The authors of this fresh survey of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic watershed are old hands at providing accessible material on the subject and many university teachers will have used their Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution since its publication in 2001. This book considerably expands the scope to incorporate the Napoleonic period but, more significantly, its reach is global and, in that regard, it reflects the wide-ranging historiography of the past couple of decades. The cover, which depicts Bonaparte at the Battle of the Pyramids is indicative of what lies in store. Like its predecessor, this volume invites readers to make their own judgements by including some primary and secondary sources, though the earlier text had more space at its disposal since it was accompanied by a CD-ROM, which contained a good deal of imagery. By contrast, The French Revolution and Napoleon is constrained to a couple of dozen black and white illustrations, together with time-lines, documentation and questions to ponder at the end of each chapter. The print format is thus a more traditional one, but the content is equally challenging in so far as it situates the Revolution and Napoleon in an international context, replete with a good set of maps. Of course, many facets of the narrative will be familiar to those acquainted with this momentous epoch, for there are perforce accounts of the storming of the Bastille at the outset, and the final French defeat at Waterloo, with which it concludes. Nonetheless, recent research and current interpretations are well represented, with analysis of the earlier phases of the upheaval balanced by similar consideration of the often neglected, but innovatory post-Thermidorian period, and its Napoleonic sequel, which is all too rarely integrated into a single tome of this sort. Five of the six chapters accord substantial space to international relations, as well as military matters, and inevitably something had to give in order to encompass these dimensions. Social and provincial developments have been sacrificed to some extent by the authors, notwithstanding their own contributions in these areas, but a significant gender dimension has been retained. Specialists will always nit-pick in their particular domains and this reviewer inevitably noticed the absence of Marseille and Toulon from a map showing areas of resistance to the French Republic in 1793, like the absence of entries for regions and towns from the index, which do appear in the text. What might be lost locally has been gained in the detailed treatment of the transnational context, which looks east as well as west. Not only are a few pages attributed to Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, but there is reference to India and the East Indies besides. Indeed, South as well as North America also receives some welcome coverage, together with the turbulent Caribbean. Chapter one, on the origins of the French Revolution, is thus entitled ‘A world overturned’, while as the authors confirm in their conclusion ‘so many global consequences followed from a debt crisis created by the competition between Great Britain and France’. However, I am not persuaded that the relationship of France, in terms of the departments created in 1790, with the départements réunis, annexed as the Republic expanded into adjacent territory, can be accurately described as a colonial one. The term colonization conjures up later nineteenth-century connotations, and the comment that ‘Napoleon had in effect colonized much of Europe’ is accordingly problematic when applied to these years. Napoleonic imperialism has been explored in some depth by several British historians of late, though their work is not listed in the accompanying bibliography. To be sure, Michael Broers has identified cultural aspects of the phenomenon which he equates with a civilizing mission. No doubt there was some denigration of people newly absorbed into the French Empire, but that was also true of attitudes towards inhabitants of the Vendée, or other rebellious rural areas. The incorporation of the short-lived sister republics undoubtedly entailed exploitation, yet changes implemented in the Italian, Belgian, German and Dutch departments, which included the transplantation of French judicial and electoral systems, attracted allegiance from elements of the indigenous population. This was an empire of citizens, which did not differentiate between them and their French counterparts, but was informed by the ideology of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism as well as plain conquest. Still, the great merit of this book is to invite discussion, by bringing such essential perspectives to the attention of a broader readership, not least students, in an extremely helpful fashion. Once again, their teachers will be truly grateful. © 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 This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 27, 2018
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