Rewriting the French Revolution

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                                                   Rewriting the French Revolution

All students must be officially enrolled in the course by the end of the second full week of the quarter. No requests to add the course will be approved by the department chair after that time. Enrolling officially and on time is solely the responsibility of each student.


Once upon a time historians of the French Revolution wrote in an Eden of wide unanimity provided by the Marxian explanation.  Spelled out in the language of the Enlightenment though it was, the French Revolution, according to this model, was at basis a socio-economic event whereby a bourgeois and proto-capitalist class state displaced an aristocratic and neo-feudal order for which Catholicism and antiquated constitutionalism had similarly functioned as justifications.  Alas, having tasted of the apples of Anglo-Saxon empirical “knowledge” and Left-Bank “post-knowledge,” historians of this Revolution have experienced great doubt and no little discord, breaking up into a Babel of “discourses” that have despoiled the innocence of historiographical concord. While surveying a little of the secondary literature of the unraveling of the Marxian explanation of the origins and course of the French Revolution, it will emphasize the more positive directions taken by “revisionism” during the past ten or fifteen years.

In addition to delving into the journal literature, the course reading will not neglect such classics as Georges Lefebvre’s The Coming of the French Revolution or Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the French Revolution. The main course requirements consist in assiduous participation in discussions of assigned books plus a substantial paper on an historian of the French Revolution.

As it happens, many of the protagonists in the debate about the origins of the French Revolution are scheduled to contribute a chapter to a book on the subject edited by myself and Professor Thomas Kaiser of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The due date for these contributions is next August, 2007. In the course of this course, an effort will be made to have these contributors correspond with us with a view toward persuading them to state how if at all their interpretations of the various “aspects” of the origins—intellectual, political, social, etc.—will differ from the positions they took in books or articles published during the height of the debate before and during the bi-centennial of the French Revolution in 1989.  


I, Regular participation in class discussion, including taking turns leading portions of the discussion and (perhaps) submitting short 1-2 page critiques of some the readings.

2, Submission of a twenty to twenty-five-page paper, whether on an important historian of the French Revolution, preferably a nineteenth-century or very early twentieth-century one; or some aspect of the debate about the origins of the French Revolution involving numbers of historians (for instance, the debate about “feudalism” and its supposed abolition by the French Revolution; or again a considered attempt to state how you would conceptualize the origins of the French Revolution based on the readings in class as well as on any others you find the time to do.  This paper will be due on Dec. 6 at the latest.  

Schedule of Assignments and Discussions:

Wed. Sept. 20:             Organization and introduction: A Marxist classic, Lefebvre’s The Coming of the French Revolution

Wed. Sept. 27:             A sampling of revisionist classics: Elizabeth Eisenstein, “Who Intervened in 1788?”,Taylor, “Non-Capitalist Wealth,” Betty Behrens, “Nobles, Privileges, and Taxes...,” Colin Lucas, “Nobles, Bourgeois and the Origins of the French Rev.” in 712 Course Reader

Wed. Oct.  04:             The state a factor: Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime… revisited, plus François Furet, “Tocqueville,” in Interpreting the French Revolution

Wed. Oct.  11:             The new intellectual interpretation: Furet, “The Revolution is Over,” in Interpreting the French Revolution, plus Keith Baker, “Political Thought at the Accession of Louis XVI” and “On the Problem of the Ideological Origins of the French Revolution,” from Inventing the French Revolution, distributed

Wed.  Oct. 18:             The Anglo-Saxon “political” interpretation: John Hardman, “Decision Making,” Peter Campbell, “The Paris Parlement in the 1780s” in Campbell, The Origins of the French Revolution; plus "Pure Politics in Absolute Space: The English Angle on the Political History of Prerevolutionary France," Journal of Modern History, 69 (Dec. 1997): 754-84; and Tom Kaiser, “Who’s Afraid of Marie-Antoinette?”; and French Nobility in the Eighteenth Century:  Reassessments and New Approaches  (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 189-224.                             

