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Alexia M. Yates

Alexia M. Yates

The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize


Alexia M. YatesSelling Paris: Property and Commercial Culture in the Fin-de-siècle Capital.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Alexia Yates’ Selling Paris is an empirically rich, highly persuasive contribution to the new historiography of capitalism that has emerged since the 1990s and especially since the financial crises of 2008-09. In giving centre-stage to the real estate market of one of the nineteenth-century’s most cosmopolitan cities, it turns a spotlight onto the general question of how “the market” is constructed and organized and how it operates and evolves in practice. Finely crafted and written in a lively, elegant style, Yates’ study is remarkable for its ingenuity in identifying pertinent source materials, the breath
of its archival documentation, and the sustained depth of its analysis. This is a work that demonstrates how to make economic history generally and the social history of capitalism in particular relevant and compelling not only to specialist researchers but also to a broad non-specialist audience. In doing so, it accounts for both the material changes and the ideological / cultural changes that made possible the sorts of entrepreneurialism that characterized the late nineteenth-century Parisian market as real estate increasingly lost its centuries-old special status as “immobile” property and more and more became a conventionally tradable object subject to the general patterns of commerce and investment.
The author’s creative engagement with theoretical works in urban planning, economics, sociology and critical geography enriches and complements, but never overwhelms, her nuanced presentation of evidence related, among other things, to the intentions, interests and decisions of legislators, property developers and urban planners as well as to the specific ways commercialization and social processes actually worked themselves out on the ground, sometimes quite differently than expected by political and business leaders. Her account of the emergence and development of a finely niched rental market in residential accommodation, in which not only the poor but also wealthy, fashion-conscious property-owners participated as renters, is particularly fascinating. Alexia Yates’ study simultaneously addresses and is informed by the scholarship in both French and English on her subject, that is, by the scholarship of the society under examination as well as by that of her intended audience. Her work likewise contributes to broader historical conversations – currently of interest to specialists of different eras, societies and disciplinary orientations – about the social roles of real estate and the significance of opening it to commodification.
Her treatments of distinct late nineteenth-century ways of gauging real estate values and her exploration of how property values rose as a function of both provincial and foreign money coming into Paris are both enlightening in themselves and evocative for readers today, whether in the world’s wealthy societies or in the global South. Yet her treatment consistently avoids presentism and remains solidly historically focused throughout. Writing with freshness and originality about a city that has been the subject of such intensive research is a daunting task. Alexia Yates’ first book joins the ranks of those who have taken up the challenge with elan.

Shortlisted Books
Finis DunawaySeeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
Joan JudgeRepublican Lens: Gender, Visuality, and Experience in the Early Chinese Periodical Press.  Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2015.
Susanne M. KlausenAbortion Under Apartheid: Nationalism, Sexuality, and Women’s Reproductive Rights in South Africa.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Despina StratigakosHitler at Home.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.