental biology. In 1852, he was appointed to the chair in geology at the Academy of Geneva and to that of zoology twenty years later. Carl Vogt published a number of notable studies on geology, physiology and zoology. Atheist militant, known for its materialistic views and support of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, he was in conflict with Geneva’s elite steeped in protestant culture. After obtaining the Swiss citizenship, Carl Vogt played an important role in Geneva’s public affairs, as State and National Member of Parliament, and his influence became notable in the political, scientific and academic fields. In parallel with his teachings in geology, paleontology, zoology and comparative anatomy, he obtained the construction of new buildings for the Academy, of which he was the rector from 1873 to 1876, and campaigned for the adoption of a new law on public education. He led the transformation of the Academy into a bona fide University.

Micheline Stefanowska

Polish physiologist, 1855 – 1942

Higher education being inaccessible to young women in Russian Poland, she chose to train abroad. She started as a student at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and continued her studies at the University of Paris, before returning to Geneva to do her PhD, in 1889. She was thus the first woman to obtain a doctoral degree in Natural Sciences at this University. She then took up a position at the Laboratory of Physiology at the Solvay Institute in Brussels, then another as lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences of UNIGE, where she taught courses in general physiology. Back in Poland, Micheline Stefanowska taught physiology of the nervous system at the Advanced science courses in Warsaw and ran a high school for girls in Lodz, before continuing her academic career at the University of Poznan, where she was appointed professor in 1923. She was elected to the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, the only woman member at that time together with Marie Curie.

Eugène Pittard

Geneva anthropologist, 1867 – 1962

He obtained a doctorate in science at UNIGE in 1899 by submitting the first thesis in anthropology of his Alma mater. Founder of the Geneva Museum of Ethnography in1901 and of the chair in anthropology and prehistory at UNIGE in 1916, Eugène Pittard carried out significant anthropological studies, both on ancient skulls from the Valais region and on living populations of the Balkans. His numerous publications, bold and original, including Les Peuples des Balkans, Les Races et l’histoire – in which he was one of the first to scientifically invalidate the concept of human races – and Histoire des premiers hommes, achieved a tremendous international success in scientific circles, and earned him numerous awards, both in Switzerland and abroad. Director of the Museum of Ethnography, professor, dean and then rector of UNIGE, he developed a real amity for the Gypsies, to whom he devoted numerous writings based on his observations during his stays in Rumania. In 1924, delegated by the League of Nations, he supplied wheat to the Albanian people and funded the Albanian Red Cross. Throughout his life, Eugene Pittard was driven by difference and the interactions between groups of people.

Emile Guyénot

French zoologist and biologist, 1885 – 1963

Precocious and self-taught naturalist, he published his first scientific note when he was 18 years old, under the aegis of a professor in Besançon, before studying medicine in Paris. After obtaining his doctorate in medicine, he completed his thesis in sciences, which was interrupted by four years of war, on the life and the development of Drosophila. Emile Guyénot was appointed to the chair in general zoology at UNIGE in 1918. Appointed to the Institute of Zoology, he succeeded in making a center of experimental biology out of it. He revolutionized the teaching of zoology in Geneva by adapting it to both future physicians and biologists. Eight main directions of research were followed, allowing the students to acquire a polyvalent, theoretical and practical training. These fields included genetics of vertebrates and insects, parasitology, the sexuality of batrachians, endocrinology and regeneration. Laureate of three French academic prizes, including the Longchamp Prize of the Academy of Science of Paris, he also received the Prize of Geneva and the Marcel Benoist Award, in 1950.

Kitty Ponse

Dutch and Geneva endocrinologist, 1897 – 1982

Kitty Ponse obtained her thesis, which focused on the mechanisms of embryonic and post-embryonic development, at UNIGE in 1922. She then explored the mechanisms of sex determination and differentiation in amphibians, and obtained, for the first time, an experimental sexual inversion of a vertebrate. Endowed with an exceptional teacher charisma, she contributed for many years to the practical teaching given at the Institute of Zoology, before being appointed full professor at the chair in experimental endocrinology in 1961. Owing to her multiple studies in most areas of this discipline, Kitty Ponse received many honors, including the Montyon Prize of the Academy of Sciences of Paris, the Allen Richard Prize and the Prize of the Royal Academy of Belgium. She became the first recipient of the Otto Naegeli Award, in 1961, for her scientific research in this field.

Marguerite Lobsiger-Dellenbach

Geneva anthropologist, 1905 – 1993

She represents a pioneer case of a successful social advancement of a woman through science in Geneva. As a 17 year old milliner, she joined the Geneva Museum of Ethnography to become the secretary of Eugène Pittard, then director of the Museum. Her intellectual qualities and interest in everything related to human beings prompted him to encourage her to undertake studies of anthropology. However, it was not possible for her to perform them at UNIGE, since she had no high school degree. She enrolled at the University of Grenoble, where she defended her doctoral thesis in prehistoric archeology on the prehistoric populations of the Alps in 1935. She returned to UNIGE and taught as a lecturer between 1941 and 1965. A determined and insatiable researcher, she undertook ethnological investigations worldwide. She was the first woman to become head of the Museum of ethnography, from 1952 to 1967.

Daniel Bovet

Swiss and Italian pharmacologist and physiologist, 1907 – 1992

Daniel Bovet obtained his doctorate in natural sciences in zoology and comparative anatomy at UNIGE in 1929, under the supervision of Emile Guyénot. He then focused his research on therapy for human pathologies during his years at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He became known for his discovery of the antibacterial properties of sulfonamides in 1935. Daniel Bovet also opened another path, that of allergy treatment, by uncovering the first antihistamine two years later. A fruitful scientific collaboration was established with Filomena Nitti, also a pharmacologist at the Pasteur Institute, whom he married in 1939. He directed the Laboratory of Therapeutic Chemistry of the Pasteur Institute until 1947, then created and directed a similar laboratory at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome. He found less expensive and reliable alternatives to curare, such as gallamine and succinylcholine, which are widely used in human clinical practice. He was appointed Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Sassari in 1964, then Director of the Laboratory of Psychobiology and Psychopharmacology of the National Research Council in Rome from 1969 to 1971, before becoming Professor of Psychobiology at the University of Rome. He received many prizes and distinctions for his work, including the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1957.

