What should a public historian do with 3 hours in Paris?

A quick Google search will yield plenty of advice for travellers on a tight timescale (for example the Independent’s ’48 hours’ series).  You can be guided through the unmissable sights as well as pointed to some gems off the tourist trail.

Public historians are probably more likely than most to seek to make use of little parcels of time in a new place as busman’s holidays.  So with 3 hours in Paris in August, I’m hoping that the wonder of the web will allow me to gather the ideas of fellow travellers, public historians or otherwise.

So what are the unmissable stops and the hidden gems for public history in Paris?  Which places or experiences capture something important or striking about the way history is put to use, presented, represented or explored, in French public life?  Which offer a counterpoint to our understandings of public history/history in public in the UK or US?

Please do leave your comments here and I’ll use the blog to discuss my planning as well as to report back. Someone may already have got there, but, if not, would there be a market for an online space for public historians (broadly and inclusively defined) to share their tips for “trade tourism”?

One thought on “What should a public historian do with 3 hours in Paris?

  1. A interesting challenge! To answer your question we need to agree on what public history is. I’ve been going to Paris for more than 60 years, and I’m struck by the very different ways in which the past is present there, compared to, say, London. One way to appreciate this is street names. Around historic scientific and medical sites, for example, they are named after figures who worked there. There’s significant national pride, and it’s experienced by wide swathes of the population. Then there are statues, for example to Lamarck in the Jardin des Plantes where he lived and worked for many years. On one account he was the man who got evolution “wrong”, but it’s a feisty and moving celebration of him nonetheless. I’d approach the task by building in some walking, but then by asking about significant events and processes in France’s history. So that might be the tension between being a republic and having a hereditary ruler, and then between monarchs and Napoleon and his dynasty, even if the latter could be as absolutist as the Bourbons. There’s also a tension between being a secular state and a Catholic land: so Les Invalides, Place de la Republique, the place where Louis XVI was reburied, Notre Dame, the Pantheon (initially a church but now a place for heroes) and so on. Finally, there are museums and galleries, take your pick from a historically oriented one. So one hour walking, one hour in a monument that bears on the identity of France as a nation, and one hour in a contemporary display of the past – three different levels and types of “public history”, and distinct kinds of focus. (Another tension is the whole question of collaboration in the Second World War, and another set of sites could be cemeteries.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s