A graphic for La Commune-opédie, a project by Roxanne Panchasi's History 417 class in the spring of 2021.

ICMYI: La Commune 2021 Free School

March 23, 2022

This article originally appeared in Volume 18 of  Primary Source, the Department of History's Annual Newsletter. You can download the full issue on our newsletter page.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, professor Roxanne Panchasi of SFU History decided to do something different. She launched La Commune 2021, a virtual free school created in partnership with artist Britt Bachmann and the UNITT/PITT Society for Art and Critical Awareness, an artist-run non-profit organization that has been operating in the Chinatown, Downtown Eastside and Gastown neighbourhoods of Vancouver since 1975.

The free school lasted 10 weeks – just like the 10 week span of the original 1871 uprising – and explored the history of the Paris Commune through thematic modules, such as the Commune and colonialism, the role of women, and the role of art & artists during the Commune. Each week’s ‘class’ began with a selection of readings, both primary sources and historical as well as modern commentary, and was anchored around an episode of Radio 1871 – a series of podcast-style interviews that took listeners on a deep dive into that week’s theme with Panchasi and various experts on the history of the Commune. Participants were alerted by email when a new ‘week’ of material was available, as well as to relevant Commune-themed events hosted by UNITT/PITT and other organizations marking the 150th anniversary.

Also along for the ride were the students of Panchasi’s History 417 (Problems in Modern French History – The Paris Commune 150th Anniversary Edition). Radio 1871 was originally recorded for their weekly seminars before its public release for La Commune 2021. As a part of their course work, History 417 students also created La Commune-opédie, a researched and curated set of webpages focused on themes that dove-tailed with the themes of the free school and hosted on the UNITT/PITT website.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the La Commune 2021 is Les Réponses (the Responses), a collection of 10 artworks created by UNITT/PITT’s artists in residence, inspired by the 10 weeks of material created for La Commune 2021. In paintings, photography, film, and embroidery the artists captured the spirit of the Communards of 1871.

When asked why she was inspired to create La Commune 2021, Panchasi told host Am Johal of the podcast Below the Radar, “Even if I don’t really work on it [the Commune]… it’s something that I teach, that I’m interested in, something that people outside the university are consistently interested in, and politically it fascinates me as an episode. There’s all sorts of ways that I’ve been trying over the years to take what I do inside the University and have it connect to things that happen outside the University, and doing different projects on the Commune has been one way to do that.”1

All the material created for the 10 weeks of La Commune 2021 will be available to read, listen and explore until April 2022, at unitpitt.ca/la-commune-2021.

1. Johal, A. (Host). (2021, March 22). Episode 111: La Commune 2021 — with Roxanne Panchasi and Brit Bachmann [Audio Podcast Episode]. In Below the Radar. Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.

Other recent news