The French Revolution: 1789-1799
Unit Plan For AP European History
by P. Joshua Hatala
This unit on the French Revolution is intended for an advanced placement European history course. My reasoning for this is that while the unit covers the essentials of the French Revolution it also moves into territory that may be too advanced for a typical tenth grade Global Studies classroom. The type of school for which this unit is intended is of little consequence because, presumably, all students taking advanced placement classes will be at a similar readiness level. The only place where trouble could arise is in the assigned essay which involves revisions and peer review- this will require a number of copies of the essay to be written on and discarded which will mean students will have to have access to a computer and be able to save and print files.
The unit will investigate many of the questions about the French Revolution, and revolutions in general, that have been explored by professional historians of the French Revolution. For instance, a Marxist perspective will be used to evaluate the origins of the revolution and the rise of the bourgeoisie, a framework that reflects the interpretation of many mid-twentieth century historians. Additionally, the idea of “two revolutions” taking place at parallel levels – popular and bourgeois- is reflective of some scholarship since the 1990s, while an emphasis on the culture of the revolution (art, architecture, religion, etc.) for better understanding the event is a product of the rise of cultural history in the 1980s. In brief, the way the unit is designed is an attempt to reflect trends in the historiography of the French Revolution over the years as well as to have students understand the hard facts in the process.
My reason for choosing this topic is primarily the importance the “prototype” the French Revolution became for subsequent revolutions- namely the Russian and the Chinese. Through a study of the character and stages of the French Revolution students can have a firmer grasp on their study of revolutions broadly speaking. The forms of the French Revolution are echoed throughout history, making them invaluable to a study of history. The French Revolution also gives us the origins of the modern world and later movements for equality and liberty and stands in contrast to the American Revolution even with both pulling from the same Enlightenment principles.
Students approaching the French Revolution will already have knowledge of key Enlightenment principles and philosophies and should take pleasure in seeing them unfold in politics and cultural transformation in sometimes unexpected ways. A foundation in the Enlightenment as well as European history since 1500 will allow students to see great changes over time and their culmination in the events of 1789-1799.
French Revolution Unit Desired Results
During the course of the unit students will understand that the French Revolution had roots in political, economic, and social unrest, as well as the ideas of the Enlightenment. An understanding of the interplay of political, social, intellectual, and economic forces that transform society will be developed, paying attention to the fact that France experienced large scale change over a ten year period. Students will also understand the interaction of individuals, groups of people, and ideas in the making of the French Revolution as well as the contributions of these people and factors in influencing the Revolution’s changing character from 1789 to 1799.
- Students will investigate, using their interpretations of primary and secondary sources, how the Enlightenment played a role in developing notions of nationalism and republicanism for the French people.
- Students will evaluate the economic, political, social and cultural climate of Old Regime France and explain how this climate was conducive to revolution.
- Students will compare the character of the French Revolution to that of the American Revolution.
- Students will examine the origins and development of modern democratic forms of government, political equality, and the separation of powers in France.
- Students will predict the outcomes of Jacobin proposals- especially the uses of terror as proposed by Robespierre.
- Students will apply frameworks employed by historians to interpret the beginning states of the French Revolution.
- What is a Revolution? What causes revolutions?
- To what extent did Enlightenment thinking play a role in the Revolution? To what extent did economics, class antagonisms, and politics?
- Were the original aims of the revolutionaries achieved?
- In what ways did the revolution change over time?
- Can violence bring about political change and is it effective?
- To what extent does philosophy and ideology play a role in political change?
- Was Napoleon a rejection of the revolution, its continuation, or its completion?
Students will know:
- Key terms: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd estates, Louis XIV and XVI, bourgeoisie, Abbe Sieyes, parlement, Old Regime, Absolute Monarchy, philosophes, Estates General, National Assembly, National Convention, Terror, Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat, Jacobins, Counter Revolution, Girondins, Napoleon, Napoleonic Code, Jacque-Louis David, “Grub Street”, Palais Royale, Guillotine, a number of Enlightenment Philosophers who can be tied to the Revolution, Thermidor, De-Christianization, Versailles.
- The characteristics of the stages of the French Revolution- Liberal/Moderate, Terror, Reactionary, Napoleonic.
- The French Revolution was not static, but evolved and changed in character over time.
