First-Year Studies: The Age of the French Revolution

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The revolution that convulsed France between 1789 and 1799 and the subsequent dictatorship of Napoleon mark the true beginning of the modern era. Thanks to the worldwide impact of the “ideas of 1789” and the astounding conquests achieved by French armies between 1792 and 1812, the age of the French Revolution and Napoleon can be seen as a watershed not only in the history of France but also in global history. The French Revolution radically affected the development of every country in Europe and altered the destiny of the Middle East and the Americas. The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the study of modern history through an investigation of the origins, nature, and consequences of the French Revolution. We will begin by examining the civilization of 18th-century Europe and the crucial developments in the spheres of politics, economic life, culture, and thought that set the stage for the French Revolution. We will then trace the course of political events in France and neighboring countries from the accession of King Louis XVI in 1774 through the final downfall of Napoleon in 1815 and consider how people inside and outside of France reacted to the French Revolution and to Napoleon’s military domination of the European continent. In the spring, we will study the modern ideologies and artistic trends—liberalism, conservativism, socialism, nationalism, and romanticism—that were either born of the French Revolution or decisively shaped by it.