The Origins of the French Revolution with Marie Dessaillen - Context Travel

The Origins of the French Revolution with Marie Dessaillen


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Injustices and high taxes had been the norm in Europe for centuries. So why did it all come to a heat in 1789? To truly understand the diversity of players, their mindsets, ideologies and expectations, we need to go back into the history of 18th century France. This conversation will delve into the dissatisfactions that accumulated in the 18th century and how their addition led to the multiple explosions of 1789.

The French Revolution did not just impact France: it brought ripples to the history of the world as well. The ideas that were born then (the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen comes to mind, for instance), have defined the way France has seen itself ever since. In a country where the absolute monarchy had been under constant criticism since the death of its creator, Louis XIV, in 1715, and where the heavy taxes were almost entirely paid by the commoners, the discontent was growling from diverse sides of society, aristocrats and bourgeois alike demanding contradictory changes.

Open yet weak-minded Louis XVI had ruled the country since 1774, with a very unpopular Marie-Antoinette at his side. We will look at his undecisive politics, from liberalization to conservatism, as well as the economic and financial situation of the realm in the 1780's. We will analyze the social situation of Paris at the eve of the Revolution, and the circulation of modern ideas. The Enlightenment had a direct effect on the events and laws of the Revolution, but the Enlightenment is a century of political philosophers, with very different policies. We will look back into their main concepts and point out how each, from Montesquieu to Rousseau, influenced different strata of the population. The French Revolution was also shaped by two foreign revolutions: one in England in the 17th century and one at a very similar point in time across the Atlantic, the American Revolution.

Led by historian and art historian Marie Dessaillen, this interactive discussion will bring to life how the entire population of France ended up bearing arms by the summer of 1789, from the privileged in Versailles to the Parisians on Bastille Day, to the rest of the country by the end of July. There had been rebellions in France, and in Paris, before. This one succeeded. We’ll go in depth into the mix of long term and short term causes that brought the French Revolution to life.

A second conversation will cover the fascinating decade of events that followed: uncontrolled, violent and traumatizing, but also idealistic and truly groundbreaking.

The daughter of a sculptor, Marie has been surrounded by art ever since she was born. A native Parisienne, she holds an undergraduate degree in history and art history, with a specialty in iconography and French and Flemish paintings from the 16th to the 18th centuries. She also holds a Master's degree in museology from the Ecole du Louvre and one in Art History from the Sorbonne.

This conversation is not suitable for children under age 16.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.