T C 357 • Interpreting the French Revolution
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
This French revolution of 1789-99 became one of the defining points of modern history. This seminar focuses on some of the issues that it raised, issues that involve political and social theory as well as historical interpretation.
We begin with the Enlightenment and, more generally, the relationship between subversive ideas and social change. Was the Enlightenment revolutionary? In what sense? Next, we turn to how and why the revolution became so protracted and violent, why policies had unintended and radicalizing consequences, and how the government dealt with the increasing polarization of the country. We will spend at least a week in this section comparing the French and American revolutions in an effort to understand their similar origins and their radically different outcomes. We will end with a section on the legacy of the revolution and how it has been interpreted, from Marx and Tocqueville down to the present.
This course emphasizes participation, discussion, writing, and performance. We will simulate revolutionary debates, which were moments of high political and strategic drama. Students will debate the key issues that beset the monarchy on the eve of its collapse, form revolutionary clubs with different political views, draft newspapers from specific days of the revolution, enact the trial of the king, and so on. (These have all been successful features of my regular lecture course on the French revolution. If it is appropriate, however, I would like to experiment with more simulation, using some of the materials from the prize winning "Reacting to the Past" materials assembled by the group at Barnard College.)
Attendance, participation, and weekly writing exercises (revolutionary speeches, newspapers, and so forth)
2 5- page papers
Rewrite of one of the 5 page papers, to 7 pages, with bibliography
Georges Lefebvre, The Coming of the French Revolution
Montesquieu, The Persian Letters or Voltaire, Philosophical Letters
Rousseau, The Social Contract
Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History
Various collections of documents, including Burke, Paine, Wollstonecraft
Simon Schama, Citizens
R.R. Palmer, The 12 Who Ruled
Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution