History At Haverford College


Department of History

Haverford College


Professor Lisa Jane Graham
History 228b: The French Revolution
Class meetings: Mon/Wed., 2:30-4:00 in Hall 007
Office hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 4:00-5:30 PM or by appointment in Hall 212.
Office phone: 896-1073

Course Description

Most historians identify the French Revolution of 1789 as the rupture that marks the birth of the modern world. The French experience offered one of the most enduring and influential models for revolutionary action ever. A society based on hierarchy and privilege was replaced by one founded on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Events in France had enormous impact on countries throughout the world, both in 1789 and in the centuries that followed. Our current political categories and debates, including our understanding of citizenship and democracy, were forged in the cauldron of revolutionary conflict. Many of the same problems which confronted revolutionary leaders remain unresolved in parts of the world today.

In this course, we will examine the origins, evolution, and impact of the French Revolution. Conflicting interpretations of the events in France will be used to explore the historiographical debates that surrounded the revolution from its inception. These interpretations reinforce some deeply rooted notions about the origins and meaning of modernity. The course begins with an analysis of Old Regime France in order to understand the historical forces that culminated in revolution. It then examines specific ideological conflicts and topics central to the unfolding of the revolution including the fabrication of a powerful revolutionary mythology that would inspire and constrain future generations of political actors inside and outside France. The last section focuses on Napoleon and an evaluation of his role in fulfilling the goals of 1789.

Required Readings

  • Keith Baker, ed. Readings in Western Civilization, vol. 7
  • Beaumarchais, The Barber of Seville/ The Marriage of Figaro
  • Lynn Hunt, The French Revolution and Human Rights
  • Jeremy Popkin, A Short History of the French Revolution
  • J.J. Rousseau, The Discourse on Inequality
  • Ronald Schechter, The French Revolution
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution
  • Additional articles and documents have been placed on reserve at Magill Library.


Attendance/Participation: Students are expected to attend class and arrive prepared for discussion. More than three unexplained absences will lower your grade. There are three films for this class and you will need to turn in a one-page response paper on each as indicated on the syllabus.

Papers: You will write two (4-6 pp.) papers during the semester. Students with a reading knowledge of French are encouraged to work with a document in the original language.

Students are responsible for turning in papers to the instructor by the prescribed deadline. In fairness to other students, late papers will be marked down.

Exams: All students will take a final exam. The exam will be a take-home essay based on lectures, discussions, and assigned readings

Reference: The bibliography on the French Revolution is enormous. Two essential reference tools for this class are William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution (on reserve at Magill) and François Furet and Mona Ozouf, Encyclopedia of the French Revolution (in reference, DC 148.D5313).


Readings preceded by an asterisk (*) are on reserve at Magill Library.

Part I: The Search for Origins
Film: Ridicule

Jan 16/18 Introduction: French Society under the Old Regime
Popkin (ch. 1)
Loyseau, “A Treatise on Orders” (13-31) and Turgot (89-117) in Readings

Jan 23/25 The Theory and Practice of Absolutism
Bossuet “Politics derived from the Holy Scripture” and “A Royal
Tongue Lashing” in Readings, (31-50)
Tocqueville, The Old Regime, Foreword, Parts I and II (pp. 1-137)
Popkin (chs. 2 + 9)
Furet, “Interpreting the French Revolution” in Schechter

Jan 30/ Feb 1 Enlightenment Criticism and Controversies
Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality
Hunt, Human Rights (pp. 1-12 and pp.35-60)
Van Kley, “Church, State and the Ideological Origins ... “ in Schechter

Feb 6/8 Do Books Make Revolutions?
Tocqueville, The Old Regime, Part III (pp. 138-210)
Darnton, ”The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France” in Schechter
Baker, “The Ideological Origins of the French Revolution” in Schechter
Friday 10 Feb: First Paper Due by 4:00 PM

Feb 13/15 Public Opinion and Social Change
Chartier, “The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution” in Schechter
Jones, “The Great Chain of Buying” in Schechter
Maza, “Luxury, Morality, and Social Change” in Schechter
Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro

Part II: From Kingdom to Nation 1789-1791
Film: La Nuit de Varennes

Feb 20/22 The Language of Rights
Sieyes, “What is the Third Estate?” in Readings (pp. 154-179)
Popkin (ch. 3)
*Bell, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being French”
Readings, “Abolition of the Feudal Regime” (pp. 208-236)
Hunt, Human Rights (pp. 13-16 and pp. 60-79)

Monday February 20: one-page response paper to Ridicule due in class

Feb 27/ Mar 15 Debates over Citizenship and Democracy
“A National Constitution and Public Liberty” (237-268) in Readings
*Singham, “Betwixt Cattle and Men”
Scott “French Feminists and the Rights of Man” in Schechter
Hunt, Human Rights (pp. 16-32 and pp. 80-101 and pp. 119-140)
*Gouges, “Black Slavery”
Popkin (ch. 4)


Mar 20/22 Black Jacobins/White Jacobins: The Haitian Revolution
*Dubois, “Inscribing Race in the Revolutionary French Antilles”
*Garrigus, “Sons of the Same Father”
*Geggus, “The Haitian Revolution”
*Forster, “The French Revolution, people of color, and slavery”
Hunt, Human Rights (pp. 101-119)

Mar 27/29 The Revolution from Below
“The King’s Flight” and “Fall of the Monarchy” (269-301) in Readings
*Markoff, “Violence, Emancipation, and Democracy”
“September Massacres” (296-302) in Readings
*Lucas, ”The Crowd and Politics”

Monday March 27: One-page response paper to La Nuit de Varennes due in class.

Part III: Revolutionary Political Culture: Violence, Terror, and Virtue
Film: The Lady and the Duke

Apr 3/5 Monarchy on Trial
Readings, “The King’s Trial” (pp. 302-29)
Popkin (ch. 5)
*Walzer, “The King’s Trial and the Political Culture of the Revolution”
Hunt, “The Band of Brothers” in Schechter
*Jordan, The King’s Trial, pp. 56-78 and 141-160.

Apr 10/12 Jacobin Ideology and The Politics of Terror
Popkin (ch. 5)
*Jones, The French Revolution (articles by Hampson, Furet, and Cobb)
“The Evolution of the Terror” in Readings (pp. 330-391)
Ozouf, “The Revolutionary Festival” in Schechter


Apr 17/19 Counter-Revolution and Resistance
Popkin (ch. 6) and “Conspiracy of Equals” (pp. 392-403) in Readings
*Petitfrère, “The Origins of the civil war in the Vendée”
*Forrest, “Federalism”
*Desan, “The Family as Cultural Battleground”

Monday April 17: one-page response paper to The Lady and the Duke due in class.

Apr 24/26 The Role of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Revolutionary Legacy
Popkin (chs. 7 & 8)
*Furet, “Napoleon Bonaparte”
Readings, “Napoleon documents” (pp. 404-427)

Three-hour self-scheduled final exam to be taken during the exam period.

Last Updated February 8, 2006