PICT Honorary Lectures III: The Eiffel Tower: A Landlocked Lighthouse for Paris

On Tuesday, October 8, 2019, the Paris Institute for Critical Thinking (PICT) hosted the third event in the PICT Honorary Lectures series. The talk, entitled “The Eiffel Tower: A Landlocked Lighthouse for Paris,” was delivered by PICT honorary member Prof. Dr. Hollis Clayson, Professor of Art History and Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, USA. Co-sponsored by Sorbonne pour l’Organisation des Nations Unies (SONU), the event was held at the Amphithéâtre Bachelard, Sorbonne University.

Coinciding with the 130th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower’s opening, Prof. Clayson’s talk illustrated the history, perspectives, and controversies surrounding the 300-meter tower—the tallest structure on earth from 1889 to 1929. Analyzing the original purposes of the tower, the talk emphasized non-sightseeing functions such as surveillance. Regarding the tower’s illumination, the talk illustrated the transition from original gas lighting techniques to today’s themed and symbolic LED displays. And covering the controversies surrounding the tower, Prof. Clayson maintained that remarkably few French painters had treated the tower as a subject, leaving its artistic depiction almost exclusively in the hands of non-French painters.

Rather than summarizing the findings of a completed academic study, “The Eiffel Tower: A Landlocked Lighthouse for Paris” saw Prof. Clayson laying out a work in progress, presenting the various research questions and directions she is currently exploring for a future publication. In so doing, the talk gave audiences the rare opportunity to peek into a scholar’s workshop and participate in real time as Prof. Clayson engaged in a selection and elimination of various approaches for her study. Audience participation reached its peak as Prof. Clayson invited the attendees to vote on the historical perspective from which the final study should be written—a close vote on which the audience was almost evenly split.

PICT would like to thank Prof. Clayson, our event co-sponsors SONU, and everyone who attended for helping to create this remarkable evening of scholarship and discussion!