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The French Revolution, 1774-1799 (HI31J): Assessment and Contact Hours

Methods of Assessment


Oral participation/presentations and engagement (10%)

1500 word dialogue-debate on the French Revolution (10%) TERM 1, week 7

3000 word primary source-related essay (40%) TERM 2, week 5

3000 word essay (40%), either primary source-related or historiographical TERM 3, week 3


Participation, Presentations and Engagement (10%)


Each week, certain students will lead the discussion with short ten-minute presentations on one or more of the readings. The aim is to identify the key issues and problems in the texts. We will assign weeks at the start of each term.

This mark will be assessed according to the following criteria:

            • Attendance (note: marks will be deducted for unauthorized absences! Please make sure that you contact your tutor if you cannot attend a seminar).
            • Preparation - Evidence shows preparation for the seminar (has prepared notes and/or recalls the readings without the use of the open text).
            • Engagement and Initiative - Quality of engagement is active, respectful and inclusive; participation in discussions; engagement with others; taking own initiative ask questions
            • Oral Presentations and Discussion - Quality reflects knowledge, comprehension and application of the readings; Quality involves the ability to listen and respond to peers and to offer analysis, synthesis and evaluation.


Types of Essays and Guidance

For the primary-source and historiography essays below, please read Mary Lynn Rampolla’s brief summaries here.

First Essay: A dialogue between a liberal and a Marxist

Imagine that Alexis de Tocqueville and Albert Soboul are sitting at a café or pub and having a heated debate about the French Revolution. Assume that they are familiar with each other’s interpretations and perhaps those of the historians we’ve encountered in the seminar. How might their discussion go? Perhaps a Warwick student enrolled in a French Revolution module overhears their discussion from a nearby table and joins in at the end with some opinions.

You should adopt the form of a dialogue:

Tocqueville: bla bla 

Soboul: yada yada

Student: hey, you're both wrong!

De Tocqueville and Soboul are unlikely to have texts with them, so they are more likely to paraphrase than quote. But you (the author) should footnote any specific points so that I can identify where you derived them. (You don’t have to footnote overarching views, which run throughout their texts -- just specific points and facts.) While your dialogue should focus primarily on the debate, feel free to embroider the episode with the reference to their immediate surroundings or current events (but don't get too carried away).


The aim of the dialogue is to show that you can grasp and compare core historiographical arguments about the French Revolution. To what degree do your characters offer different answers to the same question? To what degree are they asking different questions or speaking past each other? Since the dialogue must be short (1500 words), your characters will probably focus on one area of debate. Be sure to avoid ‘academese’, i.e., turgid and wordy prose. Remember: they’re chatting in a café or pub.

Assessment is based on the depth and nuance of your understanding of these two major interpretive currents and your ability to identify points of tension. How would the ‘liberal’ de Tocqueville find fault with the Marxist Soboul, and vice-versa? Where might they agree?


Essay 2: Primary Source Analysis

Select a primary source, or set of sources, and analyse them closely. You will want to

  • Formulate a good question – one that allows you to tease out the significance of your source(s) on several levels. Look for tensions, contradictions, paradoxes. What is puzzling in the source? What begs explanation?
  • Formulate a thesis – an overarching argument under which all of your analytical points logically fit.
  • Situate your analysis within the historiography. How does your analysis build on or differ from current interpretations?

What counts as a primary source?

Those in the document collections we’ve been consulting throughout the year.

  • Be sure to look at ‘Bibliography’ from the module homepage. There is a section on primary sources and document collections.
  • Find your own sources, online or in the library.
  • You may use a novel or film from a different time period. But be sure to historicise it in its own context. For example, if you write on Renoir’s La Marseillaise film of 1937, then you’ll want to explore what the French Revolution meant to the director or audiences in the 1930s – how the legacy of the French Revolution was being used in a specific historical context.

Short essays may be chosen from the list below or, with the prior consent of the module tutor, designed by students themselves. All essays should address key historiographical questions and/or explore relevant primary sources.

Essay 3: Historiographical or primary-source analysis

A historiographical essay assesses the historical literature surrounding a certain topic or theme, focusing on arguments and methods. The aim is to provide readers with clear understanding of current interpretations while critiquing their methods, arguments and perhaps assumptions underlying them. Ultimately, your analysis should point towards more fruitful lines of inquiry. For a primary-source analysis, follow the instructions in Essay 2.

Writing Aids

History is part proof, part persuasion. If you write poorly, you won't convince your readers. Worse, you might frustrate or lose them, even if you have lots of research. There are many good style manuals for non-fiction writing. They can be quite fun to read. Once you become aware of what makes a sentence vague and clunky, you will be on your way to writing with greater clarity and grace. You'll be more likely to win over readers, even if they disagree with you.


William Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style. A classic since the 1920s. Very short but covers the fundamentals.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, in many edition. Quite entertaining to read. Will help make your prose sparkle.

Joseph M. Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, many editions. Great for learning how to write cohesively.

Contact Hours

Student contact hours for this final-year undergraduate Special Subject module will be comprised as follows:

Seminars: Eighteen two-hour seminars
Tutorials: Four hours of feedback and long essay preparation
Other: Two two-hour revision sessions
Total: Forty-four hours