Alfred Tissières

Biologist, biochemist and geneticist from Valais, 1917 – 2003

After studying medicine in Lausanne and Basel, he obtained a doctorate focused on bacterial cytochromes in 1951 in Cambridge. He was also interested in other bacterial particles – known as ribosomes today – and studied their structure and function with Jim Watson at Harvard. He then worked in the laboratory of Jacques Monod at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where he developed optimal conditions for the synthesis of proteins in vitro, a system that became essential for the elucidation of the genetic code. In 1964, he was appointed professor in Geneva where he founded with Eduard Kellenberger the Institute of Molecular Biology. He attracted many talented young international scientists to carry on research on the structure and function of ribosomes, messenger RNA synthesis and protein synthesis. He made key contributions to develop this Institute into an important center for molecular research in biology. In 1972, he discovered “heat-shock” proteins in Drosophila at Caltech. Alfred Tissières received numerous scientific awards, including the Marcel Benoist Award in 1966, shared with Edouard Kellenberger. The Alfred Tissières Young Investigator Award has been established by the Cell Stress Society International in honor of his support and encouragement of young scientists.

Eduard Kellenberger

Biophysicist from Bern, 1920 – 2004

Trained as a physicist from ETHZ, he came to UNIGE in 1945 to work on the development of an industrial electron microscope conceived in Switzerland. To demonstrate its utility in biomedical research, he succeeded, with Antoinette Ryter, in developing a method to prepare and to allow the viewing of microorganisms, which has become a standard since. During the 1950s, Eduard Kellenberger, director of the new Biophysics Laboratory, assembled a network of researchers working on the genetics of bacteriophages. This network included Werner Arber, whose work led him to earn the Nobel Prize. The first pictures of the lambda phage electron micrographs also contributed to the reputation of the laboratory. For Eduard Kellenberger, genetic, biochemical and structural approaches were an essential combination for research in molecular biology. The first Institute of Molecular Biology in Switzerland was set up in Geneva in 1964 thanks to his efforts and those of Alfred Tissières. Eduard Kellenberger was awarded the Marcel Benoist Prize in 1966, which he shared with the latter. He then took-up a new challenge that resulted in the creation, with other researchers, of the Biozentrum, an interdisciplinary research institute at the University of Basel.

Edmond Fischer

Swiss and American biochemist, born in 1920

He studied at UNIGE during World War II and earned two science degrees, in biology and chemistry, before obtaining a PhD in organic chemistry. At the age of thirty, he taught the very first course in enzymology of his Alma mater. Edmond Fischer pursued his research in Seattle, in the 1950s. Working closely with Edwin Krebs, he focused on the functioning of an enzyme involved in the metabolism of glucose, glycogen phosphorylase. By studying how hormones activate or deactivate this enzyme, both biochemists discovered a key mechanism: the reversible phosphorylation of proteins. Commonly used in cells to regulate various processes and present in all living organisms, this mechanism serves as a molecular switch to activate or deactivate a large number of enzymes. Edmond Fischer received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1992, which he shared with Edwin Krebs. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and became member of the American National Academy of Sciences. He received, amongst others, the Werner Medal from the Swiss Chemical Society and the Jaubert Prize from UNIGE. He was also elected member of the British Royal Society.

Mathilde Krim

American geneticist and philanthropist, 1926 – 2018

After obtaining a PhD in biology at UNIGE in 1953, she focused her research on cytogenetics and oncogenic viruses at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. She contributed to develop the first method for the prenatal determination of sex. Mathilde Krim moved to New York in the late 1950s and pursued her research in oncology at Cornell University. With her husband Arthur Krim, a movie mogul and philanthropist, she was actively involved in numerous civil liberties and human rights movements. As from 1962, she continued her career at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, where she headed the Interferon Laboratory from 1981 to 1985. She then became a professor at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. Mathilde Krim founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) with Elizabeth Taylor in 1985 to raise funds for AIDS research. She has received 16 doctorates honoris causa as well as numerous other honors and distinctions. In 2000, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, for her commitment to AIDS research, and the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.

Werner Arber

Microbiologist and geneticist from Aargau, born in 1929

He studied chemistry and physics at ETHZ, and became an assistant in the laboratory of Eduard Kellenberger, who managed the electron microscope of UNIGE. He was interested in the physiology and genetics of bacteriophage viruses, a little-known field at that time. His doctorate, obtained in 1958, focused on the study of defective mutant lambda prophages. Werner Arber carried on his research on phage genetics in California. He consolidated his experience by fruitful discussions with experts of this field at the Universities of Berkeley, Stanford and MIT, before returning to Geneva, at the Institute of Physics. Promoted professor, he taught molecular genetics from 1965. After a year at the University of Berkeley, Werner Arber carried on his work at the Biozentrum in Basel in 1971. One aspect of his studies focused on the action of protective enzymes present in virus-infected bacteria and which cut viral DNA into pieces at specific locations: the restriction enzymes. In 1978, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Hamilton Smith and Daniel Nathans for the discovery and applications of these enzymes, which allowed the development of recombinant DNA technology, a revolution in the field of genetics. Werner Arber became a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1981 and was appointed as its head by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.

