CRF Blog

Paris Under Water

by Bill Hayes

A hundred years ago, France experienced months of rainfall. In January 1910, the Seine overflowed and swept through Paris, flooding the entire city. History professor Jeffrey H. Jackson has written Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910, recounting the flood, its devastation, and the response by Parisians.

From the New York Times Book Review:

Despite many real acts of heroism, this “vision of complete social harmony in the face of disaster, in which political enemies gave up their differences to come together,” was also, in part, a myth. After the humiliations of the Franco-Prussian War (in which Prussia occupied Paris, then annexed Alsace-Lorraine) and the scandal of the Dreyfus Affair (in which a trumped-up treason case against a Jewish army officer uncovered the shocking anti-Semitism of many French conservatives), national unity was in short supply. In this context, “Paris’s much-vaunted solidarity” became an expedient political fiction: a flag around which, finally, the battered nation could rally. To avoid this ideological trap, Jackson tells his story in an evenhanded way, describing the egotism, violence and treachery that surfaced alongside loftier reactions. At the same time, he has a modest agenda of his own, which he lays out in the book’s conclusion.

“Maybe,” he suggests, “Paris can serve as a beginning point for thinking about how urban residents can reconnect with one another, since it is impossible to know when nature may present an unexpected challenge and when depending on one’s neighbors may determine one’s survival.”

Below is a slide show of pictures from the 1910 flood.