The product of twin journées d’études held at the Université de Poitiers and the Université de Rennes 2, this edited volume examines the surveillance committees of Western France during the French Revolution’s radical phase. Collecting twelve local studies across a short 153 pages, attempting both quantitative analysis and thick description of surviving regional archival sources, the volume calls attention to the complex internal dynamics of a region beset with the Vendée rebellion, Chouan guerilla fighting and diverse additional disturbances over the examined period of 1793–4. The surveillance committees achieved a meteoric rise, rapidly gaining the power of life or death over local administrators as the First Republic turned towards terror. Together, the volume’s contributions describe a region in which legitimacy and loyalty remained in flux—with revolutionary idealism, local pragmatism and counter-revolutionary enthusiasm all playing significant roles. The reader is left with the impression of what Bruno Hervé terms a ‘violente et multiforme’ space of civil war, in which each commune and village adapted to the strained circumstances of the time. More than any common pattern, as Gwénaël Murphy and Yves Pierronne describe in their contribution, each area pursued ‘initiatives locales particulières destinées avant tout à server la communauté villageoise’. Though the works here rarely directly discuss historiography, the influence of recent studies aiming to deconstruct ‘The Terror’ into more complex local realities is apparent. The contributions explore the committees across a combination of towns, departments and regions, with overlapping—albeit not matching—methodologies. The lack of ambition by the authors or editors to achieve (or attempt) synthesis, however, will probably frustrate most readers. The book features a two-page introduction, with the two of the editors very modestly describing its goal as providing a ‘pierre supplementaire’ for future research. The volume ends abruptly with no conclusion. Little is done to make the volume accessible to most readers. While apparently sceptical of grand narratives—probably influenced by Jean-Clément Martin’s many myth-exploding works on the region—the unwillingness to extrapolate from the detailed studies presented here appears a greater fault, with the volume running the danger of privileging localism and particularism for their own sakes. It is unclear—and perhaps unknown—to what edifice these bricks will be applied. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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