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Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon

Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon

Professor Suzanne M. Desan Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Course No.  8220
Course No.  8220
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Course Overview

About This Course

48 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture
The 25 years between the onset of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Bourbon Restoration after Napoleon in 1814 is an astonishing period in world history. This era shook the foundations of the old world and marked a 
permanent shift for politics, religion, and society—not just for France, but for all of Europe. An account of the events alone reads like something out of a thrilling novel:
  • France’s oppressed and hungry masses rise up against their government.
  • In Paris, crowds storm the Bastille looking for bread and weaponry.
  • Rumors, panic, and fear grip the nation as it faces an uncertain future.
  • The National Assembly adopts the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the first bold step toward the invention of democratic politics and a republican state.
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The 25 years between the onset of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Bourbon Restoration after Napoleon in 1814 is an astonishing period in world history. This era shook the foundations of the old world and marked a 
permanent shift for politics, religion, and society—not just for France, but for all of Europe. An account of the events alone reads like something out of a thrilling novel:
  • France’s oppressed and hungry masses rise up against their government.
  • In Paris, crowds storm the Bastille looking for bread and weaponry.
  • Rumors, panic, and fear grip the nation as it faces an uncertain future.
  • The National Assembly adopts the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the first bold step toward the invention of democratic politics and a republican state.
  • King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette try to flee the country under cover of darkness.
  • After the king’s execution, the government takes emergency measures that lead to the Terror, when thousands will be put to death by the guillotine.
  • A young Corsican named Napoleon Bonaparte stuns Europe with his military strategy and political boldness.
  • At the end of his empire, Napoleon escapes Elba to confront the Duke of Wellington at the famous Battle of Waterloo.

Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon is your opportunity to learn the full story of this captivating period. Taught by Dr. Suzanne M. Desan, a distinguished professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, these 48 exciting lectures give you a broad and comprehensive survey of one of the most important eras in modern history.

What makes this course such a rare treat is that Professor Desan introduces you to all sides of the story. A people’s revolution for liberty and equality is an exciting moment in history, and indeed the crowds that rose up against the Old Regime were infused with optimism. Yet there is a darker side of the story as well:

  • The tyranny of Robespierre and his ardent support of the Terror
  • Revolutionary tribunals and the Committee of Public Safety, which were meant to maintain the peace but which exacerbated the fear
  • The tens of thousands who were executed, many without trial

How did the French attempt to create a democratic republic?  How did such an optimistic movement, such an idealistic new government, morph into the Terror? Was an authoritarian regime an inevitable response to the Revolution? There are no easy answers to these questions; yet they speak to some of the same events in our contemporary history, from the quest for civil rights in the United States to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon introduces you to the hotly contested invention of modern politics—the oppression, the freedom, the turmoil, the violence, the passion, and the hope of the era. When you complete this course, you’ll have a new appreciation for this history, and you’ll understand how profoundly it changed the rest of Europe.

 

Learn about the People, the Politics, and the Culture of the Revolution

 

The French Revolution raised a host of questions that are still with us today: What happens when people living under a traditional monarchy try to invent a democracy and an egalitarian society? How do you wrench the modern world out of the old? How do you secure equality for everyone in society? And how do you maintain the peace and deliver on the promises of the Revolution during the transition?

You’ll study these philosophical questions through the eyes of the people—the leaders and the citizens, the famous and the infamous, the soldiers and the writers, the wealthy and the hungry—as they struggled to advance their cause and come to terms with each new development. For instance, you’ll

  • learn about the brutality of life under the Old Regime, and see how the burden of taxes, tithes to the church, and the unequal distribution of wealth affected ordinary citizens in the Third Estate;
  • examine the political parties, from the Girondins and Jacobins in the government to the sans-culottes in the streets, that jockeyed for control of the direction of France;
  • meet women such as Olympe de Gouges, who struggled for their rights and demanded  divorce and equal inheritance laws; and
  • consider the debates in the international arena, such as those between the conservative Edmund Burke, who defended the aristocracy, and the liberal Thomas Paine, who advocated the rights of man.

