Paris and Power (55+)

Paris, the so-called City of Light, is the quintessential urban expression of power. This historical journey through the city’s past will reveal how the architecture, infrastructure and open spaces of Paris have evolved as the reflection of an ongoing quest for dominance, whether by Romans, Vikings or Franks, by monarchs, emperors or republics.

Multiple illustrations and maps will aid in our investigation. Along the way, we’ll consider several questions. Why has control of Paris been considered vital? How did tensions between town, gown and crown play out in the city’s environment? To what degree did 19th-century urban planning reflect imperial preoccupations? And how does a concern for national power reveal itself in the built city today?

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Paris to the 11th Century: Inhabitants and Invaders

From its settlement by the Parisii, a Gaulish people, to successive incursions by Romans, Vikings and Franks, the early city evolved to reflect concerns regarding dominance, security and control.

Week 2: Paris as Medieval City: Town, Gown and Crown

As France began to solidify its borders, it continued to embrace the great European unifier of Roman Catholicism. We will investigate the city’s cathedrals and churches, monasteries and convents (many destroyed after the 1789 Revolution), and the Sorbonne University, contrasting their power with the administrative centres of the time.

Week 3: Paris as Royal City: From Renaissance to Revolution

Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV each left a dominant stamp on Paris, by commissioning grand monuments, dictating urban planning, and controlling new construction through strict regulation—a regulation whose imprint we will explore today.

Week 4: Paris as Nineteenth-Century City: From Napoléon Bonaparte to the Third Republic

The 19th Century saw the realization of pre-Revolution urban planning projects as Paris reflected a tumultuous succession of emperors, monarchs and republics. We will examine how Napoléon I and Napoléon III re-engineered the city’s infrastructure while embellishing it to reflect their personal glory and the stature of France.

Week 5: Paris as Imperial City: Art Galleries, Expositions and Museums

From the early 1800s onward, Paris served as a showcase for France’s empire, unleashing a collecting impulse that would fill its imperial repositories of art galleries, international expositions and museums. We will consider how this visual landscape has laid a backdrop for the city’s dominance today.

Week 6: Paris after 1870: Wars and Alliances

In the pan-European struggle for hegemony, war and alliances left substantial marks on Paris, in both obvious and subtle fashion. We will investigate the urban imprints of the 1871 French defeat by Prussia, the 1894 military alliance with Russia, and the legacy of the First and Second World Wars.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

Look at other courses in