History | The French Revolution and Napoleon
B356 | 27530 | Spang


Above class carries culture studies credit
A portion of the above class reserved for majors
Above class open to undergraduates and Education MA’s only

Few periods in modern history have been as debated as the French
Revolution; few figures in modern history are as immediately
recognizable as Napoleon Bonaparte.  By concentrating on a fairly
brief timespan (approx. 1750-1815), this course allows students to
gain an in-depth knowledge of these two crucial episodes and the
many different vantage points from which they have been studied.
The focus for some lectures and readings will be on France, but
others will stress the Revolution’s international significance and
Napoleon’s Europe-wide empire.  Cultural and intellectual forms of
explanation will be combined with social analysis and attention to
the physical world.

We now think of the French Revolution having “begun” in July 1789,
but nobody at the time intended to start a “revolution” and no one
had any idea what would happen next.  In the quarter century that
followed, nearly every institution and tradition—from the Church and
divine-right monarchy to marriage and the organization of work—was
challenged and re-shaped.  Fundamental features of our own political
life—the belief in “human rights,” the idea of the nation-state, the
division of political “Right” from “Left”—all stem from the
revolutionary 1790s.  Yet, by 1815, France again had a King, slavery
had been re-imposed, and women may have had fewer civil or political
rights than they did before the Revolution started.  The study of
the French Revolution is hence central to any consideration of
social or political change.

This course requires no previous study of European history or French
language, but students should be prepared to work hard and think
creatively.  Readings for discussion include “philosophical” texts
from the time (such as Montesquieu’s "Spirit of the Laws" and
Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?”), public speeches, police reports,
memoirs, and newspaper articles.  In addition, students are
encouraged to analyze works of visual art (from neo-classical
paintings to caricature and architecture) and to engage with the
work of nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians.  Lecture
attendance is mandatory and grading will take class participation
into consideration.  Monday and Wednesday sessions will be
structured by informal lectures, while Friday classes will be
organized for discussion.

Requirements: two short (6-7 pp.) papers; lecture attendance and
well-informed participation in discussion; midterm and final exams.