The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700-1775

The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700-1775

Book Pages: 784 Illustrations: 21 illustrations Published: June 1996

History > European History

In preindustrial Europe, dependence on grain shaped every phase of life from economic development to spiritual expression, and the problem of subsistence dominated the everyday order of things in a merciless and unremitting way. Steven Laurence Kaplan’s The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700–1775 focuses on the production and distribution of France’s most important commodity in the sprawling urban center of eighteenth-century Paris where provisioning needs were most acutely felt and most difficult to satisfy. Kaplan shows how the relentless demand for bread constructed the pattern of daily life in Paris as decisively and subtly as elaborate protocol governed the social life at Versailles.
Despite the overpowering salience of bread in public and private life, Kaplan’s is the first inquiry into the ways bread exercised its vast and significant empire. Bread framed dreams as well as nightmares. It was the staff of life, the medium of communion, a topic of common discourse, and a mark of tradition as well as transcendence. In his exploration of bread’s materiality and cultural meaning, Kaplan looks at bread’s fashioning of identity and examines the conditions of supply and demand in the marketplace. He also sets forth a complete history of the bakers and their guild, and unmasks the methods used by the authorities in their efforts to regulate trade.
Because the bakers and their bread were central to Parisian daily life, Kaplan’s study is also a comprehensive meditation on an entire society, its government, and its capacity to endure. Long-awaited by French history scholars, The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700–1775 is a landmark in eighteenth-century historiography, a book that deeply contextualizes, and thus enriches our understanding of one of the most important eras in European history.


“Kaplan’s long-standing role as mediator of French and American historiographic traditions casts him as the embodiment of March Bloch’s definition of the historian’s métiermétier not simply as ‘craft’ but as calling, that mysterious blend of craft skill and spiritual commitment so central to the guild member’s sense of self. How fitting that one of the outstanding contemporary practioners of the métier of historian should reconstruct for us the world of the quintessential métier of the Old Regime. Moreover, Kaplan has wielded his knife well, reminding us that our cuts will be all the more skillful if we know how the loaf was formed. — James B. Collins , Journal of Modern History

“A landmark in eighteenth-century historiography. The verve and clarity of Kaplan’s writing are marvelous. The completeness of the project is admirable; every kind of archival material that might have shed light on the subject has been systematically scoured.” — William M. Reddy, Duke University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Steven Laurence Kaplan is Goldwin Smith Professor of European History at Cornell University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

List of Tables xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

I. Bread: Demand and Supply 21

1. Breadways 23

2. Bread Making 61

3. Baker Shops and Bread Markets 81

4. The Forain World 116

5. Bread on Credit 137

II. Bakers: Social Structure and Life Cycle 153

6. The Guild 155

7. From Apprentice to Journeyman 192

8. At Work 227

9. The Journeyman's World Outside the Shop 250

10. Establishment 271

11. Marriage Strategies and Family Life 302

12. Fortune 337

13. Bakers as Debtors 377

14. Failure 400

15. Reputation 423

III. Police of Bread and Bakers 437

16. Primer to Policing: Figuring Supply and Consumption 439

17. The Police of Bakers 458

18. Setting the Price of Bread 493

19. Policing the Price of Bread, 1725-1780 521

Conclusion 567

Appendixes 581

Notes 591

Bibliography 717

Index 745
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Winner, 1996 Louis Gottschalk Award, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Winner, 1997 Langhe Ceretto / Societa Editrice Internazionale Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1706-7
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