2011-2012 Colloquium Series
Bert Gordon (Professor, European History; Chair, Social Sciences Division, Mills College), will present "The Singular Development of a Tourist Town: Politics, Medicine, Society, and Tourism in Vichy"
Friday, April 6, 4:00 PM
Room 101, 2251 College Avenue
Archeological Research Facility
University of California, Berkeley
Medical tourism is hardly new. Spas, promoted as health restorers in nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe, became major tourist centers, the scenes of "image," "social drama," and "auto-voyeurism," to use the words of Peter Borsay and John K. Walton. A small town in central France, known by the Romans for its waters, it was re-established as a citadel during the Middle Ages. Vichy emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a spa center attracting notables including Madame de Sévigné and Laetitia Bonaparte, Napoleon's mother, who traveled there seeking cures for rheumatism and other ailments. Vichy, however, was unique in that the baths and mineral waters, taken over by the French King François I in 1527, have remained property of the state ever since. A coalition of local business interests and medical practitioners lobbied the state and promoted spa tourism during the first half of the nineteenth century and a surge of building accompanied Napoleon III's visits there during the Second Empire years of the 1860s, followed by another wave of construction of often magnificent buildings during the Belle Époque from the 1890s through World War I.
Vichy also became a tourist center for French military and civilian personnel as well as the native elites from the colonies, who, induced by medical tourism promotion and in the case of military personnel, state-funded sabbaticals, visited its spas during the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries. The result was a cosmopolitan tourist center that became world-famous. State ownership of many of its facilities, including the Grand Casino (built in 1865), and Vichy's renown as a cosmopolitan center, together with political reasons in 1940, led to its selection as the capital of Marshal Philippe Pétain's collaborationist government during the German occupation of France in World War II. Since then, it has had to live with the stigma of its association with the Germans but, even more importantly, a drastic decline in spa tourism caused by the end of the French empire and the loss of its former military and colonial clientele, and a shift in medical practice away from hydrotherapy. During the last half century, Vichy has attempted to repackage its tourist offerings by building new sports facilities to entice a younger clientele and a new convention center to attract business tourists. It promotes the architectural legacies of the Second Empire and Belle Époque and has even tried to capitalize on its Second World War notoriety. It may be that the most significant legacy of Vichy's spa tourism has been the production and sale of its bottled water throughout the world.
Bert Gordon is Professor of European History and Chair of the Social Sciences Division at Mills College. He is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Tourism History; as well as the Bureau of the International Commission for the History of Travel and Tourism; the Tourism Studies Working Group, University of California, Berkeley; and serves as co-editor of the H-Travel internet discussion network. A member of the Society for French Historical Studies, he currently chairs its David Pinkney Book Prize Committee, which awards a prize annually for the outstanding book published by a North American university faculty member on French history.
In 2001-02 he was Chercheur associé étranger at the Institut d'Histoire du Temps Présent, C.N.R.S., in France. His books include Collaborationism in France during the Second World War (1980) and The Historical Dictionary of World War II France: The Occupation, Vichy and the Resistance, 1938-1946 (1998). From 1999 to 2001 he was Provost (chief academic officer) at Mills College. He is currently writing a book entitled: Tourism and the Tourist Imagination in World War II France: From the German Conquest through the Creation of Memory, 1940-2012. His recent publications include "The Evolving Popularity of Tourist Sites in France: What Can Be Learned from French Statistical Publications?" Journal of Tourism History, 3:2 (September 2011), pp. 91-107; and “Rebonds. Pourquoi les Américains adorent le D-Day," Libération, June 8, 2009, p. 36. In October 2011, he presented "Vichy: A Spa Unlike Any Other in French Cultural History," at the Simposio: Historias comparativas de balnearios desde el siglio XVIII hasta el siglio XX: una perspectiva internacional/Comparative Histories of Spa Resorts from the eighteenth to the twentieth century: an international overview, sponsored by the Fundación Mondariz Balneario in Spain. This paper is currently under revision for publication in the Journal of Tourism History.