Modern Paris

The following is a paper I wrote while studying abroad in Paris during the summer of 2016. The class, Paris and Modernity, focused Paris’ changing landscape in the rise of the modern era. Being on location, our class had the opportunity to visit several sites that were key to this modernization, including the city sewers and le Sacre Couer.

This paper aims to examine how the use of monuments and architecture in the urban planning of turn of the century Paris influenced the development of Parisian society. Public architecture and monuments give us insight into how these Parisians thought of themselves and their city, as well as how the government wanted the city to be portrayed on the grand world stage. Monuments like Rodin’s Monument to Labor carried an air of socialism and radicalism and therefore were not permitted in a society that was struggling to erase all traces of the bloody Commune of 1871 from its urban landscape. However, by leaving the city devoid of any public account of the uprising, the historical record was instead left up to the colorful public imagination, revealing the critical role public monuments play in public response to historical atrocities.

Meanwhile in the architectural realm, a new style called art nouveau was emerging, offering a blending of modern and historical Paris that was the shared tenant of urban planners like Le Corbusier. This blending was a way for Paris to reconcile its troubled revolutionary past while still becoming a modernized world power. The decades surrounding turn of the century in Paris were densely packed with social, political and religious changes. And throughout all these changes, the city never stopped creating. The monuments, architecture and urban plans of Paris are like a historical map. By studying them, it is possible to delve deep into the trials that the city has faced and how they have affected the social landscape of the city.

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