- There were stages to the French Revolution: bourgeois and popular.
- The French Revolution was not just a political shift, but at times was an attempt to remake most of society’s long-standing institutions.
Students will be able to:
- Investigate multiple perspectives on the origins of the French Revolution, being able to synthesize, reject, or support one or many of these perspectives.
- Read and interpret primary sources connected to the Enlightenment that had an impact on the French Revolution.
- Read and interpret primary sources from the four stages of the Revolution, placing them historically and in relation to each other.
- Interpret some of the art of the French Revolution as reflecting the period of the Revolution.
- Explore essential questions mentioned above using supporting primary and secondary sources.
Assessments for French Revolution Unit
- The Origins of the French Revolution: Students develop an essay (5 pages) over the course of the unit that answers the question, “What were the origins of the French Revolution? Which of these two or three factors – political, social, economic, or intellectual- should be seen as the most crucial in creating the revolution?” On day one, students will be given sources to read, both primary and secondary, including the text-book. These texts will be built into our class-work on the origins and early stages of the French Revolution, but will also carry over to the essay.
Day Three: Students will hand in a two to three sentence thesis statement.
Day Four: Students will hand in an outline and introductory paragraph that expands on thesis.
Day Eight: Students will bring rough drafts to class.
Day Ten: Final papers will be due.
- On days two, three, and five, students will be asked to answer “exit ticket” questions at the end of class. These will be given grades of “check” “check plus” or “check minus” and will be handed back the following class. Check plus indicates good work, check indicates adequate, and check minus indicates poor work. The “exit tickets” will ask questions to see if students see changes taking place in the revolution and will be based around primary sources, art, and material culture. The questions will uncover knowledge of key terms, ideas, and the changing character of the French Revolution.
- A visual/graphic representations of the Terror Vs. the time of Thermidor.
- On day four students will be asked to write a letter from the perspective of a working-class Parisian to a relative in the countryside during the Revolution describing the events taking place as he/she sees them. All key terms will be used to describe what is taking place in Paris.
- Two “Do now” exercises that are later used as a type of exit ticket
- An exercise on the three estates, as mentioned in the lesson plan on the three estates, will be used as instruction and assessment. Each group of students will be evaluated on how well they present the perspective of each estate. Similar assessments will be done in class to evaluate the terror. Students will be put into groups, group one representing those for the terror, group two opposed to the terror. The same defenses will have to be made based on arguments from primary sources.
- One final test will be given when the unit is complete which will include short answers, one out of three essays, and identifying key terms. The test will evaluate student understanding of themes, key figures, stages of the revolution, origins of the revolution, and the question of whether the revolution was a success.
- Monitoring of student work and Socratic seminar.
Student Self-Assessment and Reflection:
- On day eight students will be put in small group to critique each other’s rough drafts. Revisions will be done in class based on this peer and self-assessment.
Day One: Students will understand the various factors that work to create revolutions, analyzing primary source documents representing the Three Estates of Old Regime France and the tensions that existed between these estates. France’s economic climate will also be investigated as a cause for disaffection with the Old Regime.
Day Two: With the previous lesson’s tensions in mind, the calling of the Estates-General by Louis XVI to settle financial matters will be investigated. Who was represented at the Estates-General? What were the objections of the Third Estate? How were these objections manifested by representatives of the Third Estate? A Marxist interpretation of the rise of the Bourgeoisie will be used by students as a framework for understanding the class antagonisms that existed between the Bourgeoisie and the Nobility.
Day Three: Enlightenment thought, the National Assembly, and the American Revolution in comparison. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Constitution of the United States will be analyzed. What are the differences and similarities?
Day Four: The revolution kicks off. The National Assembly, the storming of the Bastille and the mobs taking to the streets. How are these sans-culottes different from the bourgeoisie? What do they have in common? The early stages of the Revolution will be investigated: Abolition of Feudalism, Women’s March to Versailles, The Great Fear.
Day Five: The origins of the radical phase of the revolution. Robespierre’s argument for the death of the king and terror as well as Jacobin and Girondin conflicts will be studied through Robespierre’s writings. What was the justification for the terror?
Day Six: The Reign of Terror will be more fully explored through a film on the terror. Students will consider: What were the aims of the revolutionaries? Were they really rooting out enemies? Were the violence and terror compatible with the founding principles of the republic?
