Knowing Paris: Changing approaches to describing the Enlightenment city

Victoria Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


While Parisian guidebooks published in the second half of the eighteenth century have often been seen as part of an effort to render the city more legible, this essay argues that the use of different aesthetic styles to describe the city as well as the proliferation of organizational formats created a measure of confusion over the meaning of the city and exposed tensions between systems of rendering the city meaningful. These tensions became politicized on the eve of the 1789 Revolution, most notably in Louis Sébastien Mercier's Tableau de Paris. Mercier's focus on the ways in which power relations determined urban practices as well as his insistence that the streets of the city could serve as a source of meaningful knowledge laid the foundation for a new, revolutionary, understanding of urban space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-42
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Urban History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Mercier
  • guidebooks
  • politics
  • urban space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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