You’ll laugh at the absurd hedgehog hairstyles of the aristocratic elites; you’ll marvel at Louis and Marie-Antoinette’s escape coach as they tried to flee France; and you’ll be amazed by Napoleon’s dramatic escape from Elba. From the machinations of the highest officers to the violence of the hungry crowds; from the battles and international treaties to the bedrooms of Versailles and jail cells of the Bastille; Professor Desan takes you into this era from every angle.

 

A Deep, Immersive Study

 

Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon covers an impressive amount of ground. You’ll investigate the causes of the Revolution—a perfect storm of famine, war debt, social inequality, and economic downturn; you’ll trace the era’s major events, from the storming of the Bastille in 1789 to the execution of King Louis XVI to Napoleon’s major campaigns; and you’ll learn about the many governments the French people experienced in such a short period—the monarchy, the republic, the empire, and more.

But the true joy of this course lies in the unique insights Professor Desan provides. Fascinating nuggets, small details, and little-known ironies of history bring this era to life:

  • The original ending to “Little Red Riding Hood” provides a bleak look at many people’s constant struggle to survive.
  • The revolutionaries tried hard to remake society after overthrowing the old system—even trying to de-Christianize the nation and create a new calendar.
  • The Revolution shaped events in the rest of the world—including America, which eventually benefited from the Louisiana Purchase.
  • We think of Robespierre as the face of the Terror, but he was a complex figure who argued against the death penalty two years before he called for the king’s head.
  • The Directory is a less-studied yet intriguing wedge between the Terror and Napoleon.
  • Napoleon was thrown from his horse just days before he seized power—nearly putting a halt to the empire before it even existed.

Professor Desan notes that there have been more studies written about Napoleon than there have been days since he died. An examination of this period would not be complete without a thorough look at this engaging figure, the man who paid his soldiers in cash and inspired a wave of “Egypto-mania” after his expedition in Egypt. You’ll explore in detail what made him such a powerful leader—how he was able to combine repression with conciliation at home, and diplomacy with military might abroad.

You’ll be surprised to learn that this man who crowned himself emperor and led France into war against every other major European power also was a child of the Revolution. He kept many of the reforms enacted by the revolutionaries. Despite Napoleon’s reputation as a powerful, nearly invincible figure, Professor Desan presents him as a flesh-and-blood human being with all the requisite contradictions.

You’ll also enjoy learning about the impact of the Revolution beyond the borders of France—particularly in the colony of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti. Did the struggle for human rights apply to the slaves in the colonies? You’ll meet such figures as Vincent Ogé and Toussaint Louverture who led uprisings that eventually resulted in a free and independent Haiti.

 

A Dynamic and Engaging Professor

 

These are powerful lectures indeed, both for their content and for their presentation. Professor Desan has had a lifelong passion for the subject, and she brings a deeply personal enthusiasm to each lecture. No wooden speaker behind a podium, she has a dynamic stage presence that draws you into the powerful story.

Additionally, for video customers, her lectures are enhanced by an array of maps and illustrations, cartoons, battle movement plans, and other visual elements that help bring the period to life.

This is the very human, very emotional side of the Revolution. You’ll feel the swell of the crowds again and again as they chant and protest. You’ll react to the cauldron of crisis and fear in the months leading up to the Terror. And you’ll come away with a new viewpoint—not just on this era, but on our own.

The next time you open any newspaper, you’ll see headlines that echo the struggles of France between 1789 and 1814. That dramatic period has reverberated through the ages. Freedom, equality, revolution, political factionalism—the hopes and questions of this gripping story have profound implications for us today.