Bruce Alberts

American biochemist and molecular biologist, born in 1938

Starting with a degree in biochemistry, he completed a PhD in biophysics on DNA replication, a hitherto virtually unexplored field, at Harvard in 1966. He then worked at UNIGE with Richard Epstein and purified a key protein for the replication and recombination of T4 phage DNA. The years spent thereafter at the universities of Princeton and California also contributed to the productive career of Bruce Alberts in biochemistry and molecular biology. He is also known as one of the authors of the famous Molecular Biology of the Cell, the best-selling university textbook in the field. Highly involved in improving science education, he took advantage of his position as president of the American National Academy of Sciences to develop teaching standards that have been implemented in school systems nationwide. Chief Editor of the journal Science from 2009 to 2013, he was also sent to Pakistan and Indonesia as a scientific ambassador of the United States. He received the 2014 National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama. Bruce Alberts has won numerous awards, including 16 honorary doctorates. He is on the scientific advisory board of more than 25 non-profit organizations.

Ulrich Laemmli

Biochemist and molecular biologist from Schaffhausen, born in 1940

After completing his studies in physics at ETHZ, he obtained his doctorate in the laboratory of Eduard Kellenberger at UNIGE in 1969. His research on the structure of chromosomes led him to Cambridge, then to Caltech and Princeton. He came back to UNIGE in 1980, where he was promoted full professor at the Departments of Biochemistry and of Molecular Biology. Ulrich Laemmli made a crucial contribution to a method for separating proteins by electrophoresis. The publication describing this method, used in most research labs, is among the most cited articles of all times. Ulrich Laemmli is responsible for numerous discoveries on the structural organization of nuclei and chromatin within the cell. By combining analyses by electron microscopy with biochemical analyses, he showed that DNA is organized into filamentous loops – the “Laemmli loops” – attached to a frame of proteins. He also unveiled the dynamic equilibriums within this scaffold, which allows an organization into separate functional areas. These discoveries have profoundly changed our view of the structure of chromosomes. Ulrich Laemmli was awarded the Marcel Benoist Prize in 1988 and the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in 1996.

Jacques Dubochet

Biophysicist from Vaud, born in 1942

After completing his studies in physics at EPFL, he obtained a Certificate of Molecular Biology at the Institute of Molecular Biology in Geneva, in 1969, and began to study electron microscopy of DNA. He completed his thesis in biophysics in 1973 at UNIGE and the University of Basel as a student of Eduard Kellenberger. Jacques Dubochet worked at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg and was then appointed professor at the University of Lausanne, in 1987. During his career, he developed technologies used to image individual biological structures such as virus particles. To this end, he figured out how to cool water so quickly that crystals would not form (water vitrification). However, when he first submitted his discovery for publication, it was rejected, as the publishers did not believe water could be manipulated this way. In 2017, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson for developing cryo-electron microscopy to visualize proteins and other biological molecules at the atomic level, in their natural configuration. Jacques Dubochet is also known for his remarkable sense of humor, as illustrated by his curriculum vitae.

Ueli Schibler

Molecular biologist from Solothurn, born in 1947

After obtaining his doctorate in biology at the University of Bern, he spent three years at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Pennsylvania studying the maturation process of messenger RNA. He returned to Switzerland in 1978 as a group leader at ISREC in Lausanne. The work he did on the expression of tissue-specific genes led to a key discovery: the use of alternative promoters and splicing. Ueli Schibler was appointed professor at the Department of Molecular Biology at UNIGE in 1984. His group succeeded in developing a biochemical system in vitro to identify certain transcription factors. They found out that the expression of one of them, DBP, is regulated according to the time of the day and depends on a biological rhythm. The existence of a central clock in the brain, regulated by the alternation of day and night, and governing circadian rhythms was already known. However, his team discovered that circadian clocks exist in virtually every cell of our body and revealed the mechanisms that regulate them. Ueli Schibler has been awarded many honors, including the Louis-Jeantet Prize, the Otto Naegeli Award, the Friedrich Miescher Prize, the Cloëtta Prize and the Aschoff-Honma Prize.

Elisa Izaurralde

Uruguayan biochemist and molecular biologist, 1959 – 2018

She left Uruguay at the age of 17 to pursue her undergraduate studies in biochemistry at UNIGE. She obtained a PhD in molecular biology in 1989, for work on the structural organization of DNA performed under the guidance of Ulrich Laemmli. During her postdoc at EMBL in Heidelberg, Elisa Izaurralde made seminal contributions towards our understanding of how mRNA is exported from the cell nucleus to the cytoplasm. She returned to the Department of Molecular Biology of UNIGE in 1996 as a Senior Lecturer, focusing on key mRNA export factors, before returning to EMBL in 1999, where she extended this line of research together with Elena Conti. While Elisa Izaurralde concentrated on functional aspects of RNA transport, Elena Conti studied the same topic using X-ray structure analysis. Both researchers were awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for this joint work in 2008. Appointed Director of the Department of Biochemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, in 2005, she shifted her research toward the molecular mechanisms that enable micro RNAs and specific RNA binding proteins to selectively silence mRNA molecules. Elisa Izaurralde also received the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine and the Friedrich Miescher Award.

Geneva Museum of Ethnography – Carl-Vogt - History

Boris Wastiau is the Director of the Geneva Museum of Ethnography (MEG) since 2009. A Belgian-Swiss anthropologist, Wastiau has been advocating for a decolonization of ethnography museums since his very first position as curator at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium back in 1996. Founded in 1901, the MEG holds one of the most important ethnographic collections in Switzerland with 70,000 objects from around the world. Recipient of the European Museum of the Year Award in 2017, the MEG has just launched a new strategic plan detailing an ambitious decolonial approach. This innovative perspective focuses on future generations as well as sustainability, while dealing with a difficult past in a constructive and inclusive way.

Mr. Wastiau, over the last months the Black Lives Matter movement has staged many protests, in the US and elsewhere, against contentious public symbols. Because a significant part of ethnographic collections is often linked to colonialism, museums of ethnography are at the heart of this debate. The decolonization of cultural sites may be considered a “hot topic” today, but among museum professionals and curators it is not a new issue. How does the MEG position itself within this context?

