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Print Culture in France

In this seminar we will extend our gaze to France and compare the print culture and consumption there with the situation in Britain. We will take as our starting point some of the articles in Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the most significant text of the century, written with the express aim of changing the way people think. Using extracts from the work of historians such as Robert Darnton and Roger Chartier alongside the primary material will enable us to explore the consumption of knowledge in France in the second half of the 18th century and engage with the role of the enlightenment in a progressive desacralisation of the monarchy that found its apogee during the French Revolution. The second half of the seminar will explore the role of pamphlets and prints in the downfall of the monarchy in the early 1790s.

Session Leader


  1. How and where was print consumed in 18th-century France. Does this differ to Britain?
  2. How were print and political culture intertwined and how did this evolve during the Revolution?
  3. For Roy Porter, the Encyclopédie was the ‘Trojan horse of the ancien régime’ – discuss.
  4. How did print culture contribute to the desacralisation of the monarchy?
  5. How convincing are the arguments linking material culture and print culture to Revolution?

Required Reading

  • Diderot’s Encyclopédie: The entries for
    • Luxury
    • Philosopher
    • Intolerance
    • Commerce
    • France

To be consulted online in English at the collaborative translation project here: or in French at

  • Two chapters from The French Revolution: the essential readings by Ronald Schechter:
    • Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, pp.75-10

    • Robert Darnton, Forbidden bestsellers of pre-Revolutionary France, pp. 106-137

  • Two chapters from Queen of Fashion: What Marie-Antoinette wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber [please note that this is not in the library and that photocopies of the relevant chapter will be provided]
    • Chapter 8: Revolutionary redress, pp. 193-22

    • Chapter 9: True colours, pp.223-252

Further Reading

On France in the 18th century

  • Colin Jones, The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2002)
  • Henri Sée, ‘Economic and Social Conditions in France During the Eighteenth Century’, (originally published 1927)
  • William Sewell, ‘The Empire of fashion and the rise of capitalism in eighteenth-century France’, Past and Present 206 (2010), pp. 81-120.

 On the Encyclopédie

  • Daniel Brewer and Julie Hayes, Using the ‘Encyclopédie’: Ways of Knowing, Ways of Reading (Oxford, 2002)
  • Daniel Brewer, ‘Remembering the Encyclopédie’, SVEC 2005:10, pp.100-12
  • Robert Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the ‘Encyclopédie’ 1775-1800 (Cambridge, Mass., 1979)

On the book trade

  • Simon Burrows, Blackmail, scandal and Revolution (2006)
  • Dena Goodman, The Republic of letters: a cultural history of the French enlightenment (1994)
  • Haydn Mason (ed), The Darnton Debate : Books and Revolution in the Eighteenth Century (Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 359 (1988)
  • The French booktrade in the enlightenment database:

On the French Revolution

  • William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution (1989; new ed. 2003)
  • Gary Kates (ed.), The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies (1998)
  • John Sweetman, The Enlightenment and the Age of Revolution (1998)
  • Liberty, equality, fraternity, exploring the French Revolution (Censer, Hunt),

 On Marie-Antoinette

  • Writings on the body of a Queen, ed. by Dena Goodman (2003)
  • Chantal Thomas, The Wicked Queen: the Origins of the myth of Marie-Antoinette (1999)