Wed. Oct.  25:             The new cultural school: Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution; plus William Scott, “From Social to Cultural History” and Mark Ledbury, “The Contested Image,” in Campbell, The Origins of the French Revolution, pp. 12-38, 191-218

Wed. Nov. 01:             The possibility of “religious” origins: Van Kley, “The Estates General…,” “The Religious Origins of the French Revolution,” “Jansenism and the International Expulsion of the Jesuits,” and “The Rejuvenation and Rejection of Jansenism in History and Historiography,” most in Course Reader

Wed. Nov. 08:             Gender and the origins of the French Revolution: Jeff Merrick, From the Royal to the Republican Body” in Sarah E. Melzer and Kathryn Norberg, eds., pp. 11-31; and chapter #10 of a work in progress; and/or a chapter or two from Mita Chourdhury, Convents and Nuns in Eighteenth-Century Politics and Culture or Sarah Maza, Private Live and Public Affairs

Wed. Nov. 15:             Toward a new socio-economic interpretation: review Lucas, “Nobles, Bourgeois, and the Origins...”; and Bien, “Offices, Corps, and a System of State Credit: The Uses of Privilege under the Ancien Regime,” in 712 reader; plus Bien, “The Old Regime Origins of Democratic Liberty” in The French Idea of Freedom

Wed. Nov. 22:             A non-Marxist socio-demographic view: Goldstone’s Revolution and Rebellion, pp. 1-62, 170-348.

Wed. Nov. 29:             Class and confessions?: Garrioch’s The Formation of the Parisian Bourgeoisie

Books at SBX:

Baker, Keith. Inventing the French Revolution (Cambridge University Press; (January 26,

1990) ISBN: 0521385784  All Editions

Campbell, Peter, ed. The Origins of the French Revolution (London and New York: Palgrave-

Macmillan, 2006), ISBN: 0333949714

Chartier, Roger. The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Durham, NC: Duke University

Press, 1991), ISBN: 822309815

Doyle, William. Very Short History of the French Revolution (Oxford Press; (October 2001)

ISBN: 0192853961

Furet, François. Interpreting the French Revolution (Cambridge University Press; (September

24, 1981) ISBN: 0521280494 | All Editions

Garrioch, David. The Formation of the Parisian Bourgeoisie, 1690-1830 (Harvard Historical

Studies, Vol 122) : Harvard Univ Pr; (February 1997) ISBN: 0674309375

Goldstone, Jack. Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World (University of California

Press; (February 1993) ISBN: 0520082672

Lefebvre, George. The Coming of the French Revolution (Princeton Univ Pr; (December 1989)

ASIN: 0691051127

*Maza, Sarah. Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Prerevolutionary France

(Studies on the History of Society and Culture (Berkeley, Calif.: Univ. of California Press, 1993) ISBN 0-520-20163-9

*Tackett, Timothy. Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly

And the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (University of Penn. Press, 1996) ISBN 0271028882

Tocqueville, Alexis de. The Old Regime and the French Revolution (Anchor; Reissue edition

(October 1, 1955) ISBN: 0385092601

*Means recommended, not required


Contents of 712 Reader at Tuttle St. Copeez:

Elizabeth Eisenstein, “Who Intervened in 1788?” from Ralph Greenlaw, The Social Origins of

the French Revolution (Heath, 1975)

George V. Taylor, “Non-Capitalistic Wealth and the Origins of the French Rev.” from

The Ancien Historical Review, vol. 72 (Jan. 1967)

Betty Behrens, “Nobles, Privileges and Taxes in France at the end of the Ancien Regime”

from Econonic History Review, 15 (1963)

Colin Lucas, “Nobles, Bourgeois and the Origins of the French Rev.” from Douglas

Johnson, ed. French Society and the Revolution (Cambridge U. Press, 1976)

David D. Bien, “Offices, Corps, and a System of State Credit: The Uses of Privilege under

the Ancien Regime” from Keith Baker, ed. The Political Culture of the Old Regime (Pergamon, 1987

Dale K. Van Kley, “The Estates General as Ecumenical Council” from The Journal of

Modern History, 61 (March 1989)

Dale K. Van Kley, “Of the Religious Origins of the French Revolution,” in ms. , 2004

Books on Reserve:

Baker, Keith M., ed.  The Political Culture of the Old Regime, vol. 1 of The French Revolution

and the Creation of Modern Political Culture. Oxford and New York: Pergamon Press,             1987.

Blanning, Timothy C. W., ed. The Rise and Fall of the French Revolution. Chicago and London:            The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Cobban, Alfred.  The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution. Cambridge and London:   Cambridge University Press, 1964

Comninel, George C. Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist                 Challenge. London and New York: Verso, 1987.

Johnson, Douglas, ed.  French Society and the Revolution. London and New York: Cambridge             University Press, 1976.

Kates, Gary, ed.  The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies. London and            New York: Routlege, 1998.

Lucas, Colin, ed.  Rewriting the French Revolution.  London: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Van Kley, Dale, ed. The French Idea of Freedom. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Addresses of Contributors to the projected volume on the origins of the French Revolution

Keith M. Baker: []

Gail Bossenga: []

Roger Chartier: []

Jack Goldstone []

Thomas Kaiser []

Colin Lucas: []

Jeffrey Merrick []

Dale K. Van Kley []

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