Forman’s Travels Through France: Using Postcards to Understand Changing Landscapes

Tags: Postcards from Edward D. Forman

By Brianna M. Quade

The text below describes the process of completing this project. To view, click on the link.

Forman’s Travels Through France

Urban history is an incredible fascinating field of historical research. This field allows historians to understand how cities were constructed and the social, political, and economic systems that influence the construction of the city and urban areas. The focus of this project was to examine how French urban landscape changed, if it did at all, from World War I to the present. Using the postcards of Edward Forman, this project demonstrated the necessity to examine urban landscapes.

Using atavist, a content management system, I used sliders to contrast the Forman postcards with images from Google Maps. Atavist was chosen because it was the easiest to work with. Storymap JS provided similar features as atavist but was more difficult to use sliders. In Storymap, the images had to line up. With atavist, it was simple to show the before and after images of the places Forman send postcards from.

There were very few changes to the buildings in the postcards. It was difficult to locate some images, like Le Pont en X because it was destroyed. There was also no specific address linked to Le Pont. Additionally, Le Palais des Muses et le Pont St-Gorges, Le Gare de l’Ouest-Etat, Portails de la Cathedrale, La Cathedrale, la Caserne de Bon Pastuer, and La Maison de Duguay-Trouin were also difficult to find. La Maison was an image of a street, not a specific building, proved difficult to locate the place. For the others, translating French was difficult. Le Gare, when translated means station, so instead of the proper pronoun, it is just a noun. La Cathedrale and Portails were very general, which led to searching for cathedrals in the cities listed on the postcard.

During the course of the project, translating and pinpointing locations proved to be the biggest challenge. With no background in French or France’s urban landscape, several Google searches were needed with different variations on the names of the locations. It took several looks at not only Google Maps but also at websites to discover if the location was correct. Coming to the conclusion that the places in France were referred to differently than what was listed on the postcard was a significant finding during the project. Some names did not change, but the buildings were used for different things. For example, Caserne St-Georges is now a fire station, but it was difficult to determine if the building was used for a fire station in World War I. Other buildings like Le Palais des Muses et le Pont St-Georges proved to be more difficult. It referred to the building and the bridge. It was important to translate the different words in the phrase in order to know what the location was. Upon successful translation, I discovered Le Palais is now called Musee Des Beaux-Arts de Rennes. The building still looks the same, but the name changed completely. Through this, I was led to question if the building still existed or if the name changed. Luckily, only the name changed. It would have been interesting to see if the entire building was destroyed.

For many of the churches, I questioned why Forman visited them. The churches did not change much, but from the Google Maps images, there was a significant amount of modernization that took place. This was interesting to see. The buildings remained the same but streets were created and cars were everywhere; a telling sign of urbanization.

Atavist was very easy to work with. Some drawbacks include not being able to change the font size or color and customizing the slides or pages. Regardless, atavist allowed me demonstrate my argument and provide evidence.

This project can be expanded by looking more in depth at the history of the buildings in World War I and the present. It would be interesting to examine the specific changes that occurred and community reactions. I would also be interested to research how public transportation changed and if it influenced changes that occurred in France during and after World War I. This project was interesting and engaging. It is my hope that viewers will take away the message that examining the construction of cities and urban areas is important. Specifically, memory impacts how people view cities. I would be interested to see if there are any records of the name changes to buildings or changes to the buildings themselves. How do people remember these structures? Do they remember them at all? Le Theatre ve des Promenades de Jacobins changed dramatically after World War I. From the postcard it is evident the building was stone or concrete. But upon a Google search, the building appears to have glass windows and completely renovated. Why such the big change? Do people remember what the building looked like before? These are the kinds of questions that can be answered by looking at urban areas. And these questions can help to understand how urban areas have transformed and why they have.