My current book project is the revision of my dissertation (Stanford, 2013). Public Work: Making Roads and Citizens in Eighteenth-Century France tells the history of the corvée, e.g. the forced labor regime used on highway construction sites from about 1730 to 1790. Despite shaping the lives of millions of French people, little research has examined the corvée: scholarship has focused on the quality of the roads built rather than the labor practice itself.
My book unearths the information infrastructures that made the corvée possible: questionnaires addressed to rural villages, engineers’ maps, broadsheets and pamphlets of regulations. These archival sources from Brittany¬—where the corvée has a uniquely long history—show that information technologies adapted for highway building became tools of political reform in the decades before 1789. The book is a study of eighteenth-century France as an information society.
This research is enabled by digital workflows that allow meaningful features of information exchange to become visible as evidence and traceable in the provincial landscape. Underpinning my analysis is a hand-crafted digital gazetteer (a dictionary of historical place names linked to metadata, for example, a geospatial location) as well as datasets of features from period maps of corvée assignments.
Recent presentations about my book projects
- “Beyond Repair: Forced Labor and Highway Construction in Eighteenth-Century France,” Early Modern Mobility Conference, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, May 14-15, 2021.
- “How to Build a Road: Coercive Labor, Public Works, and Provincial Power Struggles in 18th-c. Brittany,” Institute for Historical Research (IHR) Modern French History Seminar, London, UK, July 6, 2020.
- “Les archives des États de Bretagne: Un outil au service des travaux publics au XVIIIe siècle,” Les États provinciaux au travail en France et en Europe, XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, Avignon, France, 10-11 October 2019.