Article

The French Revolution

Allan Potofsky

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online June 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0026
The French Revolution

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  • History of the Americas
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Was the French Revolution part of a single movement that historians conceptualize as the revolutionary Atlantic or was it a unique event? The history of the impact, consequences, and broader meaning of the French Revolution in the Atlantic is dominated by revolutionary exceptionalism. Much as with the English and American cases, exceptionalism attracted historians to focus exclusively on the Revolution, as a favored terrain, because of its nearly transcendental distinctiveness. It was the founding national moment for France, the West, and indeed, perhaps, of modernity itself. But such a historical perspective, centered on the uniqueness of the Revolution, also divorces events within the French métropole from an international context—to such an extent that, until very recently, scholars of the French Revolution rarely included the colonies and the Empire in their narrative of the incomparable events in France. The new French Atlantic paradigm, with its emphasis on colonization, slavery, native peoples, and anti-imperialism, opened Revolutionary-era studies to broader fields of inquiry. Moreover, rather than diminishing its meaning, a reexamination of the Revolution and the first French empire in the Americas reinforces the argument for the Revolution’s Atlantic significance. The revolutionary Atlantic was a movement of public opinion, protest, and representative institutions that grew out of independence and democratic movements spanning the ocean. Atlantic historians point not only to the French Revolution’s role in the rise of radical politics in the United States of the 1790s but also to its relationship with the less familiar Swiss, Dutch, Corsican, Polish, and Belgian revolts, as well as the Haitian revolution and Latin American independence movements. Most recently, historians examining these and other questions have viewed the issue of the Revolution abroad as the origin of modern French colonialism. International relations, commercial diplomacy, and the demands of war compelled the revolutionaries to broaden the global ambitions of revolutionary France with consequences up through the 19th century.

Article.  10226 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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