The Work of Making Revolution

Aux Bons Citoyens traveilleurs de Champs de Mars

My dissertation investigates how workers transformed the “impossibility” of revolutionary demands into a concrete reality. What labor went into making what we now call "the French Revolution"?

To answer these questions, I look at a whole host of workers and kinds of labor  across France during the revolutionary decade, including administrative clerks,  archivists, lint-makers, postal messengers, and the making of ink and paper.  By bringing a whole host of workers together, I can tease out power dynamics.  The work of making a revolution was contentious and uncertain.  Manual tasks may not seem revolutionary, yet they were nevertheless prerequisites  and co-requisites to having a revolution. The political and intellectual work of  making a new system of government was made possible by a whole range of  support work.

My research on other kinds of labor is necessarily mediated by what administrators and archivists chose to preserve or destroy. To study labor throughout the revolutionary decade, I will temper theories of archival silences with concrete analyses of the work of archivists.

The burnings of titres de noblesse

The traditional story of archives during the French Revolution has been one of destruction, of popular burnings of documents. But that is not the whole story.

In my research, I analyze archivists and their decisions of what to preserve in the new departmental archives and how to organize documents in the absence of national guidelines.

A blank column titled Observations

When national ministers ordered tableaux to be completed, they expected compliance and were unsympathetic and dismissive of protests that the workload was “impossible.” When departmental administrators set or managed quotas for production, they all but criminalized resistance. I examine the disconnect between expectations (seen through the rhetoric of a nation & all instructions for tableaux) & the alleged “impossibility” of implementing them. Revolutionary work consisted of at least as much drudgery as overtly political acts. Paying attention to material obstacles makes the failure of some revolutionary plans and the success of others comprehensible.