What social, political, and economic conditions led to the end of the Old Regime?
Second edition. December 2019.
PREVIEW THIS UNIT. Preview includes the table of contents, a student reading excerpt, and one lesson plan. PREVIEW ALL UNITS.
Teachers: Are you using the first edition of this unit from 2009? If so, please contact us at choices@brown.edu for some information about the unit. We strongly recommend using the second edition. 

The profound effects of the French Revolution stretch across borders and time. In France, it transformed the relationship between the people and the government. It ended an absolute monarchy, and challenged the power of the church and hereditary nobles. Over the next century, these ideas would begin to take root in other parts of Europe and across the world as well. The Revolution also raised profound questions that remain relevant today. Why did the effort to establish a democratic system fail? Why did the new republican government resort to violence and repression? The French Revolution traces the history of France during this epoch. Students explore France’s political and social organization, its competition for empire, its financial crises, and the efforts to reshape French society. An exciting central lesson helps students bring to life the political debate in France in 1789 and 1790.

The French Revolution traces the history of France from the reign of Louis XVI to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. The unit focuses on the social, political, and economic conditions that led to the end of the Old Regime and helps students consider why the attempt to establish democratic institutions failed. The unit is divided into three parts. Each part includes:

  • Student readings
  • Accompanying study guides, graphic organizers, and key terms
  • Lessons aligned with the readings that develop analytical skills and can be completed in one or more periods
  • Videos that feature leading experts

This unit also includes an Options Role Play as the key lesson and additional synthesis lessons that allow students to synthesize new knowledge for assessment. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to pick and choose what suits your classroom needs.

“The French Revolution unit was great for discussion purposes. It is a different way of approaching historical material and brings the students to the forefront of the activities.” – Karen, Digital Editions User

Part I: France Under the Old Regime

In Part I, the social, political, and economic conditions of France in the 18th century are presented. There is one lesson aligned with Part I: French Society Under the Old Regime.

Part II: Crisis and Change – 1774-1789

Part II looks at the deepening crisis in France in 1774-189, including the economic crisis, the Estates General, and the Fall of the Bastille. There is one lesson aligned with Part II: The Fall of the Bastille.

Part III: A Revolution, a Republic, and the Terror

Part III discusses revolutionary France after 1789, and the results of the promises of liberty and equality. The legacies of the French Revolution are also examined. There are no lessons aligned with Part III.


French Society Under the Old Regime

Students explore the idea of social class and take on the roles of various segments of French society in a mock television interview.

The Fall of the Bastille

Students examine the cause and effect relationships leading to the taking of the Bastille.

Role-Playing the Three Options

The Options Role Play is the key lesson in the unit, and it asks students to examine three distinct options for the future of France as seen through the eyes of French citizens in 1789-90.

Illustrating the French Revolution

Synthesis Lesson: Students create a graphic short story by identifying and illustrating critical events of the Revolution.

The Trial of Louis XVI

Synthesis Lesson: Students use primary sources to consider the arguments and issues around the trial of Louis XVI.

Assessment Using Documents: The Causes of the French Revolution

Synthesis Lesson: Students analyze various conflicting sources on why and how the French Revolution occurred.

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