This is a brief but comprehensive overview of the French Revolution from its social causes through the Napoleonic experience. The straightforward design allows readers to explore various aspects of the Revolution and access more than 600 primary source documents. One can access the database by using any of three options: Explore, Browse, and Search.
“Explore” arranges the content chronologically and topically into 12 chapters. Each chapter (two to eight pages) highlights important aspects of the period and serves as an introduction to a particular grouping of primary sources. The first eight chapters are written by historians Jack R. Censer and Lynn Hunt, both leading scholars in the social and cultural interpretation of the Revolution. It should be noted that several of these chapters shed light on topics that are sometimes underrepresented in textbooks (and even specialized texts), such as “The Enlightenment and Human Rights,” “Women and the Revolution,” and “Slavery and the Haitian Revolution.”
The final two chapters, “How to Read Images” and “Songs of the Revolution,” written by Philippe Bordes and Laura Mason respectively, not only give students and teachers tips on interpreting these primary sources, but provide the visitor with an opportunity to see and hear aspects of Revolutionary France through attached images and QuickTime audio files. The text is complemented in the left margin by a selection of representative images and links to more images, songs, a glossary of terms, and translations of various historical documents. Clicking on these links brings up a new screen containing the document and a brief introduction to that specific document, song, or image.
The “Browse” and “Search” modes, however, are really the highlight of this website. Clicking on “Browse” allows the reader to view the collection by category: images (250), texts (350), maps (13), songs (13), timeline, and glossary. “Search” allows the reader to search the database by keyword, topic, and resource type. Through either of these two search modes, teachers and students can quickly and efficiently survey the nature of the collection or find specific resources to aid study of the era.
While the site could be a valuable resource for any secondary or college student, it can be an invaluable resource to teachers. Each of the 350 documents can be printed out, and the images allow the reader to print, download, or email the resources. These options allow for numerous classroom uses, whether adding a visual or a song to complement a lesson or presentation or using the primary source as the basis of a lesson itself.
This last option is especially valuable to Advanced Placement teachers who want to assemble their own document-based questions. For example, if a teacher wanted to assemble a set of documents examining the economic conditions of the peasantry, the search options produce nine potential resources, six documents, and three images. Four of the documents and all of the images describe conditions on the eve of the Revolution, and with the addition of teacher-generated questions, they could produce a wonderfully focused examination of the conditions of the French peasantry during the last years of the ancien régime.
It is this type of versatility, coupled with the topical essays and the intuitive design of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity that makes this site a welcome resource for teachers of European history and world history (and their students).