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New Book and Accompanying Website by Rhodes Professor Commemorate 100th Anniversary of Paris Flood

Publication Date: 1/11/2010

The recently released book by Rhodes History Professor Jeffrey H. Jackson tells the largely forgotten story of one of the worst floods in French history that occurred 100 years ago this month.

It was in January 1910 following weeks of torrential rainfall that the Seine overflowed its banks flooding thousands of homes in Paris and sending residents seeking safety and higher ground. Even the basement in the Louvre began to fill, causing curators to fear that many of the priceless treasures in the collection would be lost.

“From the perspective of [Parisian] city planners and officials, the flood was not just a disaster but an embarrassment,” writes Jackson. “To many at the time, the flood demonstrated the failure of the city’s modern technology to cope with the primeval forces of nature.”

But what emerged from the water was a dramatic coming together by Parisians to survive this natural disaster. According to Jackson, Paris’ current flood emergency plan is based in part on the failures and successes of the city 100 years ago.

The book, titled Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 and published by Palgrave Macmillan, has already received much praise.

“It’s hard to imagine a more thoroughly researched history of the Paris, France, flood of 1910,” writes Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge. “With the national debate roaring on whether post-Katrina New Orleans should be rebuilt, Paris Under Water offers the definitive answer of yes. A truly first-rate book.”

“Enlivened by period photographs of a flooded Paris, this is a capable, well-researched history of a modern city’s battle with nature,” according to Publishers Weekly.

Jackson, along with Rhodes alumnus Andy Crooks ’09 and Memphis College of Art alumna Danita Barrentine, have created www.parisunderwater.com with dozens of dramatic photographs from the flood to help bring the book’s narrative to life.  The site also incorporates features to help people understand the flood both geographically and chronologically.

Jackson, who is also author of Making Jazz French and a contributor to the PBS Documentary “Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story,” began researching his current book around the time hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.

Recently featured in the Guardian, Jackson comments that the lesson from the Paris flood is that “We can′t necessarily rely on technology, on urban infrastructure. Take the sewers [in Paris]. People had celebrated them … as the height of modernity. When those technological solutions to the problems had gone, the only thing they were left with was human solutions. The city was able to soldier on because of those strong ties."

This month and in February, Jackson will make appearances in London and Paris as well as have book signings in parts of the United States.  His talk at Rhodes is February 9 at 7 p.m. in Blount Auditorium.


Tags: Faculty, Lectures


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