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48 Lectures
  • 1
    Introduction and the Old Regime Monarchy
    Take a first look at the complexities of overthrowing a monarchy and constructing a democracy. This first lecture introduces you to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and lays the groundwork for the gripping drama of the French Revolution. x
  • 2
    Privilege—Old Regime Society
    Look at the hierarchical society of France in the 1780s, which was divided into three estates—those who prayed (the clergy), those who fought (the nobles), and those who worked and paid taxes (the peasants). This system placed a heavy burden on the peasantry and set the stage for revolution. x
  • 3
    The Enlightenment
    Enter 18th-century salons and cafés to join the debates over modernity and politics. While writers such as Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau argued over natural rights, political reform, the social contract, and more, the Old Regime cracked down on dissidents and threw writers in jail for criticizing the government. x
  • 4
    France, Global Commerce, and Colonization
    See how global trade, the mercantilist system, and the slave trade disrupted traditional notions of societal hierarchy as non-nobles benefited greatly from the new economy. Additionally, global warfare—especially between France and Great Britain over colonization—left France weakened and deeply in debt. x
  • 5
    American Revolution and the Economic Crisis
    Explore the economic problems of France in the 1780s. The nation was deeply in debt, due to war with Britain and participating in the American Revolution. The opening of free trade hit the textile market and caused high unemployment. Finally, years of poor harvests and famine spurred grain riots. x
  • 6
    The Political Awakening of 1789
    When the Estates-General met in 1789 to tackle the nation’s woes, several questions were on the table: Who would have political power? How could France reform its tax system? What would happen to the system of privilege? Explore how the Third Estate challenged the status quo and created a revolutionary new Assembly to represent all France. x
  • 7
    July 14th—Storming the Bastille
    Unpack the story of one of the most famous days in French history. In the wake of the Estates-General crisis, hungry crowds gathered in the streets of Paris. As the king gathered troops around Versailles, the politics of hunger took over in the streets and the crowds stormed the Bastille, sparking a nationwide revolution. x
  • 8
    Peasant Revolt and the Abolition of Feudalism
    In the weeks after the storming of the Bastille, panic gripped the countryside. Peasants revolted against their lords, and rumors about grain hoarding, bandits, and foreign invasion swirled around France. Amid this “Great Fear of 1789,” the National Assembly met and dismantled the feudal system as the political revolution morphed into a radical social revolution. x
  • 9
    The Declaration of the Rights of Man
    Study the origins and significance of this shocking declaration, from its influences in the Enlightenment and American rights declarations to its implications for religious liberty and the role of the king. Who would get these “universal rights”? How would they be implemented? x
  • 10
    Paris Commands Its King
    March to Versailles with thousands of women and National Guardsmen to protest the price of bread and to lobby the king for political changes. This huge demonstration compelled the king and queen to move to Paris and revealed the power of popular activism. x
  • 11
    Political Apprenticeship in Democracy
    The press, political clubs, and elections—these three pillars of democratic, revolutionary politics set the agenda for the nation as France redistributed power, redrew its administrative map, and instituted a host of reforms that gave local voting power to the provinces. x
  • 12
    Religion and the Early Revolution
    Shift your attention from politics to the Catholic Church, which was at the heart of local communities throughout France. Despite an overall decline in religion in the 18th century, revolutionaries were playing with fire as they sought to reform the church, and their actions divided the country. x
  • 13
    The Revolution and the Colonies
    Turn to the French colonies and ask what the Revolution meant in places such as Saint-Domingue, the colony that would soon become the independent nation of Haiti. Did the Declaration of the Rights of Man apply to free people of color? Would the Revolution abolish the slave trade? These questions would take several years to answer. x
  • 14
    Women’s Rights in the Early Revolution
    Women had no official political role in the Old Regime, but the Revolution raised the question of women’s rights and their place in the public sphere. Find out how two of the era’s key feminists—Condorcet, a male mathematician, and Olympe de Gouges, a female writer—framed the demand for women’s rights, and observe the many ways women engaged in politics. x
  • 15
    The King’s Flight
    On June 20, 1791, King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette disappeared, having fled into the night. This lecture shows you the king’s secret—and ultimately doomed—attempt to escape France. This act became a significant turning point for the Revolution because it allowed the French to imagine their country without a king. x
  • 16
    Foreign Reactions—A Divided Europe
    Travel to Great Britain to explore the foreign reactions to the French Revolution. Professor Desan walks you through Edmund Burke’s defense of tradition and the aristocratic system, as well as Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man,” a response to Burke that lays out an argument for equality and a series of reforms. x
