Early Modern Paris (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring weekend seminar held from February 22 to February 23, 2002.

Cultural historians have long claimed the nineteenth century as the preeminent metropolitan moment, and the great metropolitan themes-the crowd, the commodity, the street-have long been read as specific to Paris, which Walter Benjamin famously dubbed the "capital of the nineteenth century." But Paris was a cultural, social, and economic capital long before Baudelaire and Haussmann, the arcades and the Eiffel Tower. Rapid growth and population concentration fostered an unprecedented accumulation of cultural capital and promoted distinctive urban behaviors and new kinds of social knowledge in early modern Paris. Inhabitants and visitors enjoyed the myriad pleasures of metropolitan life and the cultural capital it afforded: theatre and spectacle, print culture, consumerism, anonymity and not least, walking its streets, quais and gardens. They also suffered, complained, and represented verbally and visually urban ills-noise, filth, starvation, immigration and crowding, violence, crime, traffic, and the stark juxtaposition of rich and poor. This seminar gathered twelve-to-sixteen participants with relevant projects either in hand or in mind to study early modern Paris from multiple perspectives. Framed by advance reading and sharpened by participants' own research projects, the seminar encouraged interdisciplinary work and seeks participants from diverse fields, including urban and cultural geographers, musicologists, historians, including art historians, as well as those working in literature and cultural studies. Particularly welcome were projects that address such questions as: How was the city represented in visual and verbal texts? Does urban space foster certain cultural forms and pastimes and not others? What was the impact of the development of Paris as a center of conspicuous consumption? How did an increasingly literate urban reading public contribute to cultural innovation? A reading knowledge of French was encouraged but not required.

Director: Karen Newman is University Professor and Professor of Comparative Literature and English at Brown University. She is at work on a comparative book tentatively entitled Cultural Capitals: Early Modern London and Paris. Her most recent books include Fetal Positions: Individualism, Science, Visuality (1996) and Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (1991).