André Leroi-Gourhan (25 août 1911–19 février 1986)

Article French OPEN
Soulier, Philippe (2007)
  • Publisher: CNRS Éditions

André Leroi-Gourhan (25th August 1911 – 19th February 1986) A short biography of André Leroi-Gourhan is here presented, beginning in 1927, at the moment of his student years, until his retirement in 1982. It rests on a systematic analysis of his publications and on his personal and professional archives, collected and studied for the first time in 2001 when the author was temporally engaged by the CNRS. Going beyond the pure biography of events, such as those already presented in numerous posthumous tributes, from 1986 to 1988, this article is instead a short examination of the connections and the continuities present in his work. It evokes A. Leroi-Gourhan’s research and teaching across the many disciplines he pursued : orientalism, philology, ethnology, history of art and religions, early technology, zoology, human geography, and prehistoric archeology. The article traces the main outlines of the four major periods of his professional activity, with the goal of underlining the coherence that unites them, and also the accidents of circumstances : his education and the period of orientalism (1927-1944), the time of his doctoral studies and of ethnology (1944-1955), the early period of prehistory (1952-1965), and his second foray into prehistory (1965-1986). The first period is marked above all by physical anthropology, learning from Marcel Mauss, the study about expositions in the musée de l’Homme under the direction of Georges Henri Rivière, oriental languages with Paul Boyer and Marcel Granet, not to forget his formative sejour in Japan from 1937 to 1939. The second period is that of the PhD in art and sciences, to make it possible for A. Leroi-Gourhan to teach the two approaches to ethnology as he conceived them, closely interweaving technological man and biological man. After 1952, his orientation toward prehistory is definitively affirmed, whether he conceived as proofs to support his ideas about technology in ethnology, or the interpretation of Western prehistoric art. This new orientation can be perceived equally in the organization of his fieldwork expeditions and the centers where he formed researchers. In effect, from 1944 to 1986, and complementary to his own research, his activity as laboratory director would be determinant, for himself as well as for his teaching. The last part of his life, after 1965, is marked by progressive illness, but also by his participation in the direction of public research and cultural institutions, and, after 1969, by courses given at the Collège de France.
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