The Final Paper


  1. You must submit a one-paragraph summary of your paper to me by the 16th class session. The summary should indicate which source or sources you will use, and how your analysis of this source or sources fits into the issues in French history we have studied this semester. I will comment on your summary and return it to you, but I will not grade it.

  2. Each student will give an oral presentation based on their project to the class during the next-to-last week of the term. The presentation will not last more than twenty-five minutes total. Each student will speak for 15-20 minutes, followed by 5-10 minutes of questions and conversation. These presentations should provide you with an opportunity to present your work to the class, and receive useful feedback prior to submitting the final version of the work.

  3. Have fun with this final project! I encourage you to explore themes in the class that interest you in a creative fashion.


  1. Your final paper is a research paper, which means that the focus of the project should be extensive analysis of one or more primary sources from the Old Regime and/or the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. I understand primary sources in the broadest possible sense, including novels, plays, archival documents, philosophical treatises, political pamphlets, demographic statistics, tax revenues, memoirs, paintings, engravings, sculpture, architecture, or anything else generated by French men and women between 1660 and 1815.

  2. Ideas for topics:
    • You may wish to study a particular issue across the 1789 boundary, such as the situation of women, or royal and revolutionary fiscal policy, or geopolitical strategy. If you choose such a topic, you will need to refine it a bit; instead of women's history, you might study marriage and divorce.
    • You may wish to compare the visual arts, or theater or the novel, before and after 1789. In this instance, you would select examples from before and after 1789, and compare them.
    • You may wish to study a particular issue or source in-depth at a particular moment in the 1660-1815 period. For example, you might want to consult primary documents on the Brittany Affair (1766), or the Maupeou coup 1771-1774), or the legislation and speeches in the National Convention.
    • Related to the Terror (1793-1794).
    • You may want to analyze a single text, like Rousseau's Social Contract, or
    • Choderlos de Laclos' Liaisons dangéreuses.

  3. The task is to provide an in-depth analysis of your primary source material that situates it in the context of the ideas and historical arguments about France that we have discussed this term. In other words, does your analysis of this material support the ideas we have discussed, modify them, or contradict them outright? How does this source/sources affect your understanding of the French past?

  4. This paper IS NOT a book report; your task IS NOT to read a text and summarize its contents, or describe in words a visual image or work of architecture. You may want to summarize briefly the contents of a text, or describe rapidly an image, but it is the analysis that counts. You are a historian of the French past; what does your analysis of your primary source material tell you about that past?

  5. You might begin to think about this paper by asking yourself what primary sources you would most like to analyze, then think about what such an analysis tells us about the French past. Alternatively, you might identify a specific theme or idea we have discussed in class, then think about what primary source or sources would best help you refine your thinking about that topic.

  6. Please feel free to speak with me at any point about your topic, even if you only have a vague sense of your interests. I am always happy to help you develop your ideas, or to suggest possible sources.

Primary Sources in English

A good list of French-language texts translated into English is at

In addition, some useful document collections on the Old Regime and the Revolution in translation are:

  • Baker, Keith Michael, John W. Boyer, and Julius Kirshner, eds. University of Chicago Readings in Western Civilization, Volume 7: The Old Regime and the French Revolution. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 1987. ISBN: 9780226069500. [Preview with Google Books]
  • Mason, Laura, and Tracey Rizzo, eds. The French Revolution: A Document Collection. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
  • Hunt, Lynn Avery, ed. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Bedford Series in History and Culture). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1996. ISBN: 9780312108021.
  • Beik, Paul H., ed. The French Revolution. New York, 1970. ISBN: 9780802720368.
  • Dawson, Paul, ed. The French Revolution. New York, 1967.
  • Robespierre, Maximillian, Antoine-Claire Thibaudeau, Joseph Fouche, et al. The Ninth of Thermidor: The Fall of Robespierre. Edited by Richard T. Bienvenu. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1968. [In-depth collection of documents related to one of the key moments of the Revolutionary decade]
  • Rothney, John, ed. The Brittany Affair and the Crisis of the Ancien Régime (Problems in European History). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1969. ISBN: 9780195010404. [In-depth collection of documents that betray the increasing contradictions of the Old Regime in the final decades before the Revolution]
  • Kaplow, Jeffry, ed. France on the Eve of Revolution: A Book of Readings. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1971.
  • Lough, John, ed. France on the Eve of Revolution: British Travellers' Observations 1763-1788. Croom Helm, 1987. ISBN: 9780709941576.

Other interesting primary sources in English include:

  • Mercier, Louis-Sébastien, and Jeremy D. Popkin. Panorama of Paris: Selections from Le Tableau De Paris. Edited by Jeremy D. Popkin. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780271019314. [Preview with Google Books] [Vivid descriptions of Parisian landscape, residents, etc. before the Revolution]
  • Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat. The Persian Letters. BiblioLife, 2009. ISBN: 9781110774371. [Famous epistolary novel; recounts the "observations" of two Persians traveling in France around the time of the death of Louis XIV]
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Translated by G. D. H. Cole. Cosimo Classics, 2008. ISBN: 9781605203973. [Preview with Google Books] [Most important political treatise written in eighteenth-century France ; very influential in 1789]
  • ———. Emile, or On Education. NuVision Publications, 2009. ISBN: 9781595475619. [Widely read tract on the education of children]
  • Diderot, Denis. The Nun (Oxford World's Classics). Translated by Russell Goulbourne. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199555246. [Preview with Google Books] [Novel about a young woman forced to enter a convent against her will]
  • ———. Supplement Au Voyage de Bougainville (French Edition). Livres Généraux, 2010. ISBN: 9781155135021. [Preview with Google Books] [Exercise in armchair anthropology in which Diderot imagines Tahiti as a human paradise, particularly in comparison to France and Europe in his day]
  • Graffigny, Françoise de. Letters of a Peruvian Woman (Oxford World's Classics). Translated by Jonathan Mallinson. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780199208173. [Preview with Google Books] [Counterpart to Montesquieu's Persian Letters; the account of a young Peruvian noblewoman transplanted to eighteenth-century France]