  • 17
    The Path to War with Europe
    Discover why France went to war with Austria and Prussia in 1792, and meet some of the key players in that decision—including the Jacobin Maximilien Robespierre who, ironically, feared war could destroy the Revolution and lead to a dictatorship. Study the causes of the war that would transform the Revolution. x
  • 18
    Overthrowing the Monarchy
    Turn to ordinary citizens as they overthrow their king and embark on a bold political experiment. With France losing the war with Austria and angry crowds in the streets, the Legislative Assembly declared the homeland in danger. See how revolutionary leaders and Parisians took matters into their own hands to press for creation of a republic. x
  • 19
    The King’s Trial
    Experience the stunning trial and execution of King Louis XVI. This lecture begins by surveying the political alignments of the new republic and the debates between the radical Jacobins and the moderate Girondins over what to do with the king—a political division that would only deepen after the king’s execution. x
  • 20
    The Republic at War
    Consider the international issues while France was at war. How did the French army save the republic at the battle of Valmy? Could the French spread the Revolution abroad? Could they continue to face their growing list of enemies? You’ll also learn about the French military and what it was like to be a soldier in the revolutionary army. x
  • 21
    Revolutionary Culture and Festivals
    Step back and explore the culture of France as revolutionary leaders tried to stamp out the power of religion and the monarchy. From a new republican calendar to festivals that celebrated the goddesses Liberty and Reason, radicals enacted a fascinating series of changes. x
  • 22
    Family and Marriage
    Look beyond the larger issues of politics and economics and reflect on how the Revolution introduced new ideas of liberty and equality into family relationships. The revolutionaries legalized divorce, challenged the authority of fathers, and abolished unfair inheritance laws. Families became a microcosm of the Revolution as individuals figured out what liberty meant in everyday life. x
  • 23
    Slave Revolt and the Abolition of Slavery
    The largest slave revolt in history took place in Saint-Domingue in the early 1790s. What made the revolt possible? How did insurgent slaves convince France that slavery should be abolished? Uncover the suspenseful story of Toussaint Louverture’s rise to power, which paved the way for an independent Haiti. x
  • 24
    Counterrevolution and the Vendée
    Not everyone was on board with the Revolution. In fact, tens of thousands of peasants and artisans in the provinces were dissatisfied with what they saw as the atheism and the anarchy of the revolutionaries. Learn about the civil war in western France and the counterrevolutionary efforts to restore the king and the old way of life. x
  • 25
    The Pressure Cooker of Politics
    Return to Paris during the crisis months of spring 1793 as the leading revolutionaries wrestled with the ongoing economic crisis, war losses, and the growing fear of conspiracy and counterrevolution. The government took emergency measures and created the Committee of Public Safety, thus sowing the seeds for the Terror. x
  • 26
    Revolution in Crisis—Summer 1793
    Witness the Jacobins’ struggle to hold the republic together. French Federalists wanted local power, especially in the south and in Normandy. Although their revolt never gained traction, it stunned Jacobins in Paris. Another dramatic calamity came in July, with the actions of a woman named Charlotte Corday. x
  • 27
    Terror Is the Order of the Day
    The beginning of the Terror is difficult to pinpoint, but by the fall of 1793, all the institutions of the Terror were in place. This lecture shows you how the Jacobins built the Terror, introduces you to some of its victims—including its most famous victim, Marie-Antoinette—and wrestles with the philosophical question of how the Terror emerged from the Revolution. x
  • 28
    The Revolution Devours Her Children
    Continue your study of the Terror and explore the fundamental contradiction of using brutal means to create an egalitarian republic. Delve into the clandestine political plots and see how Robespierre tried to negotiate a middle path between the extremists who were for or against the Terror. x
  • 29
    The Overthrow of Robespierre
    How was Robespierre overthrown? As the Terror intensifies, you will follow an exhausted Robespierre as he battles to maintain control, and you will meet a group known as the Thermidorians, who would take control of France and dismantle the Terror. x
  • 30
    The Thermidorian Reaction
    After the fall of Robespierre, France shifted to the right as the Thermidorians struggled to save the republic and create a social order free from the violence of the Terror. Witness the last great uprising of the Revolution, yet again over bread and politics, and trace the construction of the short-lived government called the Directory. x
  • 31
    The Directory—An Experimental Republic
    Examine the moderate new republic and its attempts to find a middle way to carry out the promise of the Enlightenment and the Revolution without the disorder of the preceding years. Because this curious moment is wedged between the Terror and Napoleon, it tends to be ignored in historical surveys, but it was a significant time as France expanded and experimented with revolutionary innovations. x
