- La Commune de 1871: Une relecture ed. by Marc César and Laure Godineau
In December 2019, historians Marc César and Laure Godineau published La Commune de 1871: Une relecture (hereafter Une relecture), a wide-ranging collection of scholarly contributions on its subject with Créaphis Editions. The volume's co-directors are historians at Université Sorbonne Paris Nord and members of the Laboratoire Pléiade, which incubated this project among other academic experiments. This book falls on the forefront of many studies sure to appear around the 150th anniversary of the Terrible Year, though the publication date was not intended as such; it is the product of an international conference held in Narbonne, France, in 2011, despite stretching beyond the profile of conference proceedings. Its "re-reading" is carried out by scholars of undisputed renown from both sides of the Channel or Atlantic, such as Jacques Rougerie, Robert Tombs, Jean-Louis Robert, Jacques Girault, John Merriman, and Michèle Riot-Sarcey, yet it is equally encouraging that César and Godineau welcomed the writings of doctorants and burgeoning researchers, not to mention conservators and archivists. Of course, the collection's risk, as the title suggests, is to lapse into redundancy through overlap with previously published material, an inclination toward unoriginal redefinitions or biography (when much has been done by the likes of Jean Maitron, Michel Cordillot or Bernard Noël), leaving disparate sections disconnected, or simply being out of sync with the moment.
The collection's main premise and promise are to re-read history to measure the spatial reach or "diversité du territoire" (13) of "communalist activity" in and around 1871, including beyond French borders. César and Godineau structure Une relecture in four parts—Une Vision élargie: l'espace et le temps, Paris, Posterités, and Écrire l'histoire ou commémorer—while the title's indication of the year 1871 announces the historians' desire to expand the field of vision. Chronologically speaking, this amounts to reaching back to causes dating from 1848 and pushing well into the Third Republic. In its first section, Une relecture uses Commune declarations outside of Paris to measure the national scale of communalist activity: beyond the celebrated case of Narbonne, several chapters develop the history of Commune declarations in Lyon, Perpignan and environs, the role of the Ligue du Midi, and more. This section acknowledges the ambivalent republicanism whose diverging tendencies, rouge and moderate, largely dissipated the revolutionary fervor of the moment. In this, the section retraces some ground covered by Jeanne Gaillard [End Page 370] in Communes de Provinces, Commune de Paris 1870–1871 (1971), Jacques Girault in La Commune de Bordeaux, 1870–1871 (1971), and Marc César's work on Narbonne. The section's strengths lie in archival revelations and occasional attention to symbolic acts and objects culled from local presses, both helpful additions to Commune studies.
The following section, on Paris, inverts the longer durée and wider geography of the collection to that point with "micro-analytic" (Iain Chadwick) or "micro-historical" studies "au ras du sol" whose approaches are not necessarily novel, but whose value stems from the quality of their application. The chapters in the Paris section are inviting because they manage to humanize and individualize experiences of the Commune, opening the door to non-partisan sympathies and discoveries, all while abstracting the moment for historiographic self-reflexivity. Deluermoz and Foa, for example, reflect on the historiographic implications of their approach. The light but deft touch of Fournier's "exhumation" of the long-forgotten Louis-François Parisel, the head of the Commune's scientific delegation charged with creating weaponry for defense, is what good historiographic work can do, starting from awareness of the risk–"Parisel est-il un bon objet d'histoire?" (335). Fournier's convincing answer is yes, to the extent it succeeds in advancing the volume's global approach in refreshing a contemporary view of the Communards (something not all of the contributions achieved). The payoff of a well-chosen micro-history, then, is not myopic detail...