Collective Forgetting: Textbooks and the Paris Commune in the Early Third Republic

By 1880, the year Jules Ferry produced his law on public education, the Third Republic had become France’s longest enduring republic. Given France’s unstable political history, republicans focused on public education as the key to stabilizing the republic, instilling republican values in future generations of French citizens, and constructing historical narratives of the Republic as the embodiment of the nation’s will. However, the Commune posed a particular challenge to the origins story of the Third Republic. The brief narratives of the Commune in public-school textbooks guardedly sympathized with the conditions that drove the Commune’s working-class support, but tempered that with conventional portrayals of working-class manipulability and female emotionality in the political arena. Textbooks reserved their opprobrium for the unnamed Commune leaders, their choice of political referents, their motivations, and the emotional paroxysms they unleashed. Above all, the textbooks chastised the Commune as destructive of national unity.

David A. Shafer
California State University, Long Beach
Volume 49.3–4