  • 32
    Young Napoleon
    Meet the famous Corsican who would one day crown himself emperor of France. This lecture introduces you to Napoleon as a young man. The context of his early military career will enhance your understanding of the mature general, and it demonstrates his complexity as an outsider striving to gain power. x
  • 33
    The Italian Campaign and the Sister Republics
    As commander of the French army in Italy in 1796, Napoleon marched into Milan, drove Austria to its knees, and set up a sister republic in Italy, astonishing the rest of Europe. See what made Napoleon such a brilliant military strategist, and learn about Napoleon’s politics and diplomacy as a young leader. x
  • 34
    Sister Republics? France and America
    Review the relationship between France and the United States. Coming off the heels of the American Revolution, the two nations had a cozy relationship in 1789, but the friendship soured over the next decade. By 1798, they were nearly at war, thanks to U.S. proclamations of neutrality, the Jay Treaty with Great Britain, and the XYZ Affair. x
  • 35
    Bonaparte in Egypt
    Return to Napoleon’s military conquests—this time in Egypt, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. After his Italian campaign, he grew restless in Paris and led an expedition to Egypt in an attempt to colonize it and spread French civilization abroad. x
  • 36
    Bonaparte Seizes Power
    How did Napoleon seize power in France in 1799? Tensions were high between the royalists and the neo-Jacobins, and in this climate of crisis, Napoleon led a military coup and drew up yet another constitution for France, bringing the Revolution to an end. x
  • 37
    Building Power—General and First Consul
    Trace the early years of Napoleon’s rule and see how he built his power step by step. At war, he maneuvered boldly against the Austrians and had an uncanny ability to make peace. At home, he combined repression with conciliation to secure his power, and in 1802 he was elected First Consul for life. x
  • 38
    Napoleon Becomes Emperor
    As his power grew, Napoleon’s ties to the Revolution shifted. He spoke of the “nation” rather than the “republic,” and he became more formal and remote. After a failed plot against his life, he declared himself emperor. Despite this shocking seizure of power, he built on some of the Revolution’s better achievements. x
  • 39
    Napoleon’s Ambitions in the New World
    In 1803, despite Napoleon’s colonial ambitions, France sold 800,000 square miles of the Louisiana territory to the United States. Find out why by considering the international situation, especially Napoleon’s attempt to re-establish slavery and the loss of Haiti after the slave revolt. x
  • 40
    Taking on the Great Powers
    While Napoleon’s ambitions in the Americas had been thwarted, he was ready in 1805 to take on the great powers of Europe. Go inside the Grande Armée and learn about Napoleon’s corps system. Then take a look at several key battles, including Trafalgar at sea and the Battle of Austerlitz. x
  • 41
    Expanding the Empire
    From 1806 to 1808, Napoleon pushed his empire beyond the limits of what he could actually rule, from Poland to Spain. Take a closer look at his military strategy as he reached the pinnacle of his power. He concentrated his forces for decisive victories in the Battle of Jena-Auerstädt, and he hammered out a peace with Tsar Alexander of Russia. x
  • 42
    France during the Empire
    Perhaps because Napoleon rose to power so unexpectedly, his legitimacy was always fragile. Survey the ways in which he built his own glory by transforming Paris and creating a new nobility. Then see how, needing an heir, he divorced Josephine. x
  • 43
    Living under the Empire
    Was Napoleon a modernizer who brought efficient and liberal reforms throughout his European empire, or was he a cultural imperialist who tried to export his vision of a centralized, authoritarian state? Historians debate this even today, and this lecture shows you each side of the Napoleonic legacy. x
  • 44
    The Russian Campaign
    Follow Napoleon’s harrowing march across Russia in 1812, and witness his doomed campaign from the viewpoint of his soldiers. Napoleon’s fateful decision to invade Russia marked a turning point for his empire. x
  • 45
    Napoleon’s Fall and the Hundred Days
    Experience the drama that followed the disastrous Russian campaign, where several European nations formed an alliance against France and forced Napoleon into exile. But in a surprising turn of events, he escaped the island of Elba and regained control of France without firing a single shot. x
  • 46
    Waterloo and Beyond
    Against all odds, Napoleon struggled to hang onto power, but in the spring of 1815, all the major European powers had declared war against him. He needed one great victory to secure his reign, but the Battle of Waterloo became his final undoing and reverberated for years to come. x
  • 47
    Emerging Political Models
    Take a look at the politics of France after Napoleon. The nation had changed too much over the preceding 25 years to simply return to a stable monarchy. See the emergence of competing political models of conservatism, liberalism, and Bonapartism during the Bourbon Restoration of King Louis XVIII. x
  • 48
    Revolutionary Legacies
    In this concluding lecture, you’ll look at how the ideas, symbols, and practices of the Revolution had far-ranging consequences that are still being debated today. From the European uprisings of 1848 to the civil rights issues of the 20th and 21st centuries, the questions raised by the French Revolution are still being asked. x

