Constance de Font-Réaulx

HistoryJohns Hopkins University

Award Information

2017 IDRF Program

HistoryJohns Hopkins University

The Power of Water in Versailles, Paris, and London, 1650-1800

My dissertation, The Power of Water in Versailles, Paris, and London (1650-1789) explains how water first became privatized, commercialized, and commodified in premodern Europe. Rather than writing a national history of water privatization, my dissertation reconstructs the debates, conflicts, and innovations surrounding the privatization of the Parisian water system. During the age of Enlightenment, reformers, entrepreneurs, and engineers pushed for and obtained the creation of a privatized water system from Louis XVI (1774-1791). To make historical sense of these transformations, I argue, the privatization of water in Paris must be contextualized in relation to broader developments in France and England, specifically the politics and economics of water after the construction of the palace of Versailles, as well as French anxieties over the urban development of London in the eighteenth century. But national and transnational rivalries only partially explain water privatization. I argue that the birth of a consumer society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries encouraged the privatization, commercialization, and commodification of water, first in London and then in Paris. This dissertation is strongly interdisciplinary, drawing on numerous historiographical fields and methods (urban and environmental history, history of political economy, history of privacy) and key concepts from recent research in sociology, and science and technology studies. The questions I address bear directly on some of the most urgent environmental concerns of the twenty-first century, and may help contextualize current debates about access to clean water and water scarcity—debates that are grounded in deeper questions about the value of human life, global economic inequality, and the meaning of human rights.