Although the MEG has not been criticised nor has it received any claim or request for restitution, these topics matter to us daily: our museum’s strategic plan is foremost a decolonial project. Museum professionals have been working for a long time against racism, in defence of the rights of indigenous peoples, and for the recognition of cultural diversity. Yet, for museums like ours it is sometimes hard to make our commitment visible. Although we are one of the most visited museums in Switzerland with an average 185,000 visitors per year (close to Geneva’s number of inhabitants), our main problem is that many people are not aware of this commitment. Also, a significant number of people refuse to come to the museum, not because they are not interested in it, but because they think they will feel uncomfortable or outraged by the very existence of our collections. They consider ethnographic collections a symbol of colonialism. Therefore, one of the goals within our new strategic plan is to reach out to those people, try to understand why they may feel insulted by the displays, and deal with their doubts.

Concerning the current debate, I do not necessarily support the knocking down of statues. Obliterating symbols is not enough and may degrade relations and mutual understanding. Likewise, the issue of restitution of cultural heritage is a huge and complex debate that needs to be sustained on the long term and cannot be solved by simply returning some items. The restitution topic has been widely broadcast after the Sarr-Savoy report (2018), but since then the claims for restitution have not grown in our museum, nor have elsewhere. It is important to take into consideration the surprising variety of cases throughout history the MEG has already returned some objects spontaneously and facilitated the return of human remains. How should we integrate this debate within our thinking? Decolonization is not only about doing a historical job and provenance research it is about addressing the legacy of this very complex colonial history that still shapes mentalities and behaviours. We won’t get rid of this legacy in one fell swoop through statements or by toppling symbols.

What is the role of today’s ethnography museums? How can they recount the history of their collections as well as their own history to audiences with very different perspectives?

Firstly, they need to tackle the issue of the “non-public” that I was mentioning: people who do not come to the museum for a number of different reasons. According to a reputation survey we conducted in Geneva and its surroundings, 20 to 25% of the population neither knows about the museum, nor about “ethnography”. It is necessary to go towards these people and identify their apprehensions and needs. Secondly, there are those who feel misrepresented or alienated. As an alternative to our traditional displays, an important commitment within our decolonial program is to overcome the “ethnographic paradigm” and to become a “post-ethnographic” museum. We want to avoid monographic exhibitions on particular cultures such as “Japan’s Samurai” or “Cameroon’s Bamum”. Rather, we will focus on global topics, in a cross-disciplinary and trans-local perspective, so that anybody, from anywhere in the world, could potentially relate to them: climate change, decolonial ecology, labour, health, governance and territory, extractivism and world markets, global demography, or other issues currently being addressed in post-humanism for instance. We also want to take an experimental approach in the renewal of the exhibitions, and to invite visitors to think about their future. The first exhibition of the new cycle will be presented in 2021: “Environmental injustice: the autochthonous alternatives”. Besides, in order to stress this change of paradigm, it is necessary to “decolonize our ethnographic collections”, which are similar, mutatis mutandis, to those you find in other “ethnographic museums” in the world. The oldest artefacts came to Geneva in the 18 th Century and most date from the first half of the 20 th Century.

A full-scale cultural revolution seems under way.

It is timely to rethink the vision and purpose of our museums in a global context where the notion of museum itself has deeply changed, as the debate hosted by ICOM shows. If we keep and curate collections that bear witness to a colonial past for future generations, this should not prevent us from renewing and expanding our mission, to address contemporary issues and engage, for instance, in a reflexion on our global future. Our type of collections was created in an entirely different time, for ideological or for scientific purposes, by scientists as well as missionaries or collectors, within a colonial framework. Our role today is not so much to “value” those collections as to share new knowledge about them with our visitors. In order to renew ourselves as a place of exhibitions, encounters and exchanges, we need to deliver new messages to the public through those same objects.

How can this be done?

Today there is a broad variety of approaches vis-à-vis the contestation of collections and decolonisation. When collections are criticised, museums can take different positions. Some may blindly follow tradition and wait for the storm to end, while others may express their guilt and explain that “yes, it is horrible”, but they have a duty to preserve this heritage. Other museums may be so supportive of returning collections to source countries that, in some ways, they may appear to be clearing the whole problem without confronting their own responsibilities as public institutions.

Our decolonial project at MEG features a different option: by 2023 we will present our collections as “colonial collections” in the new permanent display, in order to clearly explain their history and that of our institution, as well as their relevance to some living cultures, interest groups or individuals today. Our permanent exhibition is already entirely dedicated to the history of the collection, the history of acquisitions and that of the institution. The provenance and the mode of acquisition of every single item in the museum are properly indicated on labels – but who reads them? Who can make sense of hundreds of provenance indications? People who only browse the galleries and those who do not enter the museum cannot notice the details of colonial provenance. We need a different and more explicit museography that will be relevant to the debates you mentioned. Today, the permanent exhibition is entitled “The archives of human diversity”. It will be changed and possibly renamed “The decolonial exhibition”. Its principles will be as follows: transparency, fairness, and equality. The origin of all sensitive collections, colonial or neo-colonial, will be more explicitly addressed: looted objects or objects taken under duress during colonial wars, originating from illicit archaeology, genocidal contexts, or otherwise unlawfully exported from the countries of origin. This will be done to the specific purpose of sharing our understanding of the dynamics of colonial (and post-colonial) museography and the persistence of colonial prejudices in the way collections have been presented and curated until recently.

In order to do so, we are committed to co-produce knowledge, to co-interpret objects and to be sensitive to the will of culture bearers in terms of displays of sacred and secret or otherwise sensitive artefacts. At least half of the collection on display should be interpreted by people from the source cultures. Thanks to communication technology, it has become much easier than ever to dialogue with these people, wherever they are in the world. To take one example, we know the story of an isolated item, a votive sword taken by French soldiers in 1881 from a mausoleum in Kairouan, Tunisia. It arrived in Switzerland in 1882. The mausoleum is still there, and Kairouan is so close. We would have no excuse now not to reach out to them to interpret this object together.

Does this desire to look at the future encourage you to work more with contemporary artists?

