Davis ’14 Gets Deeper Look at French History

Ethan Davis ’14 – Today in Paris the separation between tourism and education became particularly apparent. After visiting Notre Dame de Paris on Tuesday and seeing the masses of international tourists, we found ourselves in a place filled with predominantly French people, taking in their history. The class visited Musée du Moyen Age. Here we saw many of the relics, particles and original artifacts that originated from all over medieval France, including Notre Dame de Paris.

The most striking part of this museum for me was when I entered a large room filled with statues that had been beheaded (many of the severed heads were also on display). Many of these statues were part of the unrestored Notre Dame. These statues told an interesting story that goes largely unknown by so many who visit Paris. You can observe the true story of what happened to a nation and how its symbols have been interpreted. We see that there is an effort to instill an Aquinas type of order within the context of these icons. A deliberate effort to reorganize these statues in this way, and not to show the reality of their history to the masses, shows that they are placing them in an order that they see fit.

The intentionality of destroying defiling these particular statues depicts the tumultuous history of the nation and shows us, as the modern viewer, how important the use of symbols are to political movements. Revolutionaries attacked not only the political institution above them, but they then continued to destroy the emblems and the associated institutions to further there point. But the continued narrative of these statues doesn’t end with their desecration, but the resurrection and ascension of their more modern counterparts back to Notre Dame, shows us that the purpose of these symbols continued to be used to send political messages.

The most curious element of these uses of symbols is the lack of involvement in the complete story by all those that visit Paris. The relatively small amount of people that wondered throughout the Museum is immensely dwarfed by the masses who flow through Notre Dame. It forces one to wonder what many of these people could learn about themselves and their own governments, if they understood a fuller portion of Notre Dame’s story. Perhaps this is the most disappointing portion of the trip. The image of Notre Dame as it is now is what so many people walk away with. To leave with an understanding of themes such as this use of symbols is what sets the education at such a deep level. Seeing the useless way that so many walk away from these structures enforces in me more resolve to observe more decisively how symbols are used in the American political system and what ideas they are trying to instil in me.