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Michelin’s illustrated guide to the battlefields of the Yser and the Belgian coast (1920) : guidebook, field manual or architectural compendium?

Willem Bekers (UGent)
Author
Organization
Abstract
Even before the guns went silent in late 1918, French tyre manufacturer Michelin published the first from a series of guidebooks to the battlefields of the Western Front. Being just one among many battlefield guides to appear in the aftermath of the Great War, the Michelin guides responded to an increasing demand for information about reaching and touring the battered landscape and the ruins left by the conflict. What sets the Michelin guides apart from their counterparts, is the extensive use of exactly those techniques that the military had applied so successfully during the war: detailed maps, high-quality photographs and spot-on information for motorised traffic. This methodical approach parallels wartime military advancements in cartography (artillery barrage and trench maps), photography (aerial reconnaissance and damage survey) and technology (mechanised and motorised warfare). Taking this idea one step further, the methodology of the Michelin guide can be considered a logical continuation of the company’s earlier efforts in the French war industry. Departing from such insights, the proposed paper looks into the troublesome relation between tourism and conflict space and the geopolitics of the battlefield guide. More specifically, it uses the Michelin guidebook to demonstrate how the First World War is a turning point in this respect. Battlefield tourism was far from a new phenomenon in 1918, with early accounts reporting back to Waterloo and the emerging tourism industry following the American Civil War. Battlefield guides then provided assistance in making the conflict topography readable and understandable to the untrained eye of the non-military visitor. This role of the landscape, as merely being a passive backdrop for military events that were limited in time and space, changes radically during World War I. The continued stalemate of the Western Front, combined with the potential of industrialised warfare, turns temporary fieldworks into permanent spatial interventions and transforms the landscape into a space to be modified, constructed and urbanised – in short designed. A close—or rather ‘tactical’—reading of the Michelin issue on the Yser and the Belgian coast, and a comparison with other contemporary battlefield guides, for instance de Touring Club de Belgique’s book on the Front de Flandre, demonstrates how this is even more true for the front in the Flanders region. The latter book sets off with a detailed survey of the geology and micro-topography of the battlefield, explaining how local conditions paved the way for an artificial landscape of inundations and solid ground-level constructions, rather than trenches and underground warfare that characterise most of the Western Front. Furthermore, the Michelin guidebook depicts the ruinscape of the front in a series of before-and-after photographs of monuments, not unlike, for instance, the image report of the Misson Dhuicque which captured the threated or destroyed Belgian heritage between 1915 and 1918. But the Michelin guide also looks at experimental structures in reinforced concrete behind the lines, such as the submarine shelters in the port of Bruges, and places them at the same footing of the monuments in the medieval centre of the city. In doing so, the Michelin guide exemplifies a modern approach towards the artificialities of the landscape, heritage and built environment of the conflict and hints towards a reading of the Western Front as a designed temporary urbanity imposed on the rural landscape.
Keywords
First World War, print culture, battlefield tourism, heritage

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Bekers, Willem. “Michelin’s Illustrated Guide to the Battlefields of the Yser and the Belgian Coast (1920) : Guidebook, Field Manual or Architectural Compendium?” Touring Belgium : A Nation’s Patrimony in Print, edited by Maarten Liefooghe and Maarten Delbeke, 2022.
APA
Bekers, W. (2022). Michelin’s illustrated guide to the battlefields of the Yser and the Belgian coast (1920) : guidebook, field manual or architectural compendium? In M. Liefooghe & M. Delbeke (Eds.), Touring Belgium : a nation’s patrimony in print.
Chicago author-date
Bekers, Willem. 2022. “Michelin’s Illustrated Guide to the Battlefields of the Yser and the Belgian Coast (1920) : Guidebook, Field Manual or Architectural Compendium?” In Touring Belgium : A Nation’s Patrimony in Print, edited by Maarten Liefooghe and Maarten Delbeke.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Bekers, Willem. 2022. “Michelin’s Illustrated Guide to the Battlefields of the Yser and the Belgian Coast (1920) : Guidebook, Field Manual or Architectural Compendium?” In Touring Belgium : A Nation’s Patrimony in Print, ed by. Maarten Liefooghe and Maarten Delbeke.