We have been doing this for a long time, but perhaps failing to give it pre-eminence. Today we do it in more diverse and more intensive ways. There is a longstanding interest in contemporary creations at MEG. For instance, in 1928 the MEG was the first museum to exhibit the Congolese painter Albert Lubaki. One of the oldest photographs of the museum’s displays (1925) shows an ensemble of Nigerian carvings titled “modern art”. Besides being a place of display of contemporary creation, the museum has also been a place of inspiration for artists. For example, Jean Dubuffet visited MEG in 1945 because he was interested in extra-European art, Swiss folk art and contemporary works. The temporary exhibition entitled “Jean Dubuffet, a barbarian in Europe”, which opened on the 8 th September focuses precisely on his visit to MEG. Ethnography museums often aged with the habitus of their discipline and they rapidly turned, in a way or another, into conservation places for “heritage”. Their collections becoming ever more anachronistic, they abandoned their pretention to an “ethnographic present” and turned more and more historical. Museums ossify when they only look at the past. Contemporary creation is not new in our museum, but it will have a more explicit role and will actively take part in the interpretation of our decolonial collection. Knowledge co-construction and the search for origins should be done critically and not only for the sake of a clear conscience.

Do you believe that ethnography museums could play a role of mediation and inclusion, precisely because of their collections’ complex and sensitive history?

This is an important aspect of our exhibition program! But besides exhibitions, since its reopening in 2014, MEG has been a space for debate and exchange. Today it is just reformulated in a more ambitious way. Our strategic plan features a program of societal engagement, with an inclusive aspect. Before the pandemic, we used to organise 3.7 events per day with an average 40 partners per year, from educational, social and cultural associations to foundations, NGOs, etc.

Most ethnography museums in Europe have replaced the very term “ethnography” with “world cultures” or “cultures” because the term was considered to be too associated with colonial history. Do you also plan to change MEG’s name?

So we now find ourselves with a “decolonial program” in a museum with a colonial denomination: we have to tackle this problem! The city authorities have welcomed the strategic plan and are open to the idea of changing the name. We are working with them in order to rethink our name, role and image, and will discuss it with all stakeholders and strive for public approval. The name change should be the symbol of a change and not just the change of a symbol. In 1996, the Basel museum of ethnography was a forerunner by replacing the German name of “Museum für Völkerkunde” with “Museum of Cultures”, in a real epistemological shift. Here in Geneva, the context was not primed to discuss the issue until recently. The situation is different today, as our new strategic plan is explicitly focused on contents and on ethics, whereas the previous one, twelve years ago, was about the museum’s structural renovation.

To what extent is the Geneva Museum of Ethnography’s history related to colonialism?

The creation of the ethnographic museum in Geneva in 1901 took place within a global colonial framework. Through many citizens, companies and institutions, Switzerland was widely involved in many aspects of global colonization, starting with its involvement in the slave trade and plantations. Its economy largely relied on colonial goods. As a state, Switzerland never owned colonies, but some Swiss companies and individuals did, in Africa or in the Americas. We should recount this encroachment into world colonial history. So why was this museum created? Not just because the good citizens of Geneva needed an outlet to the world and its marvels, but also because such a museum was an important feature in any country and city whose citizens contributed to colonial enterprises. By 1901, there were already thousands of objects that had been brought to Europe by diverse agents of colonialism: missionaries, travellers, merchants and diplomats. Some of the oldest artefacts in the collection were brought from Surinam in the 17 th Century by Ami Butini, a Geneva-born slaver and planter.

During your career, what has driven you most to take such endeavours into account?

When I started my career as anthropologist and curator, I was shocked to find that nobody at the museum (back in Tervuren) answered the sensitive questions asked by the visitors, which were mostly about simple facts concerning the colonial past: “Where do the collections come from?” or “Why and how were they brought to Europe?”. So, what made visitors offended? It is fundamental to answer all of them in earnest, even the most difficult ones. People are always grateful if you bother to listen to them respectfully and answer them duly. If you turn their questions and your answers into exhibitions, you can be sure that are doing a very exciting job.

Cover Photo: © MEG, Blaise Glauser

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Public museums

Find all the information about art in Geneva at :

In addition to their reference exhibitions presenting the emblematic artefacts and works in their collections, the museums of Geneva serve up a rich programme of temporary exhibitions, visits and activities of every kind which can be consulted on the website

Cultural Trails

The cultural circuits from one museum to another offer visitors the chance to explore museums from a different standpoint. The museums are grouped together by district and the walk from one to the next offers an opportunity to make a number of discoveries as edifying as they are amusing. Monuments, public works of art or historical anecdotes and tips of the hat bring that little extra to a walk between past and present, shedding light on the development of the city over the centuries.

Nuit des Musées

Every year in May, the Nuit des Musées offers regular visitors the chance to see a museum from a different angle while others can discover new places in a jovial and colourful atmosphere. Each new edition focuses on a theme underpinning the programme of events organised by the museums, which unveil creative treasures to offer visitors original and fascinating experiences.

Accessibility measures

To ensure that these offerings can be enjoyed by as many people as possible, the City implements numerous accessibility measures, in particular through appropriate pricing policies. In the city’s museums, the areas dedicated to permanent collections can be explored free of charge. And on the first Sunday of every month, the temporary exhibitions are also free. People who have a low income can make use of their cultural cheque book. For permanently or temporarily handicapped people, the City also proposes access measures, such as visits adapted to their needs. Furthermore, since October 2017, the association Cédille has developed the website Culture accessible Genève in order to promote cultural events accessible to people suffering from a sensory, physical or mental handicap.

Museum pass

The museum pass is valid for 16 museums in Geneva, offering visitors a range of advantages. Available for CHF 40 and valid for one full year from the first time it is used, the museum pass invites visitors to enjoy a host of museum experiences. It is on sale at the ticket offices of partner museums as well as from the Department of Culture and Sport and the City of Geneva Information Centre.

Museum in Bern, Switzerland

Museum of Fine Arts Bern

The Museum of Fine Arts Bern, established in 1879, is the oldest art museum in Switzerland. Its collection spans from the Middle Ages to the present.

