New Books Network

When is the last time you looked at/consulted a paper map? Perhaps you have one hanging on a wall at home or work, framed...

When is the last time you looked at/consulted a paper map? Perhaps you have one hanging on a wall at home or work, framed or not. Or maybe you have some old road maps in a stack somewhere, as I do, sitting untouched since various digital forms have made printed map reading and handling something most of us rarely (if ever) do. Reading Kory E. Olson’s The Cartographic Capital: Mapping Third Republic Paris (Liverpool University Press, 2018) reminded me how much I used to, and still sort of love maps, especially maps of the French capital. Coming at the history of urbanism through the city’s official maps over several decades, the book examines an evolving map discourse and literacy in France that was caught up with the evolution of technologies for producing, printing, and distributing maps; the history of public education; and the massive changes to the city brought about by industrialization, population growth, and new forms of transportation and mobility.

Pursuing the period that followed Haussmannization’s massive overhaul of the city, including those plans and changes that continued to be implemented for decades after Haussmann’s own tenure as Prefect of the Seine, The Cartographic Capital situates the urban geography of Paris and the very material of maps of the city at the heart of the story of Republican national consolidation, from the initial stabilization of the Third Republic to the 1930s. A history of depictions of the capital over time, the book also charts (!) a shift in the temporal orientation of maps, from their use as a form of historical documentation, to an emphasis on maps as accurate representations of geographic space in the present, to the emergence of maps intended to plan and shape the future of the city and its environs. Maps were a means by which government at different levels attempted to organize and control urban space. They were also a changing medium that reflected and shaped the geographic imaginations of map makers and map readers over time. The Cartographic Capital will be of tremendous interest to readers captivated by the history of Paris per se, as well as those fascinated by the histories of urbanism and space more broadly.


Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. She is the author of Future Tense: The Culture of Anticipation in France Between the Wars (2009). Her current research focuses on the history of French nuclear weapons and testing since 1945. Her most recent article, ‘”No Hiroshima in Africa”: The Algerian War and the Question of French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara’ appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of History of the Present. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada and hopes all listeners are keeping healthy and safe at this difficult time in our world. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (panchasi@sfu.ca).