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Exhibition offers rare glimpse of revolutionary Paris

* 2 July 2004 *

Exhibition offers rare glimpse of revolutionary Paris

A new exhibition provides a unique media view of the Paris Commune - the popular uprising that ended in bloodshed but inspired socialism in France nearly 100 years after the revolution of 1789.

The Paris Commune 1871 exhibition at the Barbican Museum in Lewes tells the story of this remarkable and bloody episode through books, posters, satirical cartoons and rare artefacts, drawn from the University of Sussex Eugene W. Schulkind Commune Collection, the most important collection of its kind in the UK and one of only four in the world. It was built up by the late Eugene Schulkind, formerly of the University's School of European Studies.

The exhibits help to tell the story of the Commune, when Parisian citizens and soldiers (Communards) stood up to the invading Prussians and attempted to establish patriotic rule based on secular democracy and social justice. It was a far cry from the Reign of Terror and decapitations of the 1790s. The Communards encouraged political expression, and even burnt the gruesome guillotine to announce the abolition of capital punishment. After just two months, however, the Commune was brutally crushed by the French republican government that had succeeded the vanquished Emperor Napoleon III, and its members were massacred, imprisoned or shipped to the colonies. But the episode inspired the likes of Karl Marx and is seen as a precursor to socialism. It even inspired that anthem of revolutionary ideals, the Internationale.

The exhibition is curated by Dorothy Sheridan, head of Special Collections at the University, and Rod Kedward, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Sussex, as part of the Tom Paine Festival, at the invitation of Sir David Watson, University of Brighton Vice-Chancellor and active member of the Tom Paine Society. Judy Herbert and Colin Matthews of the University of Brighton carried out the design and production for the exhibition.

The Tom Paine Festival (4-14 July) commemorates the life and work of the radical thinker and writer who championed the American and French revolutions and who wrote the famous Rights of Man. Paine lived for six years in Lewes where, inspired by the town's dissenting tradition, he developed his revolutionary ideas. These ideas may even have inspired the Paris Commune.

Items featured include the original official Commune embossing date stamp poignantly stopped forever at 27 May 1871, when the Commune collapsed.

Dorothy Sheridan, head of Special Collections at the University's library, says: "This has been a great opportunity to display one of our really valuable and rare collections. Rod and I were very pleased to contribute to the Tom Paine Festival this year in a genuinely joint project between us and colleagues at the University of Brighton."

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