The collection of the Heritage Unit for historical and contemporary globalization makes it possible to better understand the history of the meeting of Western societies with others. With over 10,000 works, objects and documents, it shows the development through the centuries, of the Western view of distant peoples, societies and territories.
This collection is intimately related to the history of museums in the 20th century, since it was constituted by the institutions which preceded the musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie (musée des Colonies, musée de la France d’outre-mer) and the Ethnology Laboratory of the musée de l’Homme. An active policy of enriching the collection since the opening of the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac in 2006 made it possible to consider it as an unusual collection related to globalization.
The representations present in the collection, whether imaginary or derived from the observation of reality, form part of the definition of otherness. The collection consists of a vast range of materials and techniques: paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings, travel journals, decorative arts, maps and medals. Among other things, is a set of images relating to the discovery of the New World, to the history of African Kingdoms, to the crossing of the Pacific Ocean, to slavery, to orientalism and to the organization of the artistic system during the colonial period.
This collection with its historiographical dimension reveals itself during the course of presentations. Some orientalist paintings are displayed on the Collections Floor, next to objects from North Africa and the Middle East. The graphic arts gallery offers regular displays which demonstrate the wealth as well as the diversity of the engravings and drawings of the collection. The many loans made for temporary exhibitions also ensure a very broad dissemination of the collection.