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‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!' The French Revolution and the Birth of the Republic


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges


The French Revolution (1789) remains to this day one of the most important events in both Western and world history. After years of political, economic and social crises, the Old Regime collapsed when the people of Paris stormed the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789, plunging the country into years of turmoil. The National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism and gradually forced Louis XVI into a short-lived constitutional monarchy, which collapsed in 1792 as war broke out and public opinion radicalised. The Republic was proclaimed with the promise of a new democratic and secular society, but the Revolution soon degenerated into violence with the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and the Reign of Terror. The Directory’s failure to stabilise the country and ongoing wars with European nations eventually led to the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte and the Empire.

The causes and consequences of the Revolution have long divided historians and still leave many unanswered questions today. This course will explore the political, socio-economic, cultural, intellectual and religious aspects of this pivotal decade (1789-1799) between the early modern and the modern period. Together we will look at the origins of the Revolution, its developments and transformations over the years, as well as its international reception and legacy. Some key topics will include the role of Enlightenment ideas, absolutism and democracy, censorship and the press, the women of the Revolution, race and slavery, religion and minorities.

This BA seminar integrates very well with the Kerncollege ‘The Boundaries of Power’ because it examines regime changes in the final decade of the eighteenth century. The French Revolution redefined state power and its legitimacy. This seminar will explore the transition from absolutism to constitutional monarchy and republicanism, as well as address major social debates at stake in the period such as gender, religion and race.

Students will have the opportunity to focus on political, social, cultural and military questions for their individual research. Studying prominent figures of the Revolution or foreign responses to it will also be possible. The sources used during the seminar will be in English, but some knowledge of French may also be useful.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

  • 1) carry out a common assignment

  • 2) devise and conduct research of limited scope, including
    a. searching, selecting and ordering relevant literature:
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information:
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate:
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.

  • 3) reflect on the primary sources on which the scholarly literature is based;

  • 4) write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the first year Themacolleges, including
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.

  • 5) participate in discussions during class.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialization

  • 6) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically:
    -in the specialisation General History : the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions;
    -in the track American History: American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe;
    -in the track History of European Expansion and Globalisation: the development of global networks which facilitate ann ever growing circulation of people, animals, plants, goods and ideas, and the central role of European expansion in this from around 1500;

  • 7) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically of
    -in the specialisation General History: the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories;
    -in the track American History: exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates;
    -in the track History of European Expansion and Globalisation: the combining of historiographical debates with empirical research of primary sources and/or the combining of various historiographical traditions through the use of innovative research questions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

  • 8) The student acquires deep knowledge of the French Revolution.

  • 9) The student recognizes the contours of the historiographical debate about the French Revolution.

  • 10) The student gains insight into the tension between 'contingency' and the 'grand narratives' of the French Revolution.

  • 11) The student familiarizes him/herself with primary sources from the French Revolution.


The timetable is available on the BA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (attendance required)

This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Seminars : 12 x 2 hours = 24 hours

  • Preparation tutorials, including assignments: 12 x 6 hours = 72 hours

  • Preparation oral presentation: 16 hours

  • Writing paper (including studying literature): 168 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (5000-6000 words, based on historiography, excluding title page, table of contents,footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectieves: 2-4, 8-11

  • Synopsis for written paper (ca. 600 words)
    measured learning objectieves: 2-4; 8-11

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectieves: 3-4

  • Peer review (of presentations and synopses)
    measured learning objectieves: 1-5; 8-11

  • Participation
    measured learning objectieves: 5


  • Written paper: 70%

  • Synopsis for written paper (included in the above)

  • Oral presentation: 15%

  • Particiation (oral and peer review): 15%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline, as published in the corresponding Blackboard course.


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline, as published in the corresponding Blackboard course.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • communication of deadlines for assignments and papers

  • Announcements

  • Course Guide

  • Texts

  • Exchange and peer review

Reading list

  • William Doyle, The French Revolution. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2001)

  • A suggested bibliography will be provided in the syllabus.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr Lionel Laborie