The collection consists of over 3,000 paintings and sculptures as well as 48,000 drawings, prints, photographs, videos, and films.

Bern Historical Museum

The Bern Historical Museum is a historical museum in a building that was modeled on various historic castles from the 15th and 16th centuries.

The museum contains collections related to the history of Bern from prehistoric times to the present and other artifacts on permanent display from Asia, Oceania, America, and Egypt.

One highlight of the collection is the Muri statuette group, a group of six Gallo-Roman bronze figurines.

Museum Tinguely

The Museum Tinguely is an art museum with a permanent exhibition of the works of Swiss painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely.

A variety of Tinguely’s kinetic art sculptures are on permanent display, complemented with illustrations, photographs, and other documents related to the artist’s life and work.

Museums & Exhibitions

There are lots of great museums to visit in Geneva and Switzerland. Entry is normally free but some may charge a fee for entry to special exhibitions. There may be visits to museums which are part of the academic program.

For a guide to museums in the region click on this link or read from below:

For a list of temporary exhibitions in Geneva go to and select Culture and Exposition.

Museums in Geneva

Art and History Museum – Musée d’art et d’histoire – Maison Tavel – Musée Rath – Bibliothèque d’art et d’archéologie – Cabinet d’arts graphiques

Comprised of four different sites it is the largest museum in Geneva, The Art and History Museum is veritable catalogue of western culture with over one million pieces in its collection organized in three different wings. The Archeology wing contains relics from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. The Fine Arts wing houses paintings from the Renaissance onward including works by Van Gogh and Renoir. Finally, the Applied Arts wing features furniture, weapons and other articles of daily life from the Middle Ages. The Rath Museum was the first museum dedicated solely to the fine arts in Geneva in 1826. The Tavel house contains artefacts of daily life in Geneva from the Middle Ages through the late 1800’s.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral archaeological site

Excavations from the 3rd-century BC leading up to the construction of the current cathedral in the 12th century. The site is among the winners of the “European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage – Europa Nostra”.

International Museum of the Reformation

International Museum of the Reformation (IMR) presents the history of the Reform, from its inception to today, as well as the work and influence of Jean Calvin both in Geneva and abroad.

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCO)

MAMCO, located in an old factory building, is a dynamic museum on the cutting edge of modern art in Europe.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

Emotion, discovery, reflection: the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum offers a unique opportunity to enter into the history of humanitarian action. Three separate areas, each developed by a well-known exhibition architect, allow visitors to explore three major challenges in today’s world: Defending human dignity, restoring family links, reducing natural risks.

Guided tours available through reservation.

History of Science Museum

A fascinating collection of scientific instruments and equipment from the region dating from the 17 th to the 19 th century.

Geneva’s newest museum! Step inside ITU HQ to explore the fascinating story of the evolution and exciting future of information & communication technologies (ICT).

CERN – The European Organization for Nuclear Research

The Microcosm permanent exhibition is open to the public and free. Free tours can be booked as well.

Patek Philippe Museum

The Patek Philippe Museum traces the evolution of watch making in Geneva from its humble origins through to its current apogee as the world leader in the industry. The museum presents an evocative collection of timepieces dating back as far as the early 16th century.

The Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass is a unique museum located on the grounds adjoining the United Nations. The museum contains 20,000 different pieces – all manner of kiln crafts including stoneware, porcelain, pottery, and glass from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The lovely neo-baroque and neo-classical building compliments every visitor experience.

The Museum of Far Eastern Art, comprises some 9000 Chinese and Japanese art objects, housed in an elegant late 19th-century town house. Acquired by the Swiss collector Alfred Baur (1865-1951) over a period of some 45 years, these exquisite works of art include Chinese imperial ceramic ware, jades and snuff bottles from the 10th to the 19th centuries, as well as Japanese prints, lacquer, netsuke, and sword fittings.

Barbier-Mueller Museum

The Barbier-Mueller Museum is home to 7,000 masks, tools, statues, ornaments and other singular articles from Antiquity – Africa, Asia and Oceania

Natural History Museum

The Natural History museum presents an educational look at the world of nature with special emphasis on the ecological history of Switzerland.

Geneva Museum of Ethnography

Through exhibitions, research and mediation, the museum explores the diversity of cultures and the wealth of the differences between them. A new cultural hub forging links at local, regional and international level and taking an interactive approach to all categories of visitors, the MEG comes to grips with today’s complex, plural world.

Botanical Gardens and Conservatory

One of the most comprehensive botanic collections in the world. The conservatory contains over 16,000 different plant species and is a working natural refuge dedicated to preservation and the advancement of horticulture.

Swiss National Museum – La Chateau de Prangins (Nyon)

The château dating from 1730 with its English-style park and kitchen garden, has been meticulously restored in the old style. The museum, its permanent and special exhibitions depicting life in Switzerland in the 18th and 19th centuries covering topics from the fields of art, culture and society.


Olympic Museum – Lausanne

The Olympic Museum is a tribute to the history of the Olympic Games and the spirit which they embody. The museum presents the history of the Games beginning with the ancient Greeks and traces the Games’ evolution through a stunning collection of memorabilia, audio-visual clips and other mementos that takes visitors up through today.

Switzerland’s Museum of Transportation – Luzern

The Swiss Museum of Transportation, which was opened in 1959, is Switzerland’s most popular museum. The history of mobility and communication is documented in exhibitions and theme parks, with simulations, interactive stations and films.

Papiliorama – Exotic Butterflies and More – Kerzers (Bern)

The tropical gardens Papiliorama and Nocturama in Kerzers are home to plants and animals from the tropics. In the Anthropodarium, arthropods are exhibited. The Swiss Butterfly Garden is dedicated to native butterfly species.

The Zoo, situated on Zurich Mountain, houses 340 animal species in habitats designed to be natural. Ranging from the Himalayan Mountains to South American grasslands to the Masoala rain forest, eco-systems have been created here, in which the animals, including endangered species, can roam free and widely. A petting zoo also enables close contact between people and native livestock as well as domesticated animals.

