Illustrated guides of WWI battlefields – Guides illustrés Michelin des champs de bataille



The Cambridge University Library has just received a new donation, Reims et le fort de la Pompelle (2016.8.5228). This is part of the series Guides illustrés Michelin des champs de bataille and was published in 1920. This joins the UL’s collection of guides in this series that also include the following:

The first four books on this list were published in 1919 and received under legal deposit (as can be seen in the image of the front cover, they were published in France, England and the US). They were added to the Library’s electronic catalogue in 2012 as part of a special project to contribute records to the catalogue for the Library’s collection of books received from the Victorian period through the mid-1920s. Other volumes from the series are in the University Library, but were published after the scope of this project, and thus are only discoverable using the card catalogue which sits in the Reading Room Corridor (South).

I was astounded to read that, according to Les guides Michelin des champs de bataille 1914-1918* (S696.b.0146.8), the first two titles in the series were published in 1917—that is to say, before the end of the war. They were published through 1938, and the number of different titles and editions attests to these books’ popularity: 31 titles were published in around 50 editions in French; 15 titles in 23 editions in English; 4 titles in Italian dedicated to Italian battlefields; and even one title in German that reached two editions. Almost two million examples were sold in total.

There are, of course, many more modern guidebooks to WWI battlefields—in particular, a number have been published since 1914 to mark the centenary of the war or of individual battles. These include general works such as World War I battlefields : a travel guide to the Western Front : sites, museums, memorials / John Ruler & Emma Thomson (2014.8.1501) as well as exhibition catalogues with a focus on monuments and buildings such as 1914-1918, le patrimoine s’en va-t-en guerre / sous la direction de Jean-Marc Hofman (2016.9.2204). Of course, regional governments in northern France and Belgium have also been promoting guides online to the battlefields, as part of an effort to encourage tourism.

In the French language, we have noticed a large number of new publications regarding the design and construction of World War I memorials, such as Les architectes de la mémoire / Simon Texier ; photographies de Jean-Christophe Dartoux (2008.9.322) and the more recent 36,000 cicatrices : les monuments aux morts de la Grande Guerre (C211.c.5623 – the catalogue of an exhibition still ongoing at the Panthéon). On the whole, we have chosen not to buy these books as there are so many with an extremely local focus. We have, however, tried to buy more academic treatments of the monuments and the movement to memorialise the war, but often the choice is quite a tough one. Since 2014, there has been a veritable flood of new books published in France on this subject.

I think that it is worth highlighting these guides in part due to the surprisingly contemporary nature of their content. Reims suffered significant damage in the early part of the war; by 1920 when this guidebook was published, the city was by no means fully rebuilt. In fact, these guides stand as excellent testaments to the slow process of clearing rubble and rebuilding the city. Much like the travel guides I highlighted several years ago, these provide a snapshot of a time and a place that no longer exists.


(* Published in 2009 by the Association des Collectionneurs de Guides et Cartes Michelin. Rather splendidly, the UL has the full run of publications from this association.)


Josh Hutchinson

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