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Reviewed by:
  • The Insurgent Barricade
  • Michael Hanagan
The Insurgent Barricade. By Mark Traugott (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2010) 436 pp. $39.95

The period from 1827 to 1871 were the classic years of the barricade, defined by Traugott as "an improvised structure, built and defended by civilian insurgents as a means of laying claim to urban space and mobilizing against military or police forces representing the constituted authorities" (21). In this important book, Traugott uses the case of the insurrectional barricade to discuss the evolution of forms of protest. Almost alone among forms of protest, the barricade bridges the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe. Contradicting scholars who argue that protest changed en bloc during the early nineteenth century, his research challenges those who describe a climactic, sudden shift in forms. The study also offers insight into the evolution of the modern social movement.

Traugott argues that people retained a long memory of their contentious options. The insurrectionary barricade, a Parisian native, had deep roots. Barricades can be found before the "Day of the Barricades" in 1588, during the era of the Holy League, and in the "Second Day of the Barricades" in 1648, during the Fronde. Barricades arose in the revolution of 1789, from the siege of the Bastille—the first act of the revolution—to the royalist revolt the suppression of which brought [End Page 450] the young Napoleon Bonaparte to the public eye. From Paris, barricades spread along existing urban networks, moving through the provinces. Eventually, they migrated to adjacent regions that closely shared French legal and administrative systems and revolutionary ideals because of annexation during the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods.

Traugott ably lays out the logic of the barricade. The skills of barricade construction were minimal, and the materials—cobblestones, barrels, construction material, and carriages—were widely available. Militarily, the barricade guarded against cavalry, and urban intersections created the possibility for murderous crossfire. It also undermined morale; nothing spooked troops like the sound of new barricades being constructed behind them. Socially, it could help recruitment. Movement across or around barricades exerted pressure on neighbors to join friends and kin. But flagging barricade construction suggested waning popular support, discouraging further participation. Politically, the construction of barricades invariably attracted a local audience that could be harangued. Barricades were often vehicles for negotiation between authority and rebels, the lull of negotiation allowing agitators time to urge the troops to reconsider their allegiances.

Traugott might have paid more attention to the context of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Parisian artisanal and bourgeois neighborhoods, equipped with chains to be raised across thoroughfares in times of trouble. He emphasizes the barricade's periodic revival, after decades of neglect, due to a long popular memory, but he might have said more about the routine practices by which neighborhoods used quasi-barricades to limit access to outsiders. Nor does he discuss the changing scale of contention, nor how a form of protest, developed in neighborhoods to assert claims as Parisians, returned again, much later, when these groups rose as citizens to defend the rights of the nation. A history of the origins of the modern social movement might start at that point. These minor quibbles aside, Traugott's study will initiate discussion and inspire scholarship for a long time to come.

Michael Hanagan
Vassar College


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pp. 450-451
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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