Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Essay Questions

For essay deadlines, please see the Assessment page. Alternative questions to those listed may be agreed after discussion with the module tutor. Essays should run 1500 to 2000 words, no longer. Be sure to consult the Student Handbook regarding proper formating of citations. USE DOUBLE-SPACING, leaving room for comments. Please send a copy by email BUT ALSO LEAVE A HARDCOPY IN THE ENVELOP I'LL PLACE IN FRONT OF MY OFFICE, H3.37.

NB: Avoid approaching these questions as 'hoops' to jump through. Use them as springboards to craft an argument, or thesis.

  • Short Essay 1 (1500-2000 words) - Choose a question from List 1.
  • Short Essay 2 (1500-2000 words) - Choose a question from List 2.
  • Short Essay 3 (1500-2000 words) - Chose a question from List 3.

Short Essay: Term 1 (due on Friday of Week 7 at 5 pm)

  • What was 'public opinion' and did it contribute to the demise of the Old Regime?
  • Was the Enlightenment reformist or revolutionary? Be sure to consider various strands of Enlightenment thought.
  • With Tocqueville in mind (though you may take a critical stance regarding his intepretation), what relationship do you see between ideas and revolutionary action? Did violence radicalise ideas or did ideas unleash violence?
  • How would you characterise the political viewpoint of de Tocqueville in his Old Regime and the French Revolution: conservative, liberal, socialist? Based on your other readings, do you think his interpretation holds up in the current historiography? (Suggestion: you might focus on his discussion of Turgot and the Old Regime's economic policies... they may represent a weak point in the overall argument and, indeed, undermine it.)
  • Situate the film Ridicule with regard to your other readings. To what degree does it accurately depict the social, political and intellectual tensions of the Old Regime? Does it help us understand the frustrations expressed in the late Old Regime and French Revolution?
  • What is 'liberal authoritarianism' and does it aptly describe the period of the Directory (1795-1799) and Consulate (1799-1804)?
  • Explaining the origins of the French Revolution, historians refer to ‘the failure of reform’. How would you characterise this failure? Did the Old Regime fail to reform enough or did its reforms provoke revolution?
  • How did social and intellectual factors contribute to the French Revolution? Should one distinguish between the two or did they combine to bring down the Old Regime?
  • How did the Enlightenment figure in the French Revolution? This question prompts you to define what ‘the Enlightenment’ was and to discern between the Revolution’s origins and its course.
  • Why the Terror? How did a revolution about political representation and human rights lead to chronic insurrections and guillotines? What critical stance do you take in the historical debate on the Terror’s origins?
  • Why did the French Revolution fail to produce a stable political regime in the early 19th century? When would you date the Revolution’s end: 1799, 1815, 1880?

Short Essays: List 2

  • Was nineteenth-century Paris the "capital of modernity"?
  • Did the Paris Commune (1871) emerge primarily as a result of the Franco-Prussian War or longer term social conflict?
  • What were the aims of Haussmannisation and what were its ultimate effects?
  • How convincing is Eugen Weber’s analysis of the ‘modernisation’ of rural France (1870-1914)?
  • How would you characterise the regime of Napoleon III? Authoritarian, liberalising, socially progressive, utopian, cynical? Be sure to consider change over time.
  • What insights does Balzac's Père Goriot give us into 19th century class society in France? You should tack back and forth between the novel and the historical literature in crafting your argument.
  • Situate the Commune of 1871 within the revolutionary tradition. What continuities and ruptures do you see in it?
  • In what ways did art and literature contribute to advancing republican culture in nineteenth century France?
  • To what extent had France become a consumer society by the end of the nineteenth century?
  • How effectively did Republicans implement their political vision in France and its colonies between 1848 and 1914?
  • Why did notions of degeneracy become linked to gender and sexuality in fin-de-siècle France?
  • Did the Dreyfus Affair expose existing divisions within French society or create new ones?

Short Essays: List 3

  • How unified was French society during World War I?
  • Why did France fall in 1940? •
  • What explains collaboration? Discuss with reference to both the Vichy regime and the Paris-based collaborationists.
  • Why were women’s heads shaved during the Liberation of France?
  • Why did technology and national identity become so entwined in post-1945 France?
  • To what extent did decolonization re-shape France?
  • 'May 1968 fundamentally transformed French society'. Discuss.
  • ‘It has become a truism to observe that historical films tell us as much, and often more, about the era in which they are made than the one they choose to portray’ (Greene). Discuss with reference to Lacombe Lucien or The Sorrow and the Pity.
  • Has the French republican model of integration failed? Discuss with reference to World Cup 1998, the banning of veils in schools, and the 2005 riots.

Assessed Long Essay (4,500 words)

You should finalize your long essay title by the end of the Spring Term at the very latest. If possible, try to incorporate a couple of primary sources into your long essay - the reading lists for most weeks include primary sources.