Recent Reconsiderations of the French Revolution and Its Neighbors

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:50 PM
Salon A (Hilton Atlanta)
Katlyn Carter, Princeton University
In 2009, Lynn Hunt declared that debates about the French Revolution had reached an interpretive cul-de-sac. Coming off the revisionist wave begun by François Furet, the study of discourse seemed stale and the Marxist account wholly out of fashion. There was perhaps not a strong sense of the direction French Revolutionary historiography was headed. Yet just six years later, it is clear that historians have forged several promising paths out of this exaggerated dead-end. Scholars are honing in on new periods of the Revolution, employing different methodological approaches, and adopting more expansive scopes of study to explain the causes, course, and outcomes of a revolution that is still considered paradigmatic. Meanwhile, scholarship on eighteenth-century European revolutions outside France—such as those in Poland, the Netherlands, and Italian and German lands—is stepping further out of the shadows of the French paradigm, taking similar methodological approaches as historians of France, but to highlight unique paths and outcomes. My paper will address four major trends in scholarship on the French and other “Old World” Revolutions, explore how they relate to one another, and tease out some of the implications of this scholarship for the study of revolutions more broadly.

First I will examine a shift in the period of the French Revolution getting most attention: the Terror and what followed, the Thermidorian period and the Directory. Much of the work being done on the Terror and its aftermath illustrates a concurrent methodological shift. Scholars are not as concerned with discourse or class dynamics as they once were. Recent work aims to go beyond the realm of rhetoric to examine political practices, social and economic behavior, and psychology or lived experience.