We know quite a bit about the physical signatures of urban “modernity” foisted upon Paris by Baron Haussmann in the late nineteenth century — the broad boulevards, networked infrastructures, connected apartment houses, and assorted monuments — but little scholarship has seized on its precursors in the half-century prior. In Ideals of the Body: Architecture, Urbanism, and Hygiene in Postrevolutionary Paris
(University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), Sun-Young Park
turns to another modernity, recovering a daunting array of Romantic and especially post-Napoleonic interventions — less spectacular but arguably more complex — on mobile Parisian bodies and the everyday spaces that host them. Park considers military gymnasia, schools, barracks, leisure gardens, and other spaces purpose-built to inculcate vigor in both individuated physical bodies and, their proponents hoped amid specters of national decline, in the French body politic. Each of these spaces, Park shows, a “threshold” between fully private and fully public realms, helped install — albeit imperfectly — its own “ideal” of the sanitized and gendered human subject. Ideals of the Body is a detailed, visually rich, theoretically motivated study in urban and architectural history, one that just might realign how we periodize and make sense of urban modernity writ large.
Peter Ekman is Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. He received the Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2016, and is at work on two book projects on the cultural and historical geography of urban America across the long twentieth century. He can be reached at email@example.com.