France and Its Empire, 1750-1880s (ifst-ga 1610, hist-ga 1209)



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France and Its Empire, 1750-1880s (IFST-GA 1610, HIST-GA 1209)


Edward Berenson edward.berenson@nyu.edu

Institute of French Studies 998-8792

Department of History Office Hours: Tuesday 2-4 PM

15 Washington Mews Course meets, Tues 9:30 AM-12:00

France and Its Empire, 1750-1880s focuses on the revolutionary period of modern France. This was a tumultuous and creative time, a time of revolution and reaction, republics and monarchies, liberalism and centralized power. We will study this period in three principal ways: by learning about the various regimes, politics, ideologies, and social patterns that marked the era; by reading documents written during this time and texts composed by some of its principal figures; and by analyzing selected works of present-day historical scholarship that help us understand modern France.
As we build this understanding, our thinking will be guided by the following questions: Why was it so difficult during the century following the French Revolution for France to develop a stable political regime? Why, in this connection, did France irrupt into revolution in response to the problems it faced, and to what extent did the French Revolution define the nature and meaning of the period that followed it? Finally, what was the role of France’s empire, and how did colonialism square with the effort to build a stable republican regime?
The French Revolution is fundamental not just to French history but to world history. For this reason, we will devote considerable attention to the origins and meaning of this event. We will also consider the subsequent revolutions of the nineteenth century and examine the extent to which France became a modern society in the second half of the 1800s.
Since this course is a seminar, discussion is its central feature. Each week you will be asked to talk in class about key aspects of the readings in question. To facilitate that discussion, I will organize the group into study teams of three members each. Every week, one team will be responsible for opening the discussion with a set of questions its members think the whole seminar should consider. The purpose of these questions is not to present the readings but to help create a structure for discussion.
In addition to completing the assigned readings in time for each class, you will be required to write two essays during the semester. For each essay, you will analyze aspects of the course readings in response to a choice of questions or topics I will hand out. The first paper should be 6-8 pages; the second 12-15.

Readings and Assignments

The following books can be purchased at the NYU Bookstore or online: (*denotes translation from the French. Those who can read the originals are encouraged to do so.) “ebook” means a less expensive Kindle or iBook version is available. In addition, all books are on reserve at Bobst, and many are in the IFS library as well.)


Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, Princeton, 1990*

Alain Corbin, Village of Cannibals, Harvard, 1993*

William Doyle, The French Revolution. A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2001 (ebook)

Ruth Harris, Lourdes, Penguin, 2008 (ebook)

Peter Jones, ed., The French Revolution in Social and Political Perspective (Arnold, 1996)

Thomas E. Kaiser and Dale E. Van Kley, From Deficit to Deluge: The Origins of the French Revolution, Stanford University Press, 2011 (ebook)

Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (ebook)

Guy de Maupassant, Bel Ami, Empire Books, 2012* (ebook)

Jeremy Popkin, A History of Modern France, fourth ed. (Prentice Hall, 2013) Buy used third edition or ebook, available 9/21/2012.

Jeremy Popkin, You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery, Cambridge, 2010

Jennifer Sessions, By Sword and Plow: The French Conquest of Algeria

Alexis de Tocqueville, The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution, Cambridge, 2011* (ebook)

Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections, Transaction publishers, 1987* (ebook)


Weekly Topics and Assignments


Week 1 (Sept 11) Introduction
*Jeremy Popkin, History of Modern France, chs. 1-4

*Doyle, The French Revolution




1. The Old Regime and the French Revolution



Week 2 (Sept. 18) Tocqueville’s Revolution
*Tocqueville, Ancien Regime and the French Revolution
Week 3 (Sept. 25) Cultural and Religious Origins of The French Revolution
*Chartier, Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, chs. 1,2,5,7

*Dale Van Kley, “The Religious Origins of the French Revolution,” in Kaiser and Van Kley


Week 4 (Oct. 2) Social, Economic, and Political Origins of the French Revolution

*Jones, French Revolution in Social and Political Perspective, Section 1.

*Kaiser and Van Kley, chs 1-2
Week 5 (Oct. 9) Revolutionary Politics and the Terror
*Jones, Sections IV and V
Week 6 (Oct. 16) Mid-Semester Break.

Week 7 (Oct. 23) Empire, Slavery and the French Revolution
*Popkin, ch. 10

*Popkin, You Are All Free


Week 8 (Oct. 30) Assessing the Revolutionary years

First Paper Due

II. The Legacy of Revolution

Week 9 (Nov. 6) The July Monarchy and the Conquest of Algeria
*Popkin, ch. 11-12

*Sessions, By Sword and Plow: The French Conquest of Algeria


Week 10 (Nov. 13) The French Conquest of Algeria
*Tocqueville, Writings on Empire and Slavery (BB)

*Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire, chs. 6-7 (BB)
Week 11 (Nov. 20) The Revolution of 1848
*Popkin, ch. 14

*Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections, Parts I and II

*Joan Wallach Scott, “The Duties of the Citizen: Jeanne Deroin in the Revolution of 1848” in Only Paradoxes to Offer, ch. 3 (BB)


III. The Emergence of a Modern France?


Week 12 (Nov. 27) Religion and its Discontents
*Harris, Lourdes, xiii-xviii, 3-44, 72-84, 110-11, 157-200, 210-87, and 300-66.


Week 13 (Dec. 4) The Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune
*Popkin, ch. 16-17

*Corbin, Village of Cannibals



*Karl Marx, Civil War in France
Week 14 (Dec. 11) Media and Modern Life
*Maupassant, Bel Ami
Week 15 (Dec. 18) Second Paper Due






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