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What is this all about ?
How did I come up with this ?

Caroline Hodak 2018-09-27.jpg

Studying History and Social Sciences,  I was a member of the Social Sciences Laboratory of ENS-EHESS during ten years (aka today ETT of the Centre Maurice Halbwachs).

I started working on the topic of circuses because I wanted to explore a subject about sociability ("sociabilités"), cultural practices and audiences that had not yet been studied in French modern cultural history. The idea came to me when I accicently overheard a traditional circus music. I submitted my intention to Daniel Roche, professor at Paris-I, EHESS and then at the Collège de France, whose course on sociabilities I was attending. Daniel found the idea interesting and advised me an equestrian bibliography. I replied that I wanted to work on the circus, not about horses (!). He said "Ok. Go ahead, we'll see".

To make a long story short, the result is that I ended up working on both objects: circus and equestrian culture, because in order to grasp and understand the public, it was necessary to bring these two paths together. I also chose to embark on a comparative history between France and England because modern circus was born in England. At the time of my research, there was no Erasmus program, very few comparative research, few works "straddling" modern and contemporary history, and not many historians were considering the social sciences.

It is thus at the crossroads of these axes that I specialized in the cultural history of leisure. Circus was the object of my research. But my research led me to study the strategies of entrepreneurs, the conditions of production and reception of their shows, the common references that create common meaning, the tactical, technical and narrative processes that weave and renew the curiosity and interest of audiences, and cultural practices and innovations.

It also seemed impossible to me to study the past without understanding the present. And vice versa. So I studied Sociology in addition to History and that's how I "got into" Social Sciences. During my research, I spent nearly two years in England, to pursue my English sources. I also worked "in the field" with cultural entities involved in the contemporary circus world, when at the turn of the 90's French entertainment venues and policies were changing quickly. Strong institutional and artistic issues were re-framing strategies, support or recognition policies, competition among venues and entrepreneurs provoked many debates among circus, street artists and institutions. During two years I worked at the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions (Mnatp today at the Mucem ) participating to an acquisition campaign on the subject of the circus, and I also worked on several projects with Hors Les Murs, association of street arts and circus arts (today Artcena); I interviewed many circus directors and artists, attended many shows and festivals, discussed with collectors and many curators, animated seminars and taught several courses about historiography, leisure, circus... 

After I obtained my PhD, in June 2004, I was asked to work on a big leisure and foundation project, then another one related to museums (LVMH Foundation at the Jardin d'Acclimation, Louvre Lens). I became a consultant and advisor in cultural engineering, accompanying cultural development and programming projects. The transition to communication and strategic planning with agencies and advertisers came from there, that same red thread: understanding the context, the challenges of positioning a cultural project and building a common culture, the messages that convince, gather and enroll audiences ... activating what today is called "Cultural intelligence", "Social Insights", "Knowledge Brokering".

On several occasions I had been asked to have my research published. Work, children, everyday implications did not leave me a chance to honor the propositions that were made. Then came Guillaume Henry who contacted me in 2017 for Editions Belin. He convinced me, with Nicolas Chaudun, (thank you! thank you!) to take the time, this time, to publish once and for all my works which were still completely up to date. Indeed, nobody having immersed themselves in the sources and the issues that I had raised, my luck is that all my work remained relevant. Perhaps this book and its approach even came at a better time, when entrepreneurship and cultural innovations, are now truly considered, encouraging the rehabilitation of entire sections of cultural history, no longer seeking only to promote creative genius but to understand and consider those who orchestrate creativity, produce cultural assets and undertake the making of cultural entreprises.

As I very much believe that understanding yesterday is a source of inspiration, I am delighted that the book and this website  now exist and may, beyond the history of circus, participate to the understanding of a broader history, that of the commercialisation of leisure,  knowledge transfers, and the making of common culture and references.

I am also extremely honored that Daniel Roche has written the preface. My deepest thanks go to him, immense historian, extraordinary professor and committed humanist, for his confidence in a subject he has always believed in, foreseeing its scope and reach.

Caroline Hodak, 2018

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