HIST2F90: Money & Power in the Atlantic World

The French Revolution

This week has two big questions!

  1. How are the major course themes evident in our examination of the French Revolution? From module 1, we can certainly see some major changes. How is the Revolution a response to that world? Can we see how the historical patterns we've seen in modules 2 and 3 influenced the Revolution?
  2. How can the concept of gender help us to analyze the primary sources for this week's Lesson?

Video Introduction

Learning outcomes

At the end of this week you should be able to:

Questions to consider, and learning activity

You have two main tasks this week.

TASK ONE: The first task in the Forum is to do your best to connect the history of the French Revolution with the broader themes of ATLANTIC WORLD history, using only the resources that we have provided you in this course. To do this you should do your best to connect major themes from Module 1 with major themes from what you know of Module 4. So far for Module 4 you have the Lesson on the American Revolution and the documentary on the French Revolution (link below). This provides you with an incomplete history ... but with LOTS of material to draw strong inferences. If YOU are going to learn to think historically, you have to learn to make connections for yourselves. Task One gives you the chance to build your historical-thinking muscles. In other words, this first task is an exercise that gets you to practice skills of narrative-building (aka storytelling), contextualization, and corroboration, as well as the analysis of continuity / change, and cause / consequence. Check the Toolbox for more on these aspects of historical thinking. We want you to make as many connections to course materials and themes as you can in as concise a way as possible.

TASK TWO: The second task is to analyze the assigned primary sources to see what you can learn and infer about French Revolutionary attitudes about gender. "What is gender?" you might ask. In a famous essay from 1986 the historian Joan Scott defined "gender" as attitudes about the relationship between biological identity and socio-political power. Gender history asks us to consider the ways ideals of masculinity, femininity, and other dimensions of gender identities have influenced history, be that ordinary everyday understandings of meaning and identity, or major events like the French Revolution.  Last week, we saw for example, that Abigail Adams brought different dimensions to her understanding of the American Revolution than did her husband, Samuel. Minimally, such examples suggest men and women may have interpreted their worlds differently; it could also mean that gender differences profoundly influence human relations, and therefore history.


So far in this section of your Lessons over the past many weeks, we have provided you with background information that helps contextualize the sources that are the focus of your learning activities. This week, we're doing something different.

This Lesson is about the French Revolution. More so than the American Revolution, in France the revolution was very much about giving political power to people who had never held it before. It also was more eventful and bloodier -- related to the American Revolution in that both were about democracy and liberty, but still very different. As a first step in your Lesson, you must watch the following video. The video is a documentary entitled The French Revolution and it is from The History Channel. It gives you a very good overview of the events of the Revolution. Sometimes History Channel shows are sensationalistic in ways that make them of questionable value from a thoughtful historian's point of view. This documentary is both dramatic and strong from a scholarly point of view. Evidence of its strength is that it includes interviews with several very good historians of the French Revolution. Among these historians are Professors Jack Censer (George Mason U), William Doyle (Bristol U), Lynn Hunt (UCLA), and Sarah Maza (Northwestern U). It is about an hour and a half long. When you watch it, take notes so that you can contextualize your Forum discussions of the primary sources about men, women and gender for this week. While the documentary doesn't focus on gender, there are lots of useful sections on women in general and the queen, Marie Antoinette, in particular. 

If you would like to expand the video window on your device, click on the word YouTube in the lower right.

When each of us is born, our parents and the world around us expect us to behave in certain ways. These expectations are the building blocks of our own sense of ourselves. Most times we accept these expectations as the way things are (that is, the natural way) and the way we should be, but sometimes we react against these expectations so that we define ourselves differently (that is, we react against the way others think is natural and necessary). Many of these expectations are based on our biological identities as girls / women OR boys / men, COMBINED WITH the cultural values that other people (and we???) associate with girls and boys.

The "complicated" part of this story of gender​ is that many of these expectations change with circumstances. What this means is that to be a "girl" or "boy" in the middle ages was not necessarily the same as being a "girl" or "boy" in the 1920s (your great grandparents' decade), or the 1970s (your parents' decade??), or the 2010s (your decade??). These expectations can even / also change from place to place in the same time (e.g., St. Catharines versus [any other city anywhere on the planet during whatever decade]).

The exercise above forces you to think about gender -- that is, attitudes about the relationship between biological identity and socio-political power (or meaning). Maybe now after this background you'll start thinking in new ways about spice, and puppy-dog tails, and snails -- and money and power in the Atlantic world!!! Think BIG about the course title in its relationship to this week's themes, and you'll start to get an idea of what we want you to think about. EVERYTHING, particularly relationships of power (which is one way of thinking about politics, and which is certainly important for making sense of revolutionary times). That's what gender is about. And that's what this Lesson is about. What's unique about gender​ is that it provides us as historians a different analytical perspective from which to view sources​.

Focus on the primary sources when you make your Forum posts this week. A focus on sources makes any historical problem manageable!!!

This week as always we encourage you to think big, BUT you are also required to write things that you can defend based on evidence from the sources that we have provided for you. This is the same challenge that you have for the final course project and the final exam. Now is a good time to practice!

Primary sources

It might help you to know that Burke was responding to Price, and Wollstonecraft was responding to Burke; all three were Britons commenting on what they perceived was underway in France. It might also help to know that Price was Thomas Paine's teacher and mentor.

Secondary source

Joan Scott, “French Feminists and the Rights of ‘Man’: Olympe De Gouges’s Declarations,” History Workshop, 28 (1989), pp. 1-21.

Supplemental material

If you would like to learn more about the French Revolution, you should plan to take a course with Brock University's own expert, Prof. Jane McLeod. Immediately below is the cover of her recent book about printers in 18th-century France.


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