Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint-Severin

by Robert Darnton

What's so funny about killing cats? Nicolas Contat's humorous account of a cat massacre that took place while he was an apprentice in an 18th century printshop confirms that time isn't the only thing separating us from pre-Industrial Europe. Indeed, what is often missing when we look at texts from the past and/or from different cultures is the frame of reference in which the story is set. By analyzing print trade labor trends as well as conceptual categories of cats in the larger culture, Darnton comes up with an "explication de texte" that undermines history's usual whitewash of this era as an idyllic precursor to Industrialization. Point being, an ethnological approach to studying texts may bring to light new interpretations, new histories of the past.