Day Seven: An exploration of the Rousseauist concept of the “Republic of Virtue” as manipulated by Robespierre. The idea of creating “new men” will be explored against the backdrop of cultural upheavel orchestrated by the Committee for Public Safety. Can human nature change?
Day Eight: Peer-editing of paper rough drafts.
Day Nine: The death of Robespierre, the desire for security and the road to Napoleon.
Day Ten: Napoleon comes to power in 1799, ten years from the beginning of the revolution. Students will consider the question, did Napoleon complete the revolution or were his policies a departure from it?
French Revolution Unit Day One
Established Goals: Students will understand the various factors that work to create revolutions.
- Students will analyze the social, political, intellectual, cultural and economic climate of Old Regime France, seeing how each of these factors helped lead to revolution
- Students will describe the character and desires of the first, second, and third estates and their relation to each other
Essential Questions: What factors can lead to revolution? To what extent did the Enlightenment play a role in the Revolution? To what extent did economics, class antagonisms, and politics?
Students Will Know:
- Key terms- 1st, 2nd, and 3rd estates, Louis XVI, Abbe Sieyes, Old Regime, Absolute Monarchy, philosophes.
- The impact of the famines of the 1780s and debt of France
- That the enlightenment helped contribute to the climate of change
- Students will do an “exit ticket” writing at the end of class to be handed in. Four of the key terms mentioned above must be used in answering the question, “What were the different positions towards monarchy in Old Regime France? What did the third estate want, and why?” Notes and handouts may be used.
- Put pie chart on board representing the percentages of the three estates
- Mini-lecture on France’s debt and famine during the Old Regime
- Put students into groups representing the first, second, and third estates(divided by bourgeosie and everyone else) ; the philosophes, and the king.
- Given primary sources that reflect the positions of each of these groups, or sheds light on how these groups live, acting as representatives of this group or class.
- Each student individually writes a summary of the primary source
- Discuss these excerpts, building a case for their rights within French society.
- Each group presents its case to the other students/“estates” and peoples and they debate their positions.
French Revolution Unit Day Two
Established Goals: Along with learning the straight narrative of the late stages of the Ancient Regime and early stage of the French Revolution, students will apply Marxist theory to these processes.
Essential Questions: Do class antagonisms work to make revolutions? What does it seem the bourgeoisie is most concerned with according to Marx’s model?
Students will know:
- How to transfer and apply a Marxist model of historical development to other revolutions and conflicts; Key Terms: Estates-General, Tennis Court Oath, National Assembly, Bourgeosie.
- That the calling of the Estates-General was a response by Louis XVI to rectify financial problems facing France.
- That the representatives of the Third Estate were not the lower class members of the Third Estate.
- That the rising Bourgeois class representing the Third Estate at the Estates-General rejected further taxes and insufficient political representation.
- That lack of representation led the delegates of the Third Estate, finding them locked out of the convention, left to proclaim the Tennis Court Oath and form the National Assembly.
- That the resistance of the Third Estate, and thus the origins of the French Revolution, was understood by Marx and many historians as a form of class conflict that gave rise to a new capitalist class.
- In class work on the question, “How do Marx’s ideas make sense in terms of what you see happening in France?” After exercise, students hand in their summaries and receive check plus, check, or check minus to indicate excellent/good, fair, and poor performance.
- Deliver lecture on the Estates-General and Third Estate/Bourgeois objections to the Old Regime
- Present slideshow of Jacque-Louis David’s art depicting the Tennis Court Oath to show the result of bourgeois objections
- Handout presentation of basic Marxist understanding of French Revolution and read and explain to students
- Have students write a few sentences summarizing what they now understand about Marx’s theory and the rise of the bourgeoisie in light of the lecture
- Have students compare findings with classmates and write several sentences summarizing their findings in light of their classmates’ insights
- Monitor progress visually and by asking questions of students as they progress
French Revolution Unit Day Three
Established Goals: Students will consider the influence of Enlightenment ideas in the shaping of revolutionary ideas- both where they coincide and where they diverge.
- Students will practice collecting and analyze information to differentiate between seemingly similar historical events.
- Students will compare documents and draw conclusions on differences.
Essential Questions: How do the French and American Revolutions differ in character? How does Enlightenment