Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST21A1: Living the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire

Department: History

HIST21A1: Living the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level 1 module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to historiographical approaches to, and debates on, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire.
  • To enable students to develop knowledge of French Revolutionary and Napoleonic culture and society.
  • To develop students’ ability to engage critically with advanced historiography and primary sources.


  • This module will introduce students to the cultural and social history of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire. Since the ‘cultural turn’ of the 1980s, historians have explored a range of new perspectives on the Revolution, recognising culture as a key component of the social and political change that occurred. Drawing on scholarship ranging from analysis of political rhetoric to the study of revolutionary theatre, from women’s political participation to new models of the family—or cutting-edge work on racial difference and the colonial experience—we can now ask: ‘what did it mean to live through the French Revolution and Empire?’
  • Meanwhile, the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death in 2021 has renewed debates on his character and that of his empire: was the First French Empire indispensable for the development of modern France and Europe and their institutions, or was it a callous betrayal of French Revolutionary values, re-establishing slavery and patriarchy?
  • Students will be invited to explore different approaches to the study of this period and to engage critically with historiographical debates on revolutionary and Napoleonic culture and society, so that they might contribute to ongoing debates on the legacy of this period.
  • The module focuses primarily on France, but situates it in its transnational and global context, with particular reference to the French Atlantic colonies and Napoleonic Europe.
  • Seminars and lectures will address topics such as gender, war, religion and festivals, race, print culture, childhood, and emotions.
  • Students will analyse a range of primary sources, developing the skills necessary to develop their own lines of inquiry and to make meaningful scholarly contributions.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge and understanding of the social and cultural history of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire.
  • Understanding of relevant historiographical debates and approaches.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to analyse a range of primary sources from or relating to the Revolutionary/Napoleonic era.
  • Ability to construct reasoned arguments and to engage critically with ongoing historiographical and public debates on the period and its legacy.
Key Skills:
  • Building on and developing skills gained at Level 1
  • Deepening and extending historical understanding through focused, concentrated modules
  • Developing precision, depth of understanding, and conceptual awareness

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • Lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective notetaking and reflection;
  • Seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
  • Assessment:
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources. The additional summative assignments will test knowledge and skills specific to the module, such as analysis of relevant primary sources, or critical engagement with the historiography as demonstrated through book reviews and article abstracts.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 16 Term 1 1 16
Seminars 7 Term 1 1 7
Preparation and Reading 176
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or Assignments 1,000 words total, not including footnotes and bibliography where relevant 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative benefits from the 1,000-word summative assignment and from work done during and in preparation for seminars.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University