In 1842, the French government approved a national construction plan that mandated a rail link for all towns with a population over 500 people. By the 1870s, Paris’s Gare Saint-Lazare—the main station connecting Paris to the villages west of the city—was receiving over 13 million passengers each year, with more than 80% of those passengers traveling to and from the suburbs.
This industrialization, combined with the end of aristocratic rule in 1872, allowed for newfound class mobility. An emerging middle class divided up countryside estates and turned them into vacation villas. The changing economy and employment policies also resulted in more disposable income and a newly created weekend. The bourgeoisie took advantage of having extra time and resources to visit the suburbs and enjoy leisure activities away from the city.
In the classroom activities below, students will examine the role of advertising in promoting the idea of leisure activities and locations. They also will compare the technological and economical changes in society in the 19th and 21st centuries.
Poster of Bal des Canotiers (The Boaters’ Dance)
Copyright Musée Fournaise, Chatou-France.
Railroad Map of Paris and its Surroundings
Courtesy of the SNCF Archives, Paris.
Railroad Fares from Paris to the Suburbs
Adolphe Joanne, Les Environs de Paris (the Paris regions).
In the Classroom: Advertising Poster Activity
By the early 1880s, railroad was big business in France. Industry tycoons worked hard to sell the idea of suburban outings to the public through advertising campaigns. Ask students to look closely at the poster Bal des Canotiers which trumpeted Bougival’s (one of the popular suburban towns) various leisure activities. Students can then identify and discuss what made the poster an effective advertising image. Consider text, colors, target audience, and information included in the poster. Students learning French could also translate the text first before deciphering its efficacy.
After that, students can create their own advertisement (in English of French) for a contemporary place or activity. Students should consider the discussion around what makes a successful advertising image in expressing their idea.
In the Classroom: Leisure Time: Then and Now Activity
With the invention of the railroad and socio-economic advancements in the late 19th century, Parisians began enjoying more leisure time. Ask students to research the types of activities, sports, and pastimes that became popular as a result of these societal changes.
Then, students will reflect on the last decade, identifying the impact of changes in communication (social media, smartphones, etc.), transportation (sharing economy), and technology (virtual reality, online games, wifi, etc.) on contemporary society. Students will compare the similarities and differences between the 19th and 21st centuries. Does society have more or less leisure time? Social mobility?
Students will then synthesize these different ideas through a presentation, in English or French, to the class.