The Coming of the French Revolution

Required readings:

Keith Michael Baker, “The Idea of a Declaration of Rights,” in Gary Kates, ed., The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies (London: Routledge, 1998)

Pierre Serna, “Every Revolution is a War of Independence,” The French Revolution in Global Perspective, eds., Suzanne Desan, Lynn Hunt and William Max Nelson (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013)

Philipp Ziesche, “Exporting American Revolutions: Governeur Morris, Thomas Jefferson and the National Struggle for Universal Rights in Revolutionary France,” Journal of the Early Republic, 26:3 (Fall 2006)


Abbé Sieyès, “What is the Third Estate?” (1789)

“The Declaration of The Rights of Man” (1789)

Seminar Topic

Discussion will examine the outbreak of revolution in France in 1789. In particular, we will consider what factors made the French Revolution distinct and why it took a different turn than the revolution which occurred in the British colonies. The seminar will question whether in attempting to reform the absolutist monarchy, French political thinkers created a new type of political culture and rhetoric that attempted to realize certain Enlightenment ideals and, if so, how?

Questions to consider

  1. What contradictions and ambiguities does Keith Michael Baker see in the Declaration of The Rights of Man and Citizen and what consequences did these entail in his opinion?
  2. According to Serna, why is every revolution a “war of independence”? What theoretical methodologies inform his analysis?
  3. How did Americans see the French Revolution and what implications did it have for the ways in which they understood their own revolution?
  4. How does Sieyès envision the Third Estate and society? What is his primary criticism of the absolutist system?

Further Reading:

Suzanne Desan, Lynn Hunt and William Max Nelson, eds., The French Revolution in Global Perspective. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013.

Michah Alpaugh, Non-Violence in the French Revolution: Political Demonstrations in Paris, 1787-1795. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Derek Jarrett, Three Faces of Revolution: Paris, London and New York in 1789 (London: George Philip, 1989).

Trygve R. Tholfsen, Ideology and Revolution in Modern Europe: An Essay on the Role of Ideas in History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. Chapter 2.

David Bell. The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800. Cambridge: Hardvard University Press, 2003.

Jacques Godechot, France and The Atlantic Revolution in the Eighteenth Century, 1770-1799. New York: The Free Press, 1965.

Timothy Tacket, When the King Took Flight. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Timothy Tackett, Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (1789-1790). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Timithy Tackett, “Nobles and Third Estate in the Revolutionary Dynamic of the National Assembly, 1789-1790,” American Historical Review, 94:2 (April 1989).

Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

Emmet Kennedy, A Cultural History of the French Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Laura Mason, Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics, 1787-1799. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Marie-Helene Huet, “The Revolutionary Sublime,” Eighteenth Century Studies, 28:1 (Autumn 1994).

Marilyn Butler, “Telling it Like a Story: The French Revolution as Narrative,” Studies in Romanticism, 28:3 (Fall 1989).

Peter McPhee, The French Revolution, 1789-1799. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

John Markoff, The Abolition of Feudalism: Peasants, Lords, and Legislators in the French Revolution. State College: Penn State University Press, 1996.

Keith Michael Baker, Inventing The French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Keith Michael Baker, “Revolutionizing Revolution,” in Keith Michael Baker and Dan Edelstein, eds., Scripting Revolution: A Historical Approach to the Comparative Study of Revolution. Sanford: Stanford University Press, 2015.

Leora Auslander, Cultural Revolutions: Everyday Life and Politics in Britain, North America and France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009, Chapters 5 and 6.

Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1990.

Isser Woloch, The New Regime: Transformation of the French Civic Order, 1789-1820. New York: W. W. Norton, 1994.