You are on page 1of 3



Downloaded from at University of Melbourne Library on March 14, 2011

Constructing Paris in the Age of Revolution. By Allan Potofsky. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 320pp. £65.00 ISBN: 978 0 230 57471 7.
Wishing that stones could speak is a tourist cliché, but in Constructing Paris in the Age of Revolution, Allan Potofsky comes close to fulfilling that prosopopoeic urge,

as well as a panoply of other manuscript sources. Potofsky’s concern is not principally with the economic aspects of construction. just as the struggle with the guilds had contributed to the fate of ancien regime reform. and that interest has been given a further impetus by the new economic history. Using the surprisingly fascinating materials from the ‘bâtiments civils’ series in the Archives Nationales.J. Potofsky draws a rich picture of the conflicts and compromises. how they were variously taken up by revolutionary ideologues. by architects and entrepreneurs.’ Potofsky gives us a kind of ‘view from the Panthéon’— that great ongoing project of the age. and offers a great deal both for specialists in economic history. Building was a way of dealing with unemployment and unrest.oxfordjournals. the institution of livrets (passbooks) in the 1780s. and to the resistance of the workers themselves. The vast literature on Paris—perhaps the most written-about of all cities— has certainly covered many aspects of the building trade. but through a meticulous historical analysis of the craftsmen and builders who laid and carved those blocks. Equally. and into the financial arrangements of construction. In contrast to T. At the same time. helped to shape the course of the Revolution itself. But the building site could just as easily be seen as a dangerous hotbed of sans-culotterie. 2011 . it illuminates the French state itself in new ways. engineers and bureaucrats in the construction of this massive edifice. and by the workers themselves. Jeffrey Kaplow. but rather with the transformations of corporatism across a more extended revolutionary period. a secular monument to the cult of Great Men. At the same time. the builders corporations and the artisanal guilds were still fundamental pillars of the ancien regime: its construction saw the abolition and then the reinstatement of the guilds in the 1770s. Potofsky shows how the increasingly radical socio-political changes were installed at the level of the building site. The view from that half-constructed edifice—and equally from many humbler development projects—offers more than simply a history of a trade. the ruptures and continuities that exercised the hundreds of carvers. and for a wider audience interested in the social and political changes across this period. stonecutters. among others—are a strong presence in the background here. and urban renewal would demonstrate the merits of the new order. Clark’s famous ‘View from Notre Dame. carpenters. architects. or of those workers who plied it: through the prism of construction. and the resurrection of a newly subservient corporatism under Napoleon. Daniel Roche. though. The great specialists of the eighteenth century city—David Garrioch. he demonstrates that the ‘projection of the Revolution’ into bricks and mortar. the state played a principal role in regulating the role of the entrepreneur. But Potofsky insists in his introduction that the existing structural analyses and micro-histories have not drawn construction into a larger picture of the history of Paris. When its foundations were laid in 1758. the elimination of all corporate bodies under the at University of Melbourne Library on March 14.116 REVIEWS OF BOOKS not through ventriloquism. a space whose function was radically transformed during the three decades of its construction. and policing the lives and labour of workers. from a grand religious edifice celebrating the recovery of Louis XV to a repository for the bones of Voltaire. Setting aside the myth that the Revolution was a giant wrecking-ball. Potofsky’s is not so much a social as an institutional history: the set of questions at its core are primarily connected to the state and its transformations. or a haven for dangerous ‘foreigners’ from Downloaded from fh. and in the financing of vast public construction projects. Potofsky is at pains to point out that this is no simple ‘state-centred narrative’ (11)—a monolinear depiction of a bureaucratic modernity—but much more mixed picture that gives proper place to the private sphere. to the role of corporations.

the book disappoints only in its presentation – it is a shame to see fine research marred by such poor editing and production. University of Melbourne IAN COLLER doi:10. With so many excellent qualities. and the milling Place de Grève. The text is difficult to read as a result of innumerable typographical errors. where the modern ‘strike’ (grève) was born.REVIEWS OF BOOKS 117 outside Paris. Potofsky shows that the Republic did not have a single attitude to building workers. 2011 . this is a book that offers as much to the general reader as to the specialist: it is well worth struggling past these cosmetic defects for this perspective on a Paris in at University of Melbourne Library on March 14. seen from the scaffolding of its great monuments.oxfordjournals.1093/fh/crr005 Advance Access published on January 21. and even incomplete paragraphs: perhaps more disturbingly. however. Like a number of recent historians. and the Napoleonic reaction that followed. rather than as a mere coda. is among the richest and most satisfying elements in the book. and his treatment of the period from 1795-1805. missing or repeated words. or even a single line of development – its responses were often as piecemeal as those of the monarchy. Overall. the tables on pp. 2011 Downloaded from fh. 42-43 seem to be missing a line as a result of incorrect formatting. its bourgeois streetscapes. he identifies the Directory and Consulate as a crucial period in the installation of revolutionary reforms.

Related Interests