I first saw this photo years ago when I was TA’ing for a European history class, and it fascinated me then and now. This interesting and ominous shot was taken on the Rue Saint-Maur in Paris on June 25, 1848, in the midst of what’s known as the “June Days” Uprising. The lines of junk you see blocking the streets are barricades that were hastily constructed by revolutionaries, mostly unemployed men seeking work, a few days earlier. The street is deserted and given the date my guess is that this was taken right after the uprising was put down by French Army soldiers. There are no bodies visible–they must have been cleared away before this Daguerreotype was taken–but the June Days was a very bloody affair, killing perhaps 10,000 people in three hellish days of savage urban rioting in the heart of Paris.
The June Days were part of a series of upheavals that seized France and other European countries during 1848. A previous “revolution” had already taken place earlier in the year, and the shaky new French government promised to establish job centers, called Warehouses, to employ men who were being squeezed by an economic downturn related to industrialization and the previous unrest. On June 23 the government closed the Workshops, and unemployed men, led by political radicals, took to the streets. The government sent out the army and the fighting shut down Paris for three days. The revolt was ultimately put down, but had some short-term effects of providing the impetus for a new constitution. Unfortunately that constitution allowed the accession of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon, who ultimately became the dictator Napoleon III.
I think this shot is fascinating because there are so few actual photographs of urban European cities at this time, and also because it was taken in the midst of such a momentous event. The Revolutions of 1848 were part of the reason why Paris underwent an extensive urban renewal in the 1860s. The boulevards were broadened considerably precisely so that urban rioters couldn’t seek refuge in the narrow streets and overhanging buildings you see here. Environment, even an urban environment, does affect history–this photo is proof of it!