CELSA journalism program – Sorbonne, Paris

The course at the CELSA Paris Sorbonne took place from September 2017 to the end of January 2018.

A Master’s I journalism class that used World War II art looting as the theme for teaching investigative journalism. The Orphan Art Project collaborated with Professor Marie Doezema to structure the curriculum and provided specialists to address the class. To reinforce in-class teaching, field trips to the Paris Municipal Archives and the Nissim de Camondo Museum were also organized.

The course included lectures on investigative skills, interviewing techniques and journalistic ethics; it also brought a cross-disciplinary approach to the subject of WWII looted art through the intervention of a variety of specialist speakers from France and the U.S.

The students heard presentations by lawyers, art historians, journalists, archivists, government officials and descendants of victims. They actively engaged with historic evidence by handling primary source documents from Paris’ municipal archives and by visiting the former home of a great Jewish art collector.

The coursework included a “Question and Answer” interview with a person involved in provenance and restitution followed by a full profile of the subject. The students also had to select an MNR painting listed on the Rose Valland site, investigate its provenance and present their findings in an oral presentation at the end of the semester.

The Q&A interviews and profiles included 28 personalities from Germany, France and the U.S. Each one was either personally connected or professionally associated with the restitution of looted art and included genealogists, victims’ heirs, documentary filmmakers and curators. The profiles gave the students the opportunity to dig deeper and to explore the motivations, the skills and occasionally the personal links with the subject that the person brought to their work. Their storytelling revealed the complexity and sensitivity of investigating a subject obfuscated by faltering memory and missing archives.

The students also researched MNR paintings from the Rose Valland MNR site.  Interviews, historic photographs, archive documents and visits to the sites associated with the history of the paintings brought their research to life in a  multimedia presentation.

The students were confronted by the difficulty of determining whether the artwork in question was looted, a forced sale or simply a painting repatriated from Germany at the end of the war. They at times faced the issue of finding no traces of any ownership, thus having their research lead to a dead end. Some students were able to identify potential heirs of the painting, others found many leads but ran out of time as their research became more complex.