BA French and German

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Identity in Modern France

Course unit fact file
Unit code FREN10150
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Full year
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course unit provides a chronological introduction to key moments in modern French history, from the 18th century to the present, with an emphasis on the shaping of Republicanism as the dominant (yet contested) political ideology. Across 13 content-driven lectures, the course provides essential historical knowledge on the tensions that have shaped France’s modern conception of ‘national identity’, with a focus on 4 periods: the French Revolution of 1789; the Third Republic; WW2 and the post-war period; contemporary France. These lectures introduce students to key notions such as those of ‘nation’, ‘universalism’, ‘republicanism’, ‘revolution’, ‘race’, ‘colonisation’, ‘decolonisation’, ‘immigration’, ‘gender’ and more. In 11 small-group seminars, students are exposed to a range of texts that illustrate the lectures (including philosophical extracts, pamphlets, political speeches, pieces of legislation, photos, TV broadcast…), and develop their multi-media analytical skills. A further 4 lectures and 4 seminars are devoted to the course’s methodology, training students to become experts at writing commentaries and academic essays. 


First-year French language module FREN51011-22 or FREN51030.




  • To familiarise students with modern French history and the broad ideology of Republicanism; 

  • To provide an overview of key historical events and political tensions in France since the late 18th century;  

  • To equip students with working definitions for key concepts (‘nation’, ‘state’, ‘ideology’, ‘race’, ‘multiculturalism’, 'gender'… );  

  • To encourage and enable students to verbalise and intellectualise their emotional response to reading and viewing authentic documents.   


Semester 1:  Week 1: intro

Weeks 2-4: Enlightenment and the French Revolution

Weeks 7-11: The Third Republic; preparation to coursework (commentary)

Semester 2: 

Weeks 1-3: WW2 and post-war France

Week 4: feedback on coursework

Weeks 5-7: Contemporary France

Weeks 8-10: conclusion and assessment preparation (essay)

Teaching and learning methods

13 content lectures; 11 content-related seminars; 4 methodology/feedback lectures and 4 formative assessment seminars. A total of 32 contact hours.

Language of teaching: lectures are taught in English in order to be understood by post-A-level and ab initio French students simultaneously, and in order to delve into concepts more quickly. Students are separated according to their French language ability for the seminars however: post-A-level seminar groups are taught in French; ab initio seminar groups are taught in English.

Extensive digitised material, links to relevant online resources, and all class slides will be placed on Blackboard. Students will also be set regular tasks via Blackboard as preparation for classes and assessment.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of some of the major aspects of national and cultural identity in France in the ‘modern’ period. 

  • Understand and critically evaluate the ways in which a country’s sense of national integrity is constructed in practice and through discourse, looking at the role of thinkers, politicians, elites as well as participants in popular culture. 

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Analyze and discuss both literary and audio-visual material in a structured fashion;  

  • Use terminology and conceptual frameworks that are essential to French Studies. 

  • Write an academic commentary. 

  • Write an academic essay.  

  • Learn how to select and usefully incorporate secondary sources in any assignment.  


Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • demonstrate their ability to respond to instructions and work to deadlines; 

  • carry out individual research and select material judiciously;  

  • express their arguments coherently and convincingly using an appropriate level of examples, analysis and academic writing. 

  • take notes, share ideas, analyse a range of cultural ‘texts’, participate in class.  

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • demonstrate powers of analysis;  

  • manage time effectively;  

  • participate confidently during group activities;  

  • assess the relevance of existing opinions and literature through independent thinking;  

  • seek advice and act upon feedback;  

  • develop their intellectual confidence. 

Employability skills

See `transferable skills above. Critical analysis and intellectual adaptability are key skills in the job market.

Assessment methods

Assessment task  Summative or FormativeWeighting within unit 
Summary of a secondary sourceFormative 
Draft plan of CommentaryFormative 
Commentary on a choice of texts (coursework)Summative50%
Draft essay planFormative 
Essay as ‘seen paper’ (coursework)Summative50%

Resit Assesment:


Feedback methods

Feedback method  

Formative or Summative 

  • Oral feedback on in-class comments and analysis  

  • Written feedback on draft commentary and essay plans 

  • Written feedback on other formative tasks  

  • Oral group feedback on courseworks 

  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hours or by making an appointment) 



Recommended reading

Cole, Alistair and Gino Raymond (eds). Redefining the French Republic (Manchester University Press, 2006). 

Gildea, Robert. ‘The One and Indivisible Republic?’ in France Since 1945 (Oxford University Press, 1996), pp.132-77 

Jenkins, Brian. Nationalism in France, Class and Nation since 1789 (London: Routledge, 1990) 

Jennings, Jeremy. ‘Citizenship, Republicanism and Multiculturalism in Contemporary France’, The British Journal of Political Science, 2000, 30 (4), 575-98. 

Jennings, Jeremy and Iseult Honohan. Republicanism in Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 2006) [e-book].  

Thiesse, Anne-Marie. Faire les Français. Quelle identité nationale? (Stock, 2010). 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 17
Seminars 15
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Barbara Lebrun Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This 20-credit course unit requires students to spend at least c.2 hours each week reading the set material and answering the preparation questions.

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