The Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (literally, House of the Sciences of Man Foundation) was created in the early 1960s by Gaston Berger upon a proposal by Fernand Braudel. It had nine founding members: André Aymard, Marcel Bataillon, Fernand Braudel, Julien Cain, Jacques Chapsal, Gabriel Le Bras, Charles Morazé, Pierre Renouvin, and Jean Sarrailh.
A Forward-Looking Vision
Gaston Berger, then director of Higher Learning, had just succeeded Lucien Febvre as president of the dynamic VIth Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE). Although this section, which is devoted to the human and social sciences, was undergoing massive expansion, its various centers were scattered throughout Paris.
Following Fernand Braudel’s proposal, Gaston Berger brought together the directors of the major French scientific institutions to discuss creating a common location where the various institutions could set up their research centers in the human and social sciences. The overarching goal was to create a highly flexible institutional framework where each center would remain independent, a condition for any type of intellectual creativity.
The idea was that by bringing together researchers specialized in various disciplines and geographical areas the site would become a privileged place of cross-disciplinary dialogue.
This original institution needed an original status that allowed it to have flexible governance while still being affiliated with the Ministry of National Education. The Association loi 1901 (French term designating a non-profit associative entity) created in 1962 by the founding members was rapidly transformed into a Foundation recognized as being of public utility (January 4, 1963 decree, modified by the decrees of July 19, 1966 and of February 23, 1973). The FMSH shares this status with the Fondation Nationale de Sciences Politiques (FNSP – National Political Science Foundation), which served as a model for its creation.
In 1968, the FMSH moved into the building called “Maison des Sciences de l’Homme” at 54 boulevard Raspail. This was the former site of the Cherche-Midi military prison. The building’s construction was even a showcase of some of the major advances in building techniques. Today, the FMSH shares the building with the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).
- Fernand Braudel ran the FMSH until his death in 1985.
- Clemens Heller [see testimonials], who had supported Braudel from the outset, succeeded him (1985-1992) and continued the same policies,
- Maurice Aymard (1992-2005) [see video], one of Braudel’s students and Director of the EHESS, gave priority to increasing the FMSH’s international dimension.
- Alain d'Iribarne (since 2005) [see video] is currently in charge of maintaining the Foundation’s “modern” spirit in a period of major turning points for research in the social and human sciences.
A "Grammar of Cultures"
Interdisciplinary by nature from the outset, the FMSH is committed to being a place for experimenting with and fine-tuning ideas, new theories, and types of organization.
Given Fernand Braudel’s goal of creating a “grammar of cultures,” it has been open to the rest of the world since its inception and has become increasingly international over the last two decades.
This internationalization was initially focused on Europe: at a time when the European Union was becoming a scientific reality, the fall of the Berlin Wall made the intellectual reunification of Europe possible, necessary, and an opportunity for research.
In the context of globalization and following the ongoing and fruitful exchanges with North America (United States and Canada), the FMSH decided to forge links and networks with Latin America, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and finally Asia (mainly India, China, and Japan), whose influences continue to grow.
An Incubator of Innovation
Today, the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme’s place in the French system of research continues to be original and the choices it has made have rendered it an especially stimulating environment for intellectual meetings and exchanges [video of Eric Godelier]. According to the unique status sought by the founders, its role is to innovate. As was the case when it was created, the FMSH continues to address new problems and issues that do not fit into the framework of more traditional academic or research institutions.
In this perspective, the FMSH has always provided support to the world’s various hosting and mobility institutions – natural partners for the FMSH – with whom it has always cooperated: the EHESS, CNRS, FNSP, but also foreign foundations and French and foreign universities.
It is also in this perspective that it was led to create, alongside the humanities and human sciences section of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Lyon), the Université de Provence (Aix-Marseille I), the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Ange Guépin (GIP) and the CNRS, a foundation of scientific cooperation that serves as the basis of a thematic research network called the French Network of Advanced Studies Institutes. Within the network, it leads the Institut d’Etudes Avancées Paris/Ile-de-France created in partnership with the EHESS and the ENS in Paris.
Lastly, it took part in creating the Scientific Interest Units within the National MSH Network (list of msh institutions). This network is composed of various “maisons des sciences de l’homme,” which have been created in most French university towns in recent years.