(HIST 276) This course covers the emergence of modern France. Topics include the social, economic, and political transformation of France; the impact of France's revolutionary heritage, of industrialization, and of the dislocation wrought by two world wars; and the political response of the Left and the Right to changing French society.
This class was recorded in Fall 2007.
01 - Introduction
Professor Merriman lists the books on the syllabus, and offers a brief précis of each of them. Three of the principal themes of the course will be national identity, linguistic identity, and the consequences of the two world wars. Although the course will consider some well-known historical figures, such as Hitler and de Gaulle, it will also examine the individual histories of ordinary people.
02 - The Paris Commune and Its Legacy
The Paris Commune of 1871 remained a potent force in Europe for several generations afterwards. The reprisals following the fall of the Commune anticipated the great massacres of the twentieth century. While the brief reign of the communards witnessed serious adversity in the form of food shortages and disease, it also presided over many progressive social measures, such as the relative emancipation of women. The brutality of the army's actions against the communards would cast a pallor over leftist politics in Europe for decades to come.
03 - Centralized State and Republic
Despite various attempts at reform, France remains the most centralized state in Europe. The organization of the country around the Parisian center was originally a consequence of the French Revolution, which gave birth to the departmental regions. These regions have retained an oppositional relationship towards the metropolitan center. In 1875, an enduring republic was formed despite the competing claims of the Comte de Chambord and the Orleanists. This republic owed its founding largely to support from workers and peasants in the various non-Parisian departments.
04 - A Nation? Peasants, Language, and French Identity
The problematic question of when people in France began to consider themselves part of a French nation, with a specifically French national identity, has often been explained in terms of the modernizing progress of the French language at the expense of regional dialects. In fact, the development of French identity in rural France can be seen to have taken place alongside a continued tradition of local cultural practices, particularly in the form of patois. French identity must be understood in terms of the relationship between the official discourse of the metropolitan center and the unique practices of the country's regions, rather than in terms of the unambiguous triumph of the former over the latter.
05 - Workshop and Factory
Religion in France after the Revolution can be understood in terms of two forms of de-Christianization. The first of these is political, and takes place in the de jure separation of church and state. The second is a decline in religious practice among individual citizens. While the history of the former change is well documented, the latter is a more ambiguous phenomenon. Despite the statistical decline in religious participation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Catholicism in particular continues to play a significant role in the cultural imagination, or imaginaire, of many French people.
06 - The Waning of Religious Authority
The Industrial Revolution in France is often said to have been entirely overshadowed by British industrial development. This analysis is inaccurate because it ignores the significance of domestic and other non-factory occupations. Indeed, it was the class of artisan workers, rather than industrial factory workers, who were first responsible for the organization of labor movements. One of the great innovations of the factory was the imposition of industrial discipline, against which many workers rebelled, often in the form of strikes.
The other criticisms here have merit; he injects an unnecessary strong political bias into the lectures as well as relying too much on personal experience. However, there isn't much in the way of alternatives on iTunes U and I still found the lectures entertaining and informative, especially the pre-WW2 portion.
This class works as a fun, entertaining series of stand alone lectures. If you do the reading, which I did not, it’s must be a pretty comprehensive overview with some interesting in-depth work particularly on Zola and the Resistance. As is, I found that the lectures are perfect companions on long walks—always fluent with a light touch and dozens of interesting asides and stories.
On a deeper level, I went into these lectures with a philosopher’s systematizing and abstract inclinations and a personal experience of frustration with history classes and historians’ desultory interests and methods. In other words, I was a pretty bad history student despite interest in the subject matter. I didn’t fit in. This class was a tonic. Yes, it’s often oblique and anecdotal, but Professor Merriman’s deep love of the subject matter, personal connection to France, and wearing of his hippie heart on his sleeve gave me my first sense of history as a humanistic field. It’s no coincidence that Merriman is especially strong on biography and social movements; he sees history and politics at the human scale in all its contingency, fallibility, dignity, and glorie.
Only 24 lectures? I want more! This is no dry, chronological recitation of events. This is a passionate, detailed and personal account of French history and culture. Some reviewers object to his political point of view. One of the things I love about France is that it is not a social faux pas to admit to having a political opinion. And it is nice to hear someone with a “far left” perspective, although he did not seem so far left to me. There are conservative historians out there. Alistair Horne, for example, who has been called “George Bush’s favorite historian” has written numerous books on French history.
Inspired by this class, I just started reading Merriman’s book on the Paris Commune. Vive la France! Vive la commune!