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The French Revolution remains one of the most analysed and debated of historical events. It lies at the foundations of the modern world, but it also presents national and human dramas of such magnitude that never cease to excite and fascinate historians. The meanings of events and their significance are still argued-the storming of the Bastille, the execution of the king, the violence and bloodshed of the Terror, war with the European monarchies. The revolution's ideological ambitions also lie at the foundations of modern political thought. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and its principles of liberty and equality, expressed the fundamental principles of liberal democratic societies today and the aspirations of peoples who still suffer oppression.
In this unit, students will be asked to think about how societies reform themselves, how men and women get caught up in great events and are transformed by them, and how great ideals both inspire and corrupt. Students will examine the critical turning points of revolutionary France between the decision of King Louis XVI to introduce much delayed reform in 1789 and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, a decade that plunged France into war and turmoil and transformed Europe and the world. Students will consider the causes and consequences of events, and why historians differ in their interpretations. The ideological principles that inspired the revolutionaries will be considered alongside their actions when in power. The unit will consider such questions as whose revolution was it? Who gained their liberty and what did it mean for them? Were all truly equal if women were not citizens and slaves remained enslaved?
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