Where are the numbers? Counting museum visitors in France

Swenson, A (2019) 'Where are the numbers? Counting museum visitors in France.' Cultural Trends, 28 (1). pp. 56-71. ISSN 0954-8963

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/09548963.2019.1559466


In the early twenty-first century, the Louvre is the most visited museum in the world. Yet little is known about how visit numbers to French museums developed. Compared to the Anglo-Saxon world, the collection and publication of visit data began late and was initially far from systematic. Some figures were collected in the late nineteenth century, but correspondence from the early twentieth century indicates that not even the Ministry of Fine Arts, overseeing the National Museums, was always aware of them. More complete numbers appeared from 1922 when entrance fees were introduced. However, visitors entering on free days were not yet counted. In the 1930s, data collection for the National Museums was systematized by the Directorate of National Museums, but figures were rarely published. The aim of this article is, therefore, to establish the sources that might be used for a quantitative approach to museum visiting in France and to reflect on the reasons for the initial indifference towards the counting of visitors and the standardisation with international practices over time. The article argues that the triggers for changes in the culture of counting in France were both internal and external. A prolonged debate about the introduction of entrance fees took place from the start of the Third Republic to the interwar years and let to the search for existing numbers in France and abroad. The Fine Arts Administration compiled data about practices in other countries and a number of monographs on the subject were published. The press also frequently referenced foreign examples. These documents provide a fascinating insight into comparisons and emulation of foreign practices at the time, allowing us to rethink the modern obsession with counting as the result of a transnational process.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: museums, France, transnational models, visit numbers, longitudinal data
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DC France
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Research Centres and Groups: History and Heritage Research Centre
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1080/09548963.2019.1559466
Date Deposited: 08 Jan 2019 18:24
Last Modified: 16 May 2022 14:45
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/11838
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