I had this crazy plan.I was going to write history backwards. When I first told friends back home about the reverse chronology plan, they were dubious. I was a little dubious too, but I wanted to experiment with it. The one date on this trip that was set in stone was the Waterloo 200th anniversary tour. Later, I added on the month in Paris so that it would include Bastille Day. I’d read a book and some articles about the merits of teaching history in reverse chronological order, and I thought it would be fun to try and tell the history of Paris in Revolution and Empire from the end to the beginning. It was a lot of fun to think about, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no added value. In fact, it’s making it harder for me to describe events and I’m not getting to the kind of interesting analysis to cause and effect that I’d hoped this approach would generate.. Now that I’ve reached the other end of my tour, and Bastille Day is upon us, I’ve decided to jump all the way back in time and pick up the narrative at the beginning.
Starting this week, and for the rest of the series, I’ll be working forward in time. The articles I’ve posted thus far mostly stand on their own. By design, you can read them in any order and hopefully enjoy them. I still plan to write relatively self-contained pieces, but as we delve into the events of the Revolution, there’s going to be more context and cross-over between them. The next two in particular will inform a lot of what I’m going to write about later.
Later? Yes! I will continue to post an article each week, at least until I’ve worked through my entire outline. The new and revised outline is different from the one I came to Paris with. I’ve learned a lot while I was here (I should hope so!) and I’ve reorganized the material to better reflect the realities of Paris and history. Changes could still occur, but here’s the outline for the rest of Phase 1 of this project, followed by some thoughts on Phase 2. Yes, there will be a Phase 2.
The next ten articles will be (subject to title but not probably not subject changes):
The Storming of the Bastille
Wherein we learn how this whole revolution thing got started and why there are still fireworks celebrating in 226 years later. This article will contain some background leading up to the big event, but will mostly focus on the three days from July 12th to July 14th, 1789 and we’ll see what remains in Paris from those heady days.
The Rights of Revolution
This will be about the early, less dreadful part of the French Revolution, when Rights of Man were declared, Kings were brought to heel, and it looked like France might just pull off something amazing. We’ll see the rise of the First Republic, and the many troubles that brought with it.
Plunder and Glory: The Birth of the Louvre
Chief among those troubles facing the new Republic of France? War. But once the French armies turned back the invaders they became invaders themselves, sweeping up art treasures from Belgium and Italy and bringing them back to display in the halls of a brand new institution: a public museum in the former palace of the Louvre.
There’s no getting around it, this one’s going to get dark. Starting with the execution of King Louis XVI and later the Queen, we’ll explore how the revolution descended into paranoia and dictatorship as we follow Robespierre’s descent from moralistic anti-death penalty advocate to murderer in chief.
Revolutionary Theater, Art, and Music
The first of two articles that trace some societal trends through the events of the last three articles. We’ll enjoy the massive outpouring of new theatres and plays in Paris as the Revolution ends royal censorship. There are songs to sing, some of them war-like anthems, others long pieces arguing constitutional theory. It should be fun!
The of Science of the Revolution
Did you ever wonder where meters come from? The French Revolution! We’ll talk about the new science, cut free from royal or catholic over-watch but saddled to the needs of the revolution and its wars. We’ll see that for some people, like Condorcet and Lavoisier, being a great scientist doesn’t protect you from the guillotine once you get involved in politics.
The Rise of Napoleon: From Egypt to St. Cloud
You knew we’d come back to him, right? We’ll follow Napoleon’s ill-conceived, ill-fated, but ultimately very influential Egyptian Campaign which combined war and science. Napoleon spun failure into triumph which helped him launch the coup that brought him to power. While Vivant Denon, who had accompanied him returned with notebooks full of Egyptian discoveries and landed the top job as director of the Louvre (soon to be Musee Napoleon).
The Gourmands of Paris
Finally, I get to the food! Well, this is where it fits in the story - everything you think of when you read the word “restaurant” comes from Paris, starting in the 1770s or so. The Revolution often gets misplaced credit for the birth of the restaurant, but really it was the consulate and empire when it came into its full flowering. We’ll meet Grimod, author of the Almanac of Gourmands, and eat where and what he suggests as we explore the tastes of another era that are still to be found in Paris today.
We follow Napoleon as he crowns himself Emperor in Notre Dame and fights all comers to establish his supremacy in Europe. We’ll explore the way revolutionary turned court-painter Jacques-Louis David has portrayed the Emperor and what other kinds of propaganda and politicking he did to try and stay in power.
The French Revolution and Napoleon’s Empire forever changed the face of Paris, but they had long-lasting consequences for a lot of other places as well. We’ll meet foreign-minister extraordinaire Talleyrand, and watch with him as the world transforms in the wake of France’s revolution. From South American Independence to the Louisiana Purchase to successful revolution in Haiti, much of the new world changed during this period.
And that should bring us back up to date with Imperial Paris. I imagine there’s going to be another Napoleon chapter of some sort, this one dealing with his first fall from power in 1814 and the Congress of Vienna, but I’m not sure what form that will take. After that, I have a long list of more detailed subjects I’d like to tackle. But I’ve got a couple months to figure those out! Until then, keep reading, and let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see more of! Contact me through the Paris in Revolution and Empire Facebook page or my Twitter account.