31 janvier 2011
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International conference

Views on the Commune of 1871 in France. New approaches and prospects.

Narbonne (Aude, France), City Hall – former Archbishop’s Palace

March 24-26, 2011


Abstract :

For the 140th Anniversary of the 1871 Commune, this international symposium is organized, symbolically, in Narbonne. It intends to focus on new approaches to the event and to open new prospects. Beyond questioning the contribution of modern research on the Communes of the provinces, its aim is to work at the margins of the global event so as to open new paths of research and to renew the national interpretation of the communalist movement inside an expanded geographical and temporal framework.

The aim of this symposium is to sum up the new ways of looking at the event and to open up new horizons to better understand it. The conference will leave aside the traditional and well known approaches to « the Commune of Paris of 1871″ and will work inside a broadened geographical framework and a wider time scope; it intends to dig out of the margins of the event as a whole new paths of research.

The Decades before and after the Commune

We will question the events upstream of The Commune, from 1848 and the Empire down to the years of banishment, amnesty and at last the Communards’ return to France. We will finally look into the years following the Commune when oblivion settled and memories started building up.

Upstream the objective is to examine the years 1848-1870 and the inheritance passed on by people and ideals to the movement of 1871. What exactly is the ideal of a democratic and social Republic? To what extent is it at work in 1871? Which actors and which means? With the help of recent studies, we will also investigate what is at stake between The Commune(s) and the Republic – taking into account the notions of direct democracy, popular sovereignty, utopia in their more modern senses.

Downstream from The Commune, we will consider the years of banishment and exile: banishment to New Caledonia, exile to Switzerland, Belgium, Great Britain but also to Spain (Catalonia and the Balearic Islands), to the United States and to Latin America, Russia, Hungary… Keeping in mind that banishment lasted for some time, how did it affect, define and generate status and choices, as did the participation itself in the event? What was the return to France like ? More specifically, what was the attitude of the local populations, more particularly in Languedoc-Roussillon when the ships repatriating the banished “Communards” arrived in PortVendres?

Furthermore, the organization of this symposium for the 140th anniversary in Narbonne gives the opportunity of reconsidering in an academic context the rituals, demonstrations, prosecutions, and reappropriations to which 1871 has given rise on the memories of the Commune(s) in Paris, provincial France, or even abroad.

Changes of Scale

Choosing a broadened geographical framework, as well as focusing on the margins of the Commune of Paris of 1871 also lead to investigating deep into the links and the communications between Paris and provincial France: what are they? How do they operate? Who operates them? We will also try in this perspective to take stock of the southern leagues and to question federalism.

On a different level, it will be necessary to open up new avenues of investigation on the relationships between the different “communes” and their surroundings, for instance on the fringe of the towns, or the rural but politicized and / or mobilized surroundings of rebel cities.

The matter of “opinion” will have to be considered from a new standpoint: can we know one or more “public opinions” on the events taking place in Paris and in provincial France? How did people in Paris see the others in provincial France and vice-versa? And what about the Commune of 1871 as seen from abroad?

More generally, what do we know about the relationships in those times between France and foreign countries?

The Actors.

Rather than focusing on the most famous and most committed figures in one camp or the other, we will try to take into account the diversity of the actors involved in 1871.
We will concentrate on the conciliators and the « Third-Party », and in particular on the position and choice of the radicals and radicalism. Provincial radicalism, including its freemason dimension, will hold a special place in these considerations on the construction of the radical ideology.

It will be interesting to look at the lives led by the lesser-known Communards; it is a boundless path which can of course cross other themes, such as the themes of the generations and their legacy, the relationships between Paris and provincial France or banishment.

The role of other participants has been reassessed and they appear to have been more spectators than actors. How can we understand them? What do we learn from the archives about their role? Can we distinguish in their role several degrees ranging from indifference to action?
This brings up new questioning which leads to further examine what the Communes were daily for those utterly different people who remained in their towns in arms.

Recent studies have focused on the special role played by women in the insurgency. Several points are to be taken into account: their actual participation in the uprising of the “Communes” and the nature of their commitment when it exists, the existence or not of specific claims, the representations to which they were subjected. The observers of the time made a gender-based reading of the women’s roles and it provides us with a rich field of investigation. The place of women in exile is also one of the least studied areas.

More broadly, the analysis of the artistic or literary representations, in particular satirical, will provide a sensitive approach to the actors of the 1871 uprising.

Finally, this symposium would like to revisit the issue of the armed forces on both sides and, more particularly, the question of order. The question of the army of “Versailles” has already been investigated around Paris and research on the national guards has already been carried out, but what do we know about these topics in provincial France? What do we know about how order was kept in the towns during and after the uprising?

Our aim, therefore, is to go back over the Commune(s) of 1871, and more particularly to favour the works generated by all the thinking that has been done about the event, in order to try to better understand its meaning in the nineteenth century, together with the reactions it provoked in the twentieth century and still provokes today. Understanding what the Commune represented in the late nineteenth century will certainly remain an open question, but this symposium will give us the opportunity to confront this central question through research and debate. While trying to draw up an inventory of the different works already carried out it would like to improve them and promote new works.


  • Archaeological and Literary Commission of Narbonne
  • Institute for social history CGT of the Aude
  • Research Centre on Space, Societies and Culture (in french CRESC), UniversitĂ© Paris 13

Steering Committee:

  • Marc CĂ©sar (CRESC, UniversitĂ© Paris 13)
  • Laure Godineau (CRESC, UniversitĂ© Paris 13)
  • Jacques Michaud (President of the Archaeological and Literary Commission of Narbonne)
  • Xavier Verdejo (President of the scientific council of the Institute for Social History of the Aude)

Scientific Committee

  • Sylvie Aprile (UniversitĂ© de Lille 3)
  • Sylvie Caucanas (Departemental archives of the Aude)
  • Quentin Deluermoz (CRESC, UniversitĂ© Paris 13)
  • Laura Frader (Northeastern University – Boston, associate at the CES, Harvard University)
  • Jacques Girault (CRESC, UniversitĂ© Paris 13)
  • Christopher Guthrie (Tarleton State University)
  • Raymond Huard (UniversitĂ© Paul ValĂ©ry Montpellier 3)
  • Laurent Mc Falls (UniversitĂ© de MontrĂ©al)
  • RĂ©my Pech (UniversitĂ© de Toulouse 2 – Le Mirail)
  • Alceo Riosa (UniversitĂ© de Milan)
  • Jean-Louis Robert (UniversitĂ© Paris 1)
  • Jacques Rougerie (UniversitĂ© Paris 1)
  • Jean Sagnes (UniversitĂ© de Perpignan)
  • Benjamin Stora (CRESC, UniversitĂ© Paris 13)
  • Robert Tombs (St John’s College, University of Cambridge)
  • Paul-Henri Viala (Archives of Narbonne)


Proposals will be a twenty line text.
The deadline to send your contributions is fixed on 26 April 2010.
They will be sent to:
Marc CĂ©sar marc.cesar@univ-paris13.fr
Laure Godineau laure.godineau@univ-paris13.fr
Postal address : CRESC, Université Paris 13 UFR LSHS, 99 av. Jean-Baptiste Clément, F 93430 Villetaneuse