Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Subject Description

The French Revolution of 1789 stands at the crossroads of modern French history, and perhaps of western and world history more generally. Since its outbreak, observers have debated the following questions: Why did the Revolution begin? When did it end? In what ways does 1789 constitute a rupture with the French Old Regime? The answers to these questions continue to have a surprising relevance. In this class, we will study the century and a half of French history prior to 1789 in some detail, then examine some of the central events and issues of the Revolution and its Napoleonic sequel.

Subject Requirements

Attendance and class participation is mandatory. Students will write three 3-page papers, due in class on the dates indicated below, and a final paper of at least 10 pages in length. Each student will also present an oral report based on the final paper. I will hand out instructions for these assignments later in the semester. Each assignment will be weighted as follows in the calculation of the final grade, although these calculations will also take into account improved performance during the course of the semester:


Class participation 25 points
Three-page papers 25 points each (75 points total)
Final paper 75 points
Oral presentation 25 points
Total 200 points


Week #1
1 Introduction  
Week #2
2 The Material World and the Political Background  
3 1789: Lists of Grievances  
Week #3
4 The Theory and Practice of Absolutism under Louis XIV  
5 Taxes and Provincial Reform  
Week #4
6 Tartuffe I  
7 Tartuffe II  
Week #5
8 Introduction to the Eighteenth Century First Paper Due
9 Religion in France from Louis XIV to the Revolution  
Week #6
10 The Encyclopédie I  
11 The Encyclopédie II Visit to the MIT Archives
Week #7
12 Mahomet I  
13 Mahomet II  
Week #8
14 Popular Culture and Politics I: Workers and Servants  
15 Popular Culture and Politics II: Theater and Song Second Paper Due
Week #9
16 1789: The Abolition of Feudalism and the Rights of Man Summary of Final Paper Due
17 The Revolution and Religion  
Week #10
18 Slavery, Feminism, and the Revolution  
19 Theater, Politics, and Society During the Revolution  
Week #11
  No Class  
20 The Dilemma of the Terror Third Paper Due
Week #12
21 Napoleon, the Politician and Legislator  
22 Napoleon, the Emperor  
Week #13
23 Oral Presentations  
24 Oral Presentations (cont.)  
Week #14
25 Individual Consultations with Instructor  
26 Conclusion