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Interview with Bernard Chirol, President of the History of Speleology Commission of the UIS

Bernard Chirol, President of the History of Speleology Commission of the UIS

Born in Lyon in 1955, Bernard Chirol has dedicated more than 40 years to speleology, primarily to the study of his karst region of l’Ain (department on the east side of France in the frontier with Switzerland), where he continues contributing to the exploration of new underground routes and prehistoric sites. 

Since 2017 Chirol has been one of the Adjunct Secretaries of the International Union of Speleology (UIS). He represents the French Federation of Speleology (FFS) in this international organization and is the current President of the History of Speleology Commission for the UIS. 

On the history field, he has a number of publications like the biography of Jean Corbel the remarkable French explorer and geographer from last century, the History of the l’Ain speleology and the History of speleology in Chipre. Recently his investigations are focus on women and speleology for what he has presented his latest work titled The contribution of women to the history of the world on speleology.  

Today we talk to Bernard motivated by the celebration of the 18th Edition of the International Congress of Speleology, which will take place in the French location of Lyon on July 2021.  

-The UIS is a nonprofit organization (NGO) that promotes the interaction between technical and academic speleologists of an ample spectrum of nationalities to coordinate and develop international speleology in all its technical, scientific, cultural and economic aspects. What can Lyon offer as the location for a successful international fraternization?

-Bernard Chirol - Lyon is an European and global crossroad. It was the capital of Galia and it continues to be an attractive city for everything, surrounded of beautiful mountains. The site of the FFS is in Lyon, the capital of gastronomy….

Foto: Le Progré

-Subterránea - An initiative from the participants in the Congress of 1965, derived in the proposal of the creation of an international entity to unify the speleologists of many countries of the world and coordinate their speleological activities. The UIS was created in 1965 during the 4th Congress that took place in the former country acknowledged as Yugoslavia, and since way before, 1953, a Congress is not held in France. What particular enthusiasm could you possibly have knowing it will take place in Lyon, the city where you come from?

-Bernard Chirol - In 1949, Pierre Ageron convened an international reunion that was the prelude to the one celebrated at Paris in 1953. Lyon-Villeurbanne is an important center of speleology located near the massifs that since before the II World War it has had notorious men and women just like those who can be found in other parts of the world…I was born in Lyon and I am proud of this beautiful city declared a World Heritage by the UNESCO.

-Subterránea - You are a member of the French Federation of Speleology which is based in Lyon and also you are one of the FFS representatives to the UIS. How the Federation will support the Congress due to being the host country of the 2021 International?

 -Bernard Chirol -We have received help from Lyon and the Federation is contributing on the human and financial resources in a difficult moment to make the occasion memorable. We hope to create at least an International Karst Day o even a whole Year (IYKC)…

-Subterránea - By the end of January 2019 an article was publish on the web site of the 2021 International Congress and you are the author. It is about Johannes Kleberger a German who was part of the mercantile and social history of Lyon in the XVI century. Do you aspire to expose the reader and potential traveler to the diverse characters or relevant moments of Lyon’s history as a preamble to the Congress? Will you include important figures of Lyon’s speleology in your next entries to the Congress Internet site?

-Bernard Chirol -Yes, exactly. I will show the richness of Lyon’s heritage and its speleology. For example, the second article will be about the invention of the steamboat and later will talk about Pierre Chevalier. The Rhône-Alpes region will be at the center of the International Congress of Speleology (ICS), but also France and Europe.

-Subterránea - You have published quite a few monographs about the karst of the region you live in…what makes so special the subsoil of lAin?

-Bernard Chirol - This region is less known among us the French as it is also the south area by the mountains of Jura. We not only have the highest point of the mountains for Jura with an altitude of 1721m, but also the deepest abysm with almost 700m of depth!

-Subterránea - Concerning the figure of Jean Corbel, there is almost nothing on the Internet, not even a Wikipedia page dedicated to him….Why is he a so much forgotten character? What did you learn from Corbel while studying his life and legacy?

-Bernard Chirol - Is necessary to make a reference to my book, from which there are still copies available. I’m not a specialist on social media or websites but of course, there should be a Wikipedia page entrance. He is a forgotten character because he died in 1970. His scientific approach could not developed to its fullest (ask Adolpho Eraso). I learned from Jean Corbel that you need perseverance in the scientific work, that is necessary to work as a team and I got to see his humanist side.

