Rated 5 out of 5 by Dogbert Truly a Great Course
Having understood little about the French Revolution, I studied this course intending to learn some of the basics. However, this course offered so much more. Professor Desan wove together a wonderfully interesting tapestry of the French Revolution in the context of current events in France and throughout Europe and the world. I appreciated her presentation style very much. Her lectures were skillfully written and flowed very well. I enjoyed the video download because of all the great visuals that were presented. Best of all, I think I finally understand why many of the French people embraced Napoleon and his imperialism. I had always wondered why so many people laid down their lives, only to have a new aristocracy take over. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in government, the psychology of revolution, imperialism, and also the French influence on the independence of the United States.
April 22, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by RoyT The Usual + A Lot More!
This is a terrific course, one which I found easy to stay with over the 48 well-crafted, richly detailed, and easy to follow lectures. It is especially engaging because Professor Desan includes a good deal of social history and many small but telling details and quotes, not only from the familiar greats, but also from otherwise unknown people directly impacted by the years of Revolution and then Empire. In this regard are the activities and voices of women, often neglected in accounts of the era. My favorite example is Professor Desan’s description of how some women, upset at the Revolution’s de-Christianizing in the early 1790s, reacted: “…the patriotic priest began to deliver his praises of the Goddess of Reason. Then the Catholic women of the church stood up, turned around, and flipped up their skirts; together, they mooned the priest and the Altar of Liberty. They mocked the Republican cult. No doubt they reduced the priest to gibberish. On hearing the news, women in other villages couldn’t help but do the same thing” (Lecture 21 Audio). But not to worry, there is plenty about the well-known figures, with wonderfully detailed and analyzed sketches of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Murat, Charlotte Corday, Robespierre, Danton, Fouche, Germaine de Stael and many more. Included, of course, is Napoleon, the man of “ambition and improvisation”, who “…ended the Revolution and drained politics of its voice…in exchange [for]…stability and certain revolutionary reforms” (Course Guidebook, page 274).
Professor Desan does a great job not only on detailing events in France, but also regarding such matters as: trade, international relations and geo-politics; the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) that challenged the French to live up to their much-vaunted ideal of equality; the reach of the Revolution elsewhere in the Americas, with a surprising amount devoted to the United States; and the spread of revolutionary ideas throughout Europe and their impact on the world down to recent times. (An example is Ho Chi Minh’s quoting from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in his complaints against the French). Do note, however, that over half of the lectures are devoted to the period up to 1795. This is the period of greatest ferment and dizzying changes, so that is fine with me. I learned a great deal about things of which I had been only dimly aware, such as the nature and extent of public festivals and the revolutionary calendar (and why it was so widely disliked). I now have a much better understanding of politics of this early period, especially about the position of the Girondins; the role of the opposition of otherwise republican Federalists to the Revolutionary government; the extent of royalist activities against the Revolution, especially the rise of Vendee; and, most especially, the why and the how of the Terror, and the pervasive fear and suspicion that surrounded it.
I really got involved in Professor Desan’s treatment of the Revolutionary period. She carefully describes events in such a skillful step-by-step manner, explaining the viewpoints of the major groups and individuals so well that she imparts a sense of contingency, that events could easily have turned out differently with just a change or two here and there (as they so well can in real life). Important for me is her contention that it was the people, usually through crowd action, that forced major changes in direction, including, surprisingly, by not protesting his removal, the fall of Robespierre and end of the Terror. I am a bit more skeptical, however, of her painting the Jacobins as fairly benign, generally comparable to today’s progressives (my analogy, based on Professor Desan’s description), who get a bum rap due to extremists in their ranks.
