Skip to main content Skip to navigation


Themes in Modern History - Class

This seminar will use Lynn Hunt’s seminal monograph Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution to question the analytic status of ‘class’ in understanding revolutionary activity. Hunt’s monograph, published in 1984, was a response to established Marxist debates on the French Revolution; initially conceived as a study of the bourgeoisie, her examination of the language and symbols used by revolutionary actors expanded the notion of the political and marked the beginning of the ‘cultural turn’. We will discuss the degree to which Hunt’s analysis challenges the utility of the concept of class in narratives of revolution (a debate echoed in accounts of Russia in 1917), and consider the implications of the ‘cultural turn’ for the study of modern history.

Seminar Questions:

How does Hunt characterize the Marxist approach to the study of the French Revolution? What does she find to criticize in this approach?

How does Hunt deploy the category of ‘political culture’ in her study of the revolution? What relationship does she see between political culture and class?

What can the study of language and symbols add to our understanding of the experience of class, and of revolution?

In what ways does Hunt view the French Revolution as the ‘watershed of the modern era’?

What are the implications of the cultural turn for the study of class in history?

Core Reading: Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution (University of California Press, 1984)

Further Reading:

  • Geoff Eley and Keith Nield, Chapter II. ‘Social History and the Discursive Move’, in their book The Future of Class in History: What’s Left of the Social? (University of Michigan Press, 2007), 19-56.
  • Richard Biernacki, ‘Method and Metaphor after the New Cultural History’, in Victoria E. Bonnell and Lynn Hunt (eds), Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society and Culture (University of California Press, 1999), 62-94.
  • Lewis Siegelbaum and Ronald Suny (eds.), Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class and Identity (Cornell University Press, 1994), esp. chapters by Mark D. Steinberg and Gabor T. Rittersporn.
  • Orlando Figes and Boris Kolonitskii, Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917 (Yale University Press, 1999), esp. Introduction, Chapter 4.