-Subterránea - Our team of writers for this interview went to the presentation of your investigative work titled The contribution of women to the history of the world on speleology, that took place in the first ever assembly of women speleologists that happened in Cuba on October 2018. It was a comprehensive and interesting presentation where we had the opportunity to learn about some famous women from the 160 of them of your actual work. What motivated you to initiate this study?

-Bernard Chirol - Yes, we are talking at this moment about almost 170 women and the names keep adding up to enrich the conference. I hope to make a presentation in the 2021 Lyon Congress alongside the publication of my book…I started at the end of 2015 focusing on this new topic within my perspective as a general speleology historian. I have been running a bit delayed since 2016 until today caused by a separation, the selling of my house and some investigations about my future.

Regarding my writing, I preferred to benefit the conferences in my travels. There was too little information about women, but Spaniards speleologists got me inspired with a rare article (found in speleology) about some distinguished women. Stephen Kempe also inspired me with a writing (it can be found in the bibliography of my future book…). 

-Subterránea - In the conference lectured in Cuba, you said that many sciences are getting interested in this type of work. Why is that?

-Bernard Chirol - Yes, is about psychology, anthropology, archaeology, speleology and many others. Fortunately, other colleagues have worked on these aspects before and that saves me time. I just appeal to the general development of society that moves forward in the gender agenda.

-Subterránea - During your presentation you talked about some of these women: Dorotea Von Schozer, E. Craven, Maríe Maruingt, Poldi Fuhrich, Claude Neilz, Xiomara Castellar de Valcárcel, etc. Their stories are astonishing in their own moment in history and place. But for you, which one of these characters you choose as your favorite or as an example for our collective?

-Bernard Chirol - I consider that the actual non anecdotic forerunners that represent real women in speleology are Owen (USA), Vallot (France) and Fuhrich (Austria)…

-Subterránea - Traditionally, France has been known as a pioneer country in speleology, is it the same with the quantity of women in speleology?

-Bernard Chirol - France is well situated in the European speleology, but is not the original nest of speleology, which is found in Slovenia. Among the women, Vallot is exceptional, but rare. Our current 25% is not near the 40% from other States of the world. Despite that, we represent a secure position and we had Laurence Tangille, who was the President for the French Federation of Speleology…also Germany, Switzerland have women as Presidents…

-Subterránea - What type of conclusions are you reaching about women leadership nowadays?

-Bernard Chirol - My conclusion is that “after me the downpour” (*)! But I do hope that the normalization could guarantee that there is no need “for women” instances, or speleology camps “for women” and that we all in the world work hand to hand without discrimination, without stereotypes.

(*) Quote attributed to Louis XV in the last days of his life when the popular dissatisfaction presaged a social tumult in France, like indeed happened. Louis XV anticipated with clarity the terrible situation that was coming. The expression is a sign of political egoism. It has survived until these days to exemplify that no matter what occurs in a country where certain character is no longer ahead as a leader. ( 

-Subterránea - Bernard, we don’t want to conclude this interview without knowing a bit more of you personally as a speleologist. From where does the avocation come from and how were your first steps as a caver?

-Bernard Chirol - Since I was 8 years old I loved prehistoric topics, the mountains and had the great luck to grow up near them in the south of Jura in l’Ain. I trained my friends to visit small caves and when I turned 19 years of age, I enrolled myself in the Federation, 45 years ago! I have always enjoyed sport and the sciences of the Earth…

-Subterránea - Bernard, is there any future project you are working on and that we don’t know about…would you like to share anything with the readers?

-Bernard Chirol - I have to reedit my book about the caves of Jujurieux, which is currently out of print and sold out. I also should publish about the Pérdida del Ródano, return to general history and pass the Presidency of the History of Speleology Commission of the UIS to someone younger.

-Subterránea - We want to thank you for your time for the interview and hope that the Congress in Lyon is a successful one. We hope to be there to write about it in first person and promote it as much as possible. See you soon Bernard and the best of luck.

-Bernard Chirol - I’m really delighted, honored and anxious to see you with the other Spaniard colleagues. I know there are some administrative difficulties in speleology, but I hope they will disappear. Thank you so much and see you soon too. Long lives the world of speleology! 

An interview with Tamara Gonzalez, Gemma Morraja and Oscar Sicilia.

1 comentario:

  1. Bravo pour cette belle interview de Gemma, Oscar et Tamara et bravo à Bernard CHIROL pour la richesse de son exposé, sa curiosité et sa persévérance !