Geneva Museum of Ethnography – Carl-Vogt - History

At a time when colonial history and its legacy is becoming an object of controversial debate worldwide, ethnography museums can play a key educational role.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests against statues representing public figures related to or associated with the slave trade, colonialism, and racism have reopened a debate about the role of historic symbols in the public space. This debate, which has been key in the fields of anthropology and museology over the last fifty years, has now gained visibility outside the academic realm. All over the world, ethnographical museums have been facing the following question: what to do with ethnographic collections, which explicitly or implicitly are related to colonial history and an unfair relationship between former colonial states and colonies? How to display architectures that bear witness to racism like the famous building of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium or the building of the former French Museum of Colonies now transformed into the National Museum of History of Immigration? French anthropologist Jean Jamin had ironically suggested burning all these collections. But burning these objects is unlikely to solve the problem, as it would cancel the history of these objects, of the people who produced them and of those who brought them to the museum (fairly or unfairly).

Undeniably, many items that are on display in museums in Europe, United States, Canada, Russia, Australia and New Zealand were taken, looted, or bought at a time of unfair and asymmetric power relations. Even Switzerland, which had no formal colonies, owns important collections that are related to colonial history, as well explained by Boris Wastiau, director of the Geneva Ethnography Museum (MEG), in an upcoming interview to this journal. Some objects and buildings bear witness to a time in which science and anthropology were linked to the idea of a hierarchy of cultures. This perspective was defined by the idea that colonialism was a tool to bring civilization to colonies. Ethnography museums had the purpose of constructing an image of an exotic and primitive world to be distinguished from the civilized world, through the exhibition of a variety of non-European objects. Many scholars have defined this approach as “cannibalism” as the approach consumed other cultures’ objects while silencing those who fabricated them[1].

The long path of self-reform

After strong criticism and post-colonial influences over the last decade, a “symbolic revolution” shook the field of ethnographic museums in Europe. Most museums implemented innovative strategies for a more reflexive museology [2] and followed a new deontology in order to reshape their colonial heritage. Many were completely renovated others changed their name and museographical approach. Instead of ethnography, which is too close to the colonial context, most museums today prefer the denomination “world cultures”, “civilisations” or “world”, in order to build a new framework of reference, related to the post-colonial and globalised order. From Paris to Vienna, from Bale to Tervuren, many institutions have changed their name, their narratives and their displays in an attempt to critically discuss their colonial origins. Although this process has not always been clearly understood by visitors, undeniably the post-colonial critique has reduced the distance between the museums as centres of power and world’s peripheries, from which most collections and represented peoples come from. Those peoples, who used to be represented as objects of study, now claim to represent themselves within the museum display, to interpret their history and to manage or return their collections.

In parallel, a new international moral and legal context has flourished since the 1980s with the evolution of UNESCO and ICOM norms, the rise of indigenous’ rights awareness and the introduction of the intangible heritage category. The normative approach, therefore, of cultural diversity, the adoption of intercultural dialogue, and the various attempts to recognise previously invisible groups (be they former colonized peoples, indigenous peoples, or migrants) became the museums’ new discourse.

Unanswered questions

Besides this symbolic revolution, many ethical and political questions remain unsolved. What is the essence of heritage? Is it a universal public good or a particular tool for preserving and fostering the memory and identity of a specific group? How to set a base-line for the equal treatment of objects, which are on display in different museums all around the world? Why are the majority of objects on display in museums in Europe and in the United States if they come from African or Asian regions?

In a famous speech delivered in November 2017 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that it was time to return cultural objects to African museums. This undoubtedly opened a Pandora’s box. At his request, a scientific and detailed report on the nature of French heritage was completed in November 2018 (the Sarr-Savoy report). It called for the restitution of many objects from Western museums to their countries of origins. Nevertheless, this restitution process raises many problems. On the one hand, at a national level, French laws are very strict about national museum objects, considered as “inalienable”. In order to return a single museum object, a specific piece of legislation needs to be created and voted by the French Parliament. On the other hand, the return of cultural objects is a very international issue. It is extremely complicated to compare different heritage legislations with regard to the same group of items, located in different museums across Europe and the US. Except for cases of documented theft or looting, it is hard to identify the specific provenance of objects and to establish where and to whom they should be returned.

Behind all these legal questions, restitution remains very much a political issue. The increasing international legislation on the return of cultural objects should be interpreted along with the “internationalisation of multiculturalism”, to use Will Kymlicka’s definition. The historian Elazar Barkan called it a Post-Cold War international justice based on morality and restitution. In his opinion, the rising number of claims for restitution worldwide is the sign of a new policy in international relations. Accordingly, restitution should be considered as a tool for repairing historical wrongs, reconciling memories and giving visibility to indigenous peoples and former colonised countries. To this extent, restitution is a way of implementing an international politics of recognition in a guilt/victim relationship and museums are the battlefields where this process is taking place.

Beyond restitution

What should be done with colonial collections? Should museums return all items to their countries of origin even when it is not clear to whom they belong? The Anglo-Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah exposed all the facets of this dilemma. Following a cosmopolitanist approach and criticizing an essentialist or nationalist perspective on heritage, Appiah explains that there is no direct link between the Nok civilisation and the contemporary state of Nigeria, nor between the Viking people and the people living in contemporary Norway. Heritage should not be considered as the possession of a single culture, because people and culture change over time, exchange with each other and are not fixed entities.

Undoubtedly, in the case of proven theft or looting, restitution should be encouraged and accomplished. But it should not be a magical solution to all heritage-related issues. The debate between universalism versus restitution follows a counterproductive path. There is no clear line in favour of one or the other. Knowledge depends on its transmission and its public likewise, heritage should be available to the largest possible audience, especially in developing countries. Science makes progress only when its results are shared internationally. Likewise, collections need to be shared with visitors all over the world. A “transnational shared heritage” with long-term loan-policies, mobility of collections and museum professionals, partnerships between institutions in terms of research, exhibition and cooperation, sharing of heritage interpretation and sharing of different memories would be much more influential than simple restitution.

