History | French Revolution and Napoleon
B356 | 28591 | Spang


Above class carries Culture Studies credit
Above class for 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 this era and the different
vantagepoints from which it has 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.
Though the word “Napoleon” figures in our title, this is not a
course in military history (nor in hero worship).

We now usually say that the French Revolution “began” 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.

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 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 and participation in discussion
classes is mandatory; students who miss more than two discussions
will be in danger of failing the course.

Grading: two short assignments (5% each); lecture attendance and
well-informed participation in discussion (20%); midterm exam (20%);
one 10-page paper (25%); and a final exam (25%). Students
registering for Honors College credit will write a 12-15 page
research paper instead of the 10-page paper.