Following an exciting description of Robespierre’s fall and details of the messiness and rightward shift of the Thermidorian Reaction, Professor Desan deals in a more summary but still engaging fashion with the years of Directory rule of the late 1790s. She focuses attention during this period, however, on the rise of Napoleon. Much of the treatment of Napoleon necessarily involves military matters, and Professor Desan handles all of this quite well, effectively explaining the reasons for Napoleon’s successes and ultimate defeat. I am sure the video version has some good maps of the battles, but Professor Desan does an excellent job in the audio version in describing military movements. In any event, she deals with some of the major battles and keeps to the essentials. I especially appreciated her treatment of the Battle of Lodi in the early Italian campaign, demonstrating Napoleon’s “single-minded drive”; the devastation of Borodino in the Russian campaign; and the “Close-Run Thing” of Waterloo.
While the course focuses on the period 1789-1815, there is a great deal on the Old Regime and conditions and Enlightenment thought that led up to the Revolution. There is also a significant amount on the post-Napoleonic period regarding not only the Bourbon restoration, but also the impact of the French Revolution on French politics through the 19th century (including establishment of a second empire, 1852-1870, by Napoleon’s nephew), DeGaulle’s Third Republic in 1958, and the 1968 student rebellion.
Though I now consider this one of my favorite TC courses, I nearly stopped after the first lecture. I found Professor Desan’s delivery a bit too intense and her voice too high pitched. The delivery got a lot better for me after that first lecture. I’m not sure if it was because she changed her delivery or that I just got so interested in the content that I stopped focusing so much on her voice. In any event, this turned out to be one of those courses that I could not wait to get back to, and that says a lot when considering it is a 48 lecture course.
If you want a great introduction to the French Revolution and Napoleon, or just a great refresher (with a lot of new information that you had not been aware of before), this is the course for you.
January 19, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by ejetto Outstanding professor and presentation
This course reminded me of the famous Faulkner line " The past is never dead. It's not even past". The best part of historical study is understanding the constancy of human nature and how past actions/decisions set the stage for the present. In other words 1. why a historical person made a decision to act and 2. how that action set the stage for other decisions by other historical persons. This is the best we can derive from a study of history.
Professor Desean does an admirable job weaving the threads of late 18th and early 19th century political turmoil together in these lectures. I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in understanding how the French Revolution was the seedbed for the 19th and 20th century's political movements.
December 28, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by GregRBM Excellent value - a detailed, extensive discussion
Most of the Great Courses are 24 or 36 episodes, focusing sometimes on hundreds or thousands of years of history. This one is 48 lectures, focusing on roughly a 30-year period, and therefore the professor has enough time to explore everything, in what many people now refer to as "granular detail".
Having read a reasonable amount about the French Revolution, but wanting a lot more, I was totally satisfied with this course.
I think it is essentially two separate courses combined - 30 lectures on the Revolution, and 18 on Napoleon, with a two-episode segue between the two.
My overall rating is based on criteria that may be specific to me, and may not be applicable to everybody else, because I use these courses to ease the progress of exercise and other mundane tasks, so the video versions are more or less irrelevant to me. We all have our own criteria for rating these courses, and yours may not be the same as mine, so here are the questions I ask when rating:
1. Do I look forward to listening to or watching the next episode?
2. Do I feel I learned something interesting or useful from each episode?
3. Would I recommend this to a friend?
4. Do I find the speaker’s lecturing style compelling and interesting?
5. Would I buy another course from this lecturer, without hesitation?
I can answer each of these with a resounding "yes". I did look forward to every episode, finding myself surprised at how interesting were even the episodes I did not expect to be; I recommended the course strongly to two friends; I found Professor Desan's presentation style dry, but interesting'; and I would indeed buy another course - if only she would give us another. In this connection, in the final episode she says something like "We could go on a lot longer dealing with issues such as how the Revolution affected revolutions in Spanish America, what happened with the Congress of Vienna, the Bourbons, then the continent-wide revolutions of 1848, the Second Republic, the 1871 Paris Commune and the Third Republic. But, don't worry, I don't intend to cover that here....."
I wish Professor Desan would, indeed, cover all - or part - of those topics in future courses and if she does, I will be among the first people to buy them, without hesitation.
As an aside, I would like to see more of the history courses at this length dealing in detail with shorter periods. The only other one I have found with this much detail (so far) is Gallagher's American Civil War - also an excellent course.
November 24, 2014