BA Art History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Ceaseless Revolution: France, 1781-1871

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31721
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


From 1789, dynamics of revolution and counter-revolution have shaped France’s political, social, and cultural life. The process made revolution, that most modern of transformations, into a kind of tradition, complete with recognized conventions and standard tropes. The model of revolution travelled beyond France’s borders, inspiring hope and terror in contemporaries around the world. Indeed, the ideologies and tactics of France’s revolutions have shaped movements of emancipation (and their interpretation) on a global scale down to the present day.

This unit recaptures the novelty of revolution, examining the history and historiography of France’s great episodes of radical revolt in the long nineteenth century: the Revolution of 1789, the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, the overturning of monarchies in 1830 and 1848, and the urban uprisings of 1871. We grapple with key topics of nineteenth-century European history, including: nationalism; state formation; industrialization and socialism; liberalism; the politics of gender and imperialism.



Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas. Available to students on an Erasmus programme, subject to VSO approval.


  • To provide an intensive examination of the turbulent history of revolution in the French national imperial context;
  • To explore and debate methods and approaches to modern French history, introducing major traditions of interpretation of the revolutionary century;
  • To develop enhanced skills in the reading, interpretation, and analysis of primary sources;
  • To develop and practice skills in critical reading, refine writing abilities, and exercise abilities in constructive discussion and oral expression;
  • To improve skills in group work and individual research.

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught by a combination of weekly seminar (3 hours) plus an additional hour for dedicated office consultation or for field visits/ guest speakers.

In-class time will be spent with small group work on source material as well as general discussion and structured presentations. Time will be dedicated to review of research practice, reading methods, and other skill-building discussions and exercises, giving students the opportunity to reflect on and refine their research and study methods.

Where appropriate and when accessible, external resources from around the University as well as in Manchester will be drawn upon including those of John Rylands Special Collections.

The course will be supported by Blackboard. This will be used to provide seminar readings, and where possible extracts from primary sources, and other relevant course materials. All coursework would be submitted and feedback returned via Blackboard.

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • Articulate, compare, and contrast the course and significance of different revolutionary events in nineteenth-century France;
  • Evaluate the complexities underlying the development of modern ideologies such as nationalism, socialism, and liberalism, and assess the shifting relationship between economic and political development;
  • Evaluate the interaction between political ideas and social change;
  • Engage in considered discussion and craft persuasive assessments of secondary work in the history of nineteenth-century France, based on a mastery of key primary and secondary literature.

Intellectual skills

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

  • Understand and articulate the contingent nature of relations between individuals, institutions, and ideas in particular social and economic contexts;
  • Effectively deploy primary sources in historical research in order to examine change over time;
  • Assess and adjudicate between methodologies from social, cultural, and economic history at an advanced level;
  • Formulate lucid presentations in written and oral form based on the results of their historical investigations.

Practical skills

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

  • Generate rigorous literature reviews; 

  • Locate, synthesize, and interpret relevant information from specialized databases and repositories;   

  • Develop informed historical argument and criticism in written and oral form; 

  • Provide respectful and productive feedback and support to peers and group members; 

  • Engage in articulate, evidence-based discussion. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

  • Work independently through individual research;
  • Compose reflective, considered, and well-structured pieces of writing;
  • Express themselves fluently in person and in writing, skills crucial for both academic work and career progress;
  • Engage confidently in hitherto unfamiliar modes of knowledge accumulation and communication;
  • Work responsibly and responsively toward deadlines and navigate the abilities and demands of fellow students respectfully through experience in cooperative activities.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
The written coursework will help students develop their abilities to craft and undertake independent research projects, to identify, locate, and synthesize evidence in a systematic fashion, and to hone analytical abilities – in other words, to carefully define a problem and plan and carry out a solution.
Group/team working
The assessed work and the feedback they receive will enable students to improve their ability to express themselves with clarity and confidence, as well as to finesse their interpersonal skills and ability to work as a member of a group.
The intellectual and knowledge skills will prepare students for employment in fields that demand appreciation of the complexity and specificity of institutional arrangements undergirding contemporary social and political relations. Because of its content, this course could be of particular use to students interested in civil service, politics, journalism, and other sites of policy-making. By developing expertise in locating and assessing different forms of evidence, it prepares students for employment in research-intensive fields from law to information management.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 45%
Written assignment (inc essay) 55%

Short Assignment (summative)  30%

Quizzes  (summative) 15%

Seminar Leadership (formative)

Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on assessed work; following History department policy all written feedback will provide ‘feed forward’ advice on improving future assignment / essay performance.
  • Additional one-to-one oral feedback on assessed work, presentations and class participation (during consultation hours or by making an appointment).

Recommended reading

Rebecca Spang, “Paradigms and Paranoia: How Modern is the French Revolution?” American Historical Review 108 no.1 (February 2003): 119-147 

François Furet, “The Tyranny of Revolutionary Memory,” in Bernadette Fort, ed. Fictions of the French Revolution (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1991) 

Jeremy Popkin, A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution (Wiley, 2011) 

Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution 

Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History (2007), Chapter One 

William Sewell, Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labour from the Old Regime to 1848 (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1980) 

Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (New York: Verso, 2015) 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Alexia Yates Unit coordinator

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