Vancouver
1.
Bekers W. Michelin’s illustrated guide to the battlefields of the Yser and the Belgian coast (1920) : guidebook, field manual or architectural compendium? In: Liefooghe M, Delbeke M, editors. Touring Belgium : a nation’s patrimony in print. 2022.
IEEE
[1]
W. Bekers, “Michelin’s illustrated guide to the battlefields of the Yser and the Belgian coast (1920) : guidebook, field manual or architectural compendium?,” in Touring Belgium : a nation’s patrimony in print, M. Liefooghe and M. Delbeke, Eds. 2022.
@incollection{8668811,
  abstract     = {{Even before the guns went silent in late 1918, French tyre manufacturer Michelin published the first from a series of guidebooks to the battlefields of the Western Front. Being just one among many battlefield guides to appear in the aftermath of the Great War, the Michelin guides responded to an increasing demand for information about reaching and touring the battered landscape and the ruins left by the conflict. What sets the Michelin guides apart from their counterparts, is the extensive use of exactly those techniques that the military had applied so successfully during the war: detailed maps, high-quality photographs and spot-on information for motorised traffic. This methodical approach parallels wartime military advancements in cartography (artillery barrage and trench maps), photography (aerial reconnaissance and damage survey) and technology (mechanised and motorised warfare). Taking this idea one step further, the methodology of the Michelin guide can be considered a logical continuation of the company’s earlier efforts in the French war industry.
Departing from such insights, the proposed paper looks into the troublesome relation between tourism and conflict space and the geopolitics of the battlefield guide. More specifically, it uses the Michelin guidebook to demonstrate how the First World War is a turning point in this respect. Battlefield tourism was far from a new phenomenon in 1918, with early accounts reporting back to Waterloo and the emerging tourism industry following the American Civil War. Battlefield guides then provided assistance in making the conflict topography readable and understandable to the untrained eye of the non-military visitor. This role of the landscape, as merely being a passive backdrop for military events that were limited in time and space, changes radically during World War I. The continued stalemate of the Western Front, combined with the potential of industrialised warfare, turns temporary fieldworks into permanent spatial interventions and transforms the landscape into a space to be modified, constructed and urbanised – in short designed.
A close—or rather ‘tactical’—reading of the Michelin issue on the Yser and the Belgian coast, and a comparison with other contemporary battlefield guides, for instance de Touring Club de Belgique’s book on the Front de Flandre, demonstrates how this is even more true for the front in the Flanders region. The latter book sets off with a detailed survey of the geology and micro-topography of the battlefield, explaining how local conditions paved the way for an artificial landscape of inundations and solid ground-level constructions, rather than trenches and underground warfare that characterise most of the Western Front. Furthermore, the Michelin guidebook depicts the ruinscape of the front in a series of before-and-after photographs of monuments, not unlike, for instance, the image report of the Misson Dhuicque which captured the threated or destroyed Belgian heritage between 1915 and 1918. But the Michelin guide also looks at experimental structures in reinforced concrete behind the lines, such as the submarine shelters in the port of Bruges, and places them at the same footing of the monuments in the medieval centre of the city. In doing so, the Michelin guide exemplifies a modern approach towards the artificialities of the landscape, heritage and built environment of the conflict and hints towards a reading of the Western Front as a designed temporary urbanity imposed on the rural landscape.}},
  author       = {{Bekers, Willem}},
  booktitle    = {{Touring Belgium : a nation's patrimony in print}},
  editor       = {{Liefooghe, Maarten and Delbeke, Maarten}},
  keywords     = {{First World War,print culture,battlefield tourism,heritage}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  location     = {{Ghent}},
  title        = {{Michelin’s illustrated guide to the battlefields of the Yser and the Belgian coast (1920) : guidebook, field manual or architectural compendium?}},
  year         = {{2022}},
}