Following the 1789 French Revolution, Paris underwent deep physical and cultural transformations that turned it into the most celebrated cultural center of the modern world. In this class we will study these transformations as they took place in the streets of Paris and in the imagination of its residents and visitors. As the “City of Light,” of political and artistic revolutions, of pleasure and mystery, and of tourism and shopping, Paris stands for more than just a remarkable urban space; it represents a series of ideas and fantasies that provide particularly rich material to explore the roots and nature of modern life. We will investigate this material through works by some of the most important authors and artists of the past two centuries who lived in Paris and drew inspiration from the profound changes they were witnessing around them. What they perceived and documented went beyond a simple historical account of the transformation of a city. They spread myths as well as identified new social problems manifested by the unprecedented Parisian experience of modernization.
Your final project (due in Dropbox by the end of the final exam period, Wednesday, December 20) will be a five to eight-page paper on a research topic of your choice, the only limitation is that it be about Paris and the arts, broadly defined. That means you may choose to study food, restaurants, cafés, architecture, urban planning, transportation, parks, monuments, literature, painting, music, dance, street performance, photography… just to mention a few possible categories. Whatever interests you in general, learn about what its presence—contemporary or historical or both—is in Paris. The goal is for you to learn something significant about Paris that is not covered in class, or to expand upon something mentioned in class. My hope is that this assignment will be fun and allow you to follow your interests. You will also give a class presentation on this topic (10 minutes) during the last two weeks of class.