Light and Terror: The Enlightenment and Revolutionary France
Spring 2016 quarter
This program explores the links between the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution. We start with a study of ancien régime French society, beginning with the reign of Louis XIV, and then turn to Enlightenment critics of the monarchy and its nobles. Finally, we explore the French Revolution from its beginnings with the fall of the Bastille through the violent days of the Terror and the rise of the powerful Napoleonic Empire. Throughout, a main question will be: to what extent did the political theory, philosophy, and literature of Voltaire, Rousseau, and their more humble “Grub Street” imitators influence the course of the Revolution?
To aid our inquiries, we will read literature of all stripes, from the lofty Persian Letters by Montesquieu to the sexual intrigue of Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons to the frankly bawdy popular pamphlets satirizing the life of Marie Antoinette. We will study the political theory of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu. We will examine the fine arts, including paintings from Watteau to David, as well as architecture and decorative style. Finally, we will cement our studies with a variety of texts on social, cultural, intellectual, and gender history—both secondary works and primary sources—that will allow us to uncover the lives and passions of common folk throughout this tumultuous time.
Students will work with both primary source material and secondary scholarly essays. They will complete intensive writing assignments, lead seminars, and give oral presentations.
Credit earned in European history, political philosophy, literature, and art history.
Fields of Study
Preparatory for studies or careers in
Location and Schedule
Offered during: Day