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From Appomattox to Montmartre

From Appomattox to Montmartre

Americans and the Paris Commune

Philip M. Katz

ISBN 9780674323483

Publication date: 12/01/1998

The American Civil War and the Paris Commune of 1871, Philip Katz argues, were part of the broader sweep of transatlantic development in the mid-nineteenth century--an age of democratic civil wars. Katz shows how American political culture in the period that followed the Paris Commune was shaped by that event.

The telegraph, the new Atlantic cable, and the news-gathering experience gained in the Civil War transformed the Paris Commune into an American national event. News from Europe arrived in fragments, however, and was rarely cohesive and often contradictory. Americans were forced to assimilate the foreign events into familiar domestic patterns, most notably the Civil War. Two ways of Americanizing the Commune emerged: descriptive (recasting events in American terms in order to better understand them) and predictive (preoccupation with whether Parisian unrest might reproduce itself in the United States).

By 1877, the Commune became a symbol for the domestic labor unrest that culminated in the Great Railroad Strike of that year. As more powerful local models of social unrest emerged, however, the Commune slowly disappeared as an active force in American culture.


  • Katz's book is highly interesting for many reasons. For one, it says quite a lot that is wholly new about both French and American political history. The stories of Empress Eugénie's dentist, Ambassador Washburne's memoirs, and Cluseret's stay in America are well known, but before I read this book, I did not realize how extensive and sustained was the involvement of Americans in the Paris Commune. I was intrigued also by Professor Katz's presentation of American reactions to French events: because the Commune was both an anti-centralist statement and a revolutionary movement, it elicited dramatically contradictory responses; and it is startling to learn that some ex-Confederates had positive things to say about a social movement whose libertarian relevance to the cause of their worst enemies was also obvious. This is an informative book, well and clearly written.

    —Patrice Higonnet, Harvard University


  • Philip M. Katz is Assistant Director of Research for the American Association of Museums

Book Details

  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press