Therefore the main question that needs to be addressed concerns the role of museums in our society today and for the next decade. Restitution is just one part of the picture, but the main mission of a museum is above all educational. Museums can be a very powerful instructive tool touching history, society, politics and economy. They should be considered educational institutions like schools, with a particular mission: they bear witness to a divisive and sensitive past. This might prove to become their strength if they succeed in displaying this past with diverse narratives. Cancelling or hiding their collections would be a mistake because it would contradict their very mission. On the contrary, displaying critically and explicitly their history with its prejudices, conflicts and racist ideologies and showing the different narratives in the interpretation of history would bring a lot of value to current and future generations. The permanent installation Whose Objects? at the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm is an outstanding case of multi-vocal display. It shows 74 pieces of the famous Benin collection that was looted by British troops in 1897 and sold afterwards to many museums in Europe and the United States.[3] The exhibition compares different viewpoints on the topic of restitution, clearly underlying the history of these objects and the history of their circulation.

To this extent museums can play a fundamental role in our fragmented and disoriented societies: they can teach world history – and in particular colonialism and the link between science and racism. Burning statues or symbols of this divisive past is not the solution to a very complex problem. History has been always made of wars, conflicts, slavery and power relations. By adopting Thucydides’ realist approach to history, we should leave emotions and moral judgments behind while analysing the past. To make our future more cohesive and inclusive we need to build a shared and multi-vocal memory. All ethnography museum collections, thanks to their contentious origin, have the power to do so.

[1] Gonseth M-O., Hainard, J., & Kaehr, R. (Eds.), (2002). Le musée cannibale. Neuchâtel: Musée d’ethnographie.

[2] Pagani, C. “Exposing the Predator, Recognising the Prey: New institutional strategies for a reflexive museology”, ICOFOM Study Series [Online], 45 | 2017. URL : DOI: 10.4000/iss.341

[3] Whose Objects? Art Treasures from the Kingdom of Benin in the Collection of the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm edited by Wilhelm Ostberg Stockholm: Etnografiska Museet, 2010. Bodenstein, F. & Pagani, C. “Decolonizing National Museums of Ethnography in Europe: Exposing and Reshaping Colonial Heritage (2000-2012)”, in The Postcolonial Museum. The Arts of Memory and the Pressures of History. 2014. Ed. by Ian Chambers, Alessandra De Angelis, Celeste Ianniciello, Mariangela Orabona. London: Routledge, 2014, pp. 39-49.

Camilla Pagani, PhD, is Lecturer in Political Theory at MGIMO University, Moscow, and Sciences Po Alumni Board Member.

Cover Photo: Franck Fife/ AFP

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If you are passionate about history, modern art or positive humanitarian action, Geneva is the place for you.

International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Geneva is well known for being the birthplace of the Red Cross, which was founded by Henry Dunant. An interesting museum is dedicated to his work. Visit the permanent exhibition and discover the different humanitarian actions of the Red Cross.

At a new section called "Humanitarian Adventure”, visitors venture through three spaces with interesting themes such as defending human dignity, rebuilding family ties and limiting natural hazards. You will have the opportunity to virtually meet a dozen witnesses from different countries, all passionate about their actions.

Conservatory and Botanical Garden

A museum that’s alive! The Botanical Garden has a collection of over 12,000 species and is a feast for the senses an expression of the naturalistic spirit that prevailed in Geneva since its first botanical garden was created in 1817.

Today, the Conservatory and Botanical Garden occupy an area of 28 hectares. The herbarium with six million samples is one of the largest in the world.

Patek Philippe Museum

Discover the history of the watch and admire rare, luxury timekeeping specimens. Nestled in the Plainpalais District, the elegant Patek Philippe Museum was established in 2001.

See an impressive collection of watches designed by creators who came to Geneva between the 16th and 19th century to devote themselves to their passion. Of course, you will also discover the prestigious watch brand Patek Philippe from Geneva.

Ethnography Museum

Renowned throughout Switzerland, Geneva’s Ethnography Museum highlights the cultural richness of five continents and showcases the diversity of cultures.

Recently renovated, the MEG (as Genevans refer to it), inspires with topics such as the human sciences, arts and living practices.

International Museum of the Reformation

Geneva made its mark on history.

In 2005, the International Museum of the Reformation was founded in in the elegant Maison Mallet, which dates from the 18th century.

A respectable collection of paintings, unique art objects and manuscripts trace the history of this religious movement in Christianity that changed the face of Europe and Geneva. It’s a fascinating way to understand the city.

City of Time

This event space recalls the industrial past of the city. Today, the Cité du Temps (City of Time) hosts temporary exhibitions, as well as a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Swiss brand Swatch. Discover a large number of watches, from the very first Swatch established in 1983 to the latest models.

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Mamco)

Modern art is on show in Geneva at Mamco, considered the most contemporary of the country's art museums and recognised worldwide for its exhibitions.

Founded in 1994, Mamco has hosted almost 500 exhibits. It highlights the innovative work of Swiss and international artists.

UNHCR Visitors Centre

This visitor centre explains the work of the United Nations Refugees Agency, an organisation that has the important mission of protecting refugees worldwide. During your visit you will get a better understanding of how the agency protects refugees that are displaced during natural catastrophes or conflicts.

Bodmer Foundation - Library and Museum

This extraordinary collection that comprises some of the most incredible intellectual discoveries, is housed in a beautiful building designed by Mario Botta. Papyri, manuscripts from the Middle Ages and a number of unique editions form part of the artefacts.

Original works of Dante and Shakespeare are not to be missed, as well as the fascinating Egyptian Book of Dead collection.

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Watch the video: Museums and Indigenous Art: Genevas Museum of Ethnography is Charting a Way Forward (August 2022).