Brief Overview of Paris’ 2005 Race Riots

In October and November of 2005, riots broke out in Paris as the result of grievances of those living in Paris’ banlieues, roughly similar to American slums or ghettos. Most of the banlieues’ residents are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and never felt fully accepted by French society. As unemployment aggravated these discontents and violence affected one banlieue in particular, Clichy-sous-Bois, the citizens rose up in protest.

Here’s a brief timeline:

  • 27 October: Death of two juveniles in Clichy-sous-Bois due to police
  • 30 October: Tear gas grenade thrown into a mosque in Clichy-sous-Bois
  • Riots…
  • 8 November: Declared state of emergency
  • 17 November: Violence abates, but still apprehensive

In my corpus, I attempted to identify the different perceptions of the events as expressed in different newspapers following different events. My search began with results for the word “émeutes,” or riots, in Libération (a left-wing paper), Le Monde (a center, left-leaning paper), and Le Figaro (a right-wing paper) over November 7th, 8th and 9th in 2005. I choose these particular dates to highlight perceptions on a day when tensions were likely highest (November 7th), the day action was taken (November 8th) and the following day, when concerns may have eased. The results, as seen above, were less revealing than I hoped. Many neutral words consistently appeared in all three papers, like police, France and banlieues. As a consequence, the word cloud shows the elements contributing to tensions but not the nuances of the publics’ perceptions of the events.

Further, the inability to add metadata in VoyantTools created a number of difficulties. For instance, I couldn’t sort by date, paper and switch between the two. Instead, I had to group three articles from each paper on each date into one “text” and use that for comparisons.

Additionally, outside of metadata, I experienced a few other problems with the corpus, namely:

  • I did not take the time to distinguish between full-time journalists, free-lancers for the papers, and opinion papers or letters to the editor
  • Certain words could be used sarcastically or in quotation without referencing the theme in the manner it appears on paper
  • I randomly selected papers from among the many published on each date
  • There were search limitations (I relied on the one word, riots or émeutes, and date ranges to find relevant articles but a particularly pro-protest article may not use the word riot or have it as a tag)

This final graph reveals a bit more information. For instance, the sympathetic term, “jeunes,” was used significantly more often in Libération, the left-wing paper, than in other papers, like the right-wing paper, Le Figaro. However, the majority of the terms were too neutral to gain any useful information and one word, “feu,” is difficult to analyse and understand as “feu” alone means fire but “couvre-feu” means curfew. In the context of the riots and the state-of-emergency, both fire and curfew were relevant and therefore, without further programming, the word “feu” alone cannot reveal anything useful. Ultimately, I could have heavily improved the project with the use of metadata and increased programming skills.

Themes: Not Just for Web Design

In the Digital Humanities, three particularly unexpected themes surfaced throughout my studies: (1) collaboration, (2) pre-1800’s emphasis, and (3) the interaction between the modern and the pre-modern through technology. First, in terms of collaboration, the numerous tools–cited in the “Digital Tools” chapter of The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars by Eileen Gardiner and Ronald G. Musto–require collaboration on some levels, at the very least as some scholars create the tools for others to utilize. Further, tools for blogging and collaboration themselves are included in the chapter. Collaboration is also seen in projects like Linguistic Landscapes of Beirut to facilitate the collection of more data. However, unlike Linguistic Landscapes of Beirut, many digital projects interestingly focus on what I, as a scholar focused on the 20th century, just generally consider “old.” A good example of such projects would be 18th Century Connect, which also exhibits the aforementioned theme of collaboration as anyone with an internet connection could participate in correcting the OCR for the digitization of these old texts. Before studying OCR, I had presumed that old texts would be overly difficult to access for the digital world or that people of the digital age wouldn’t be interested in these older texts and therefore there would not be an overlap. It’s quite interesting to me that there is, and evidences the breadth of study available to digital humanists. Finally, a recent workshop on NYU Abu Dhabi campus about preserving cultural heritage highlighted the theme of modern and pre-modern interaction. In the workshop, a team went out onto Saadiyat Island, one of the islands of Abu Dhabi city, and took photos of an archaeological site. Those photos were then transformed into a 3D image. Additionally, the team took an oral history from an Emirati man to discover the sites around Saadiyat pre-development. These data were laid over a Google Map to build a historical map that is clearly contrasted with the modern state of the area.

In my efforts to make examples of these themes, I tried to be exclusionary; yet failed to do so with collaboration particularly. This failure to extract collaboration from other examples showcases its centrality in the digital humanities, while also sharply differentiating the digital humanities from traditional humanities. Meanwhile, this collaboration can contribute to projects dealing with pre-19th century histories or even facilitate comparisons of pre-modern and modern times.