This course examines the transnational and global history of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire. We will begin by examining Old Regime culture, society, and politics in both metropolitan France and Saint Domingue (now Haiti), which was the country’s most important colony at the time. We’ll then turn to examine how – and why – different groups of revolutionaries rose to challenge the existing order. We’ll trace France’s complicated political evolution as it moved from monarchical to republican to authoritarian to imperial forms of government and reflect on the connections between these political transformations and the experience of internal political conflict and ongoing war with much of Europe. At the same time, we’ll also look at the specific experiences of different groups of people who participated in the revolution and reflect on who was included in and excluded from the new understandings of citizenship and the nation that emerged during this period. We’ll also reflect on the relationship between the Revolution and Napoleon, thinking about how and why Napoleon’s authoritarian empire emerged out of a political movement that promoted human rights, republicanism, and the expansion of suffrage. And then finally, we’ll reflect on the legacies of the French Revolution, not only in France but across Europe and in the Middle East and the Caribbean as well.
How do we imagine the past? What techniques do we – as individuals and as societies – use to remember, describe, and explain it? How does the memory of the past affect our understandings of who we are? How and why does the past became politicized? These questions were important to a range of writers, historians, artists, philosophers, and politicians in twentieth-century Europe, who over the course of the century became increasingly convinced that historical memory was central to individual, communal, and national identity. This conviction has led to both serious scholarly investigations into memory’s operations and, in some cases, to attempts to control memory and historical narratives for political gain.

This course will take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of memory and history to explore historical memory’s role in shaping twentieth-century European politics and identities. We will begin by exploring different theoretical approaches to the study of individual and collective memory. We will then turn to important case studies that have played an outsized role in shaping European memory culture – including the memory of World War I and World War II, the Holocaust, European imperialism, and Eastern European communism. Along the way, we will explore different “sites” of memory – including monuments, memorials, museums, memoirs, novels, and films. We’ll also trace the complex interplay between collective memory and collective forgetting.