PhD Project Tom Ullrich

Barricades. Media History and Cultural Techniques of Revolution in 19th Century Paris


Hippolyte Bellangé, Révolution de 1830 (29 juillet), Formation des barricades, 1830.


The dissertation examines barricade building and street fighting in 19th century Paris in the context of the city's transformation into a modern metropolis. The aim is to make a new contribution to the study of the revolutionary urban history of Paris from the perspective of media history and cultural techniques.

To this end, it is important not to reduce barricades to a mere symbol of social movements or to popular spontaneity, but to take them seriously in their provocative, mediated constitution. Revolutionary upheavals with barricades produce resistant networks of actors. They are both material and discursive acts of protest in urban space. Various forms of representation, such as paintings, prints, and photographs, as well as maps and statistics, make this visible, while the Parisian barricades become a notorious topos in popular literature and the daily press, in pamphlets, and in court and administrative records. But to what extent do media apparatuses, bodily practices, and cultural techniques (co)produce revolutionary events and subjectivities?

With the so-called "renovation" of Paris by Napoleon III and his prefect Haussmann, an increasingly authoritarian urban restructuring is enforced in the name of "hygiene" and "circulation" after 1848. An important instrument was the breakthrough of the street to create wide boulevards. The boulevard operationalized the multiple demands for more health, prosperity, and security. Some contemporaries criticized such interventions in public space as a political strategy to prevent future unrest, so that to them even the paving of new streets seemed to some to be a counterrevolutionary measure.

At first glance, the insurrectionary repurposing of the street for barricades in the period between the July Revolution of 1830 and the Paris Commune of 1871 contrasts with the massive transformation of Paris's built environment by the government. From the outset, however, these conflicts were highly ambivalent: while the government promoted the infrastructural security of Paris, engineers outdid themselves in inventing "mobile counter-barricades". Conspirators like Auguste Blanqui wrote a secret manual on the construction of "regular barricades", while hastily formed "barricade commissions" tried to organize future battles. How can this relation between an "art of insurrection" (Friedrich Engels) and an "art of government" (Michel Foucault) be better understood?

On the basis of rarely considered written and pictorial archival materials as well as published sources, the dissertation discusses the mutual constitution of boulevards and barricades as techniques of a revolutionary culture in 19th century Paris.


Auguste Blanqui, Instructions for an Armed Uprising (1868), manuscript, Bibliothèque Nationale de France.