College of Arts & Sciences

arts&sciences

Plagued Paree

By Patrick L. Kennedy

The popular picture of Paris in the 1920s is of a welcoming haven for American artists and writers fleeing the reactionary politics of their homeland. Instead, Assistant Professor of History Brooke Blower portrays a worldly but war-wounded city in which Americans were embroiled in the day’s most pressing international political conflicts and “bitter disputes of all kinds,” as she puts it.

With the research grant that came with her Peter Paul Career Development Professorship, Blower has published Becoming Americans in Paris: Transatlantic Politics and Culture between the World Wars (Oxford University Press, 2011). Using contemporary letters, press accounts, and other sources, she reveals historical episodes that puncture the romantic vision of interbellum Paris: riots after the Sacco and Vanzetti executions, the anti-vice purge of right-wing police prefect Jean Chiappe, opposition to an American Legion convention in Paris (one critic decried the display of “Yankee fascism”), and the expat-entangling intrigues of homegrown French fascists and communists.

Blower makes solid arguments that these experiences helped forge a new American identity on the global state. Becoming Americans, which the Boston Authors Club named one of their four highly Recommended Books for the year, is “an excellent example of what transnational history ought to be,” says the Journal of Interdisciplinary History. “An illuminating, elegantly written, and extremely worthwhile enterprise.”

Watch Brooke L. Blower discuss her book Becoming Americans in Paris on BUniverse.