What social, political, and economic conditions led to the end of the Old Regime?
First edition. September 2009.

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 in today’s world. 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 activity helps students bring to life the debate in France in 1789 and 1790.


Three readings explore the history of France from the reign of Louis XVI to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Part I of the reading traces the contours of French social and political life during the Old Regime. Students examine the economic conditions facing the French people, the role of social classes and of the Roman Catholic Church, and see how political decisions were made. They are also introduced to the ideas of the Enlightenment. Part II examines the events leading to the 1789 revolution. Students consider the domestic and international origins of upheaval and change in France during this period. A final reading examines the failed effort to create a republic, analyzes the Terror, and helps students consider the significance of the Revolution.


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

Students participate in a simulation in which they assume the roles of members of the National Constituent Assembly and the French people debating their future.

Illustrating the French Revolution

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

The Trial of Louis XVI

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

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Andress, David. The French Revolution and the People. (Hambledon and London: London, 2004) 301 pages.

Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) 466 pages.

Hunt, Lynn. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History. (Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1996) 150 pages.

Mason, Laura and Tracy Rizzo. The French Revolution: A Document Collection. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999) 357 pages.

Tackett, Timothy. Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture. (1789-1790) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996) 355 pages.

Walzer, Michael. Regicide and Revolution: Speeches at the Trial of Louis XVI. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992) 257 pages.

The library has an online collection of contemporary prints and political cartoons from the French Revolution.
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