Tag Archives: history

Gallica Friday: Jiu-Jitsu

Gallica, the online search engine of the French National Library (BnF), is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Or maybe since the baguette. Gallica Friday highlights some of the fun, interesting, and curious things I found by happily clicking around Gallica.


Le jiu-jitsu pratique, a textbook published in 1906 by the Paris city Police chief, Charles Péchard. It’s supposed to teach you no fewer than 100 ways to deal with a criminal, even if he’s armed. What else could you possibly need?


5 Facebook Pages for Francophiles

Bal populaire

Having followed several Facebook pages set up by French archives or history buffs for the past few years, I can say this much: they really do know how to use Facebook to attract readers and followers. And they don’t do it in any predictable way. They come up with fun contests or riddles (with no prizes), ask people to vote on their cover photos (again, just for fun), and sometimes feature discoveries made by their readers. So here are some of the best pages for Francophiles who want to learn more about French history while procrastinating on Facebook:

1. Gallica. I’ve been singing the praises of Gallica, the online catalog of the French National Library, since it was launched way back when, but it turns out that they’re also Facebook geniuses. A new amazing album will often pop up in your feed and distract you from all those pictures of babies or cats. And there’s a regular “Enigme du vendredi” feature where they ask readers to guess all kinds of things — which tends to be quite challenging but also lots of fun.

2. John D’Orbigny Immobilier. As the name suggests, this is actually a real estate agency. But the page hardly ever mentions their daily work. Instead, they have amassed an amazing array of photos. I don’t know how they do it. Clearly somebody who works there spends a lot of time scouring flea markets and the farthest corners of the internet. Would you like to see some pictures from Paris from 1870 to 1914?  Interested in Mata Hari? The 1937 Exposition? The Louvre during World War II? They seem to have everything and then some.

3. Paris Unplugged. This is the Facebook page for the website, where you’ll find more details on the photos they post and interesting vignettes on different areas of Paris and their history. That’s exactly what sets them apart: they give you a lot of context for pictures, so much so that you can probably become a tour guide just by reading what they post.

4. Ina.fr. Another official page, this time for the French National Audiovisual Institute (Ina). As you’d expect, they have a very wide range of videos, TV clips, and even old films. And they regularly highlight interesting videos you might not find on your own.

5. Archives départementales de la Manche. Much like Gallica, these Archives know how to make old pictures fun. They mostly focus on Lower Normandy, but it turns out it’s quite interesting.

Do you have any favorites? Would you add anything to this (very subjective) list?

(Photo of a bal populaire in 1914 via Gallica)

Gallica Friday: Women in Politics

In June 1936, the cover of L’Illustré du Petit Journal, the magazine of the popular newspaper Le Petit Journal, featured the first women who held government positions in France: Suzanne Lacore, Cécile Brunschvicg, and Irène Joliot-Curie. They were appointed in 1936 by the left-wing Popular Front — a rather radical idea at the time because women were still not allowed to vote. The article itself was somewhat lukewarm and spent too much time discussing the jokes that could be made about women ministers. But it did note that they were very qualified for their positions and people appreciated them.

Fast-forward to December 2013, Elle magazine has declared Christiane Taubira “woman of the year” and featured her on the cover of the magazine. Taubira is the French Minister of Justice, also appointed by a left-wing government. She was instrumental in the passage of the same-sex marriage law and gave a rousing speech the day when it finally happened. Before that, in 2001, she also worked hard to pass another key law, which recognizes slave trade as a crime against humanity. In the interview, she talks about the many racist attacks against her, but focuses on her many accomplishments and projects, quoting Diderot as her inspiration: “Si ces pensées ne plaisent à personne, elles pourront n’être que mauvaises, mais je les tiens pour détestables si elles plaisent à tout le monde.”

A historical cover, says Le Parisien, and I couldn’t agree more.

The First Programmers

Mental Floss has been doing a fabulous job with this series of articles on women in tech. The piece on the ‘Refrigerator ladies’ who programmed the first electronic computer is jam-packed with interesting details. For instance:

“There was no language, no operating system, no anything,” Kleiman says. “The women had to figure out what the computer was, how to interface with it, and then break down a complicated mathematical problem into very small steps that the ENIAC could then perform.” They physically hand-wired the machine, an arduous task using switches, cables, and digit trays to route data and program pulses.

“The ENIAC was a son of a bitch to program,” Jean Jennings has said.

Growing Up with the Secret Police

Over at English Pen, Carmen Bugan writes a beautiful piece on what it’s like to read the files the secret police kept on your parents:

“To my surprise, all of the details of my own adolescence, complete with love notes I wrote to boys thinking only they would read them, have been faithfully recorded in my mother’s archives. My yearly letter to my father in prison, his postcards to us, and the conversations my father had with the men in his cell, are all recorded, sometimes paraphrased, as are the transcripts of our dreams that we used to share with each other in the mornings. There are notes with further instructions for monitoring us written on the side of the pages as well as glosses about our state of mind or feelings when we made certain remarks that they interpreted from our tone of voice, as well as transcripts of all of our telephone conversations.”