The SFHS 2014 conference is next week in Montreal!

Come check out our panel on Saturday at 10:30am. We are looking forward to talking about local governance strategies and individual administrators, and in particular comparing practices in the metropole with those in the Atlantic colonial territories. Chandra Mukerji (most recently the author of Impossible Engineering: Technology and Territoriality on the Canal Du Midi) will comment on our papers and Nathan Perl-Rosenthal is our chair. 

Session 5L / Séance 5L (DS-M340)

Governing on the Ground: Administrative Practices and Personnel in the Early Modern French Atlantic

Chair / président : Nathan PERL-ROSENTHAL, University of Southern California

Helen DEWAR, McGill University. Government by Trading Company: The Compagnie de la Nouvelle France, the Communauté des Habitants, and Colonial Administration, 1627-1663

Will BROWN, Johns Hopkins University. Fashioning a New Self, Promoting a New Venture: Joseph-Antoine Lefebvre de La Barre Seeks a Reading Public

Katherine MCDONOUGH, Stanford University. Administrative Archives: Surveys of 18th-century Road Construction Sites in Rural Brittany

Comment / commentaire : Chandra MUKERJI, University of California (San Diego)

What’s my paper about? Here’s the abstract:

Administrative Archives: Surveys of 18th-century Road Construction Sites in Rural Brittany

In my work on early modern Brittany, I have found the archives kept by the provincial Estates and intendance on public works to be a rich source of information about increasingly technical and economic discussions among parish leaders, engineers, and local administrators. My research on Brittany’s eighteenth-century road construction boom captures the importance of both local decision-making that parishes exercised through their participation in the corvée labor requirement, and the use of these local concerns by the Estates in their bid for control over the province’s public works. Written questionnaires, onsite inspections, and maps were used by provincial administrators to collect, organize, and share information about the highway construction process during the eighteenth century. With these administrative documents, they sought to make sense of highway construction on a provincial scale, rather than a royal or seigniorial one. By studying creation and use of administrative documents, I am able to explore interactions between Brittany’s rural communities, Estates' deputies, and public works engineers in the 1760s-70s. > > In this presentation, I focus on one type of document that was used to collect information about local construction conditions under the corvée regime – the administrative survey. I explore the commitment to working on public works as a provincial project, and the negotiation with rural communities whose vision of transportation infrastructure remained highly local in the eighteenth century. The Estates’ intermediary commission sent printed surveys to parish leaders in 1764 and 1769. These operated as a strong foundation for the Estates’ project to control highway construction as an internal, provincial activity. The Estates intended to restructure the corvée labor system and engineers’ responsibilities to forge stronger links between these key elements of highway construction and the Estates, and to diminish the Intendant’s control of labor and engineering expertise. From the 1770s until 1790, the Estates deputies in diocesan committees and in the intermediary commission became the primary collaborators with provincial engineers on highway construction. Their ability to document and coordinate construction and maintenance in at least 500 parishes was regarded by corvée participants as more equitable than the earlier practices of the royal intendant and commandant en chef. This perception of the Estates’ success was built on a more effective formulation of public utility that took account of parish interests while simultaneously speaking of these as provincial interests. > > The Estates administration of Brittany’s highway works marked a departure away from seigniorial style of land and labor management and towards the state control of public works familiar to French citizens today. Unlike all other regions of France in the decades preceding the Revolution, Brittany used and enforced the corvée labor requirements for rural inhabitants until 1789. The sustained conversations about the utility of corvée labor on a particular road, the method for extracting materials, or the need for better-trained engineers sustained working relationships between urban and rural Bretons and offered the Estates the time to establish itself as a protector of local interests at the expense of the intendant. > >