Lecture Titles

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Suzanne M. Desan
Ph.D. Suzanne M. Desan
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. Suzanne M. Desan is the Vilas-Shinners Distinguished Achievement Professor of History at the University of WisconsinñMadison. She specializes in the history of 18th-century France. She earned her B.A. in History from Princeton University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Berkeley. She has received several teaching awards, including the University of Wisconsin Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award (2007) and the UWñMadison Undergraduate History Association's Professor of the Year Award (2013), as well as fellowships, including Guggenheim and Fulbright research fellowships. She also received the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association for the Best First Book in European History. Professor Desan is the author of numerous articles about the French Revolution, popular politics, family, and religion. She is the coeditor of The French Revolution in Global Perspective, and she is the author of The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France and Reclaiming the Sacred: Lay Religion and Popular Politics in Revolutionary France. She is currently studying foreign radicals who came to France during the revolutionary era, their influence on French politics, and the international circulation of revolutionary ideas and practices.
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Reviews

Rated 4.6 out of 5 by 59 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by 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 The Usual + A Lot More! AUDIO: CDs 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 2 out of 5 Good Content, Poor Presentation I was really looking forward to listening to this course, but the monotone, droning presentation by Dr. Desan makes it nearly impossible to stay focused. I am constantly having to reverse the program, as my mind wanders during her lecture. It sounds as though she is just reading her presentation notes. There is little change in her voice or inflection to keep the audience's interest, and, while she is no doubt passionate about the topic, none of that passion comes through in her delivery. October 19, 2014
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