Liberty or Death: France's Revolutionary Journey: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Nigel Perrin

Liberty or Death: France's Revolutionary Journey: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Nigel Perrin


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The French Revolution of 1789 represented only the beginning of a search for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. This Course will explore France's revolutionary past and how it shaped both Paris and the lives of its citizens.

Between 1789 and 1871 a series of revolutionary convulsions shook France. With the overthrow of its king and the old order, the country embarked on an extraordinary, sometimes exhilarating and often terrifying adventure, seeing the rise and fall of a series of monarchies, empires and republics.

In embarking on the journey towards an enlightened era of Liberty, Egality and Fraternity, France’s new leaders abolished the monarchy and led the country into unchartered political territory, with fateful and far-reaching consequences. While these struggles had profound effects on the lives of its citizens, they also transformed its private, public and commemorative spaces to reflect the values and aspirations of each regime.

Taking a Paris-focussed approach, this course will trace the story of France’s revolutionary history and address some of the most important questions. Who were the important personalities? How did the causes of revolution change? What themes and traditions were developed? And what roles did Paris play in supporting and reflecting them?

Lecture 1 The Experiment of Revolution

Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century introduced new visions of society and human progress, but was a harmonious new order really possible? And how might it be realized? This seminar will examine the ruptures and contradictions that ‘The’ French Revolution of 1789 precipitated.

Lecture 2 The Rise and Fall of Napoleon's Empire

Declaring ‘The Revolution is over’, Napoleon Bonaparte’s empire nevertheless ushered in a period of equally radical, even revolutionary, change. Its collapse saw the restoration of a Bourbon monarch to the throne of France, but would it be possible to ignore the legacies of revolution?

Lecture 3 To the Barricades: 1830 and 1848

The deposing of Charles X and ‘Citizen King’, Louis-Philippe, demonstrated the power of the urban uprising and the importance of revolutionary symbols such as the barricade. Would the new Second Republic of 1848 succeed where its predecessor had failed?

Lecture 4 A Second Empire, and The Terrible Year

The reign of Emperor Louis Napoleon III transformed Paris into a modern metropolis, but his downfall was followed by a final, bloody revolutionary act that scars Paris to this day. This last seminar will conclude by considering how France's revolutions have been appropriated and commemorated up to the present day.

Nigel has long been fascinated by the history of France during the Occupation, particularly in relation to the work of British secret services, a subject he began studying in 2003. 'Spirit of Resistance', his biography of secret agent Harry Peulevé, was published in 2008. Having completed his MA in Modern History at the University of Kent in Paris in 2015, he has now begun a doctorate on a spatial history of Paris under Occupation.

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in French history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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