Light and Terror: The Enlightenment and Revolutionary France


Spring 2016 quarter

Taught by

European history

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.  Students will have the opportunity to earn credit in European history, political philosophy, literature, and art history.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

history, literature, art history, philosophy, and cultural studies.

Academic Website

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day

Advertised schedule: First spring class meeting: Tuesday, March 29 at 10am (Sem 2 C3109)


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.


Date Revision
December 4th, 2015 This program will now accept enrollment at all class levels.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Spring)

Variable Credit Options

12 credits possible for students who wish to also enroll in a language class in EWS.

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 75% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 25


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 30117
Fr - Sr (1-16 credits): 30118
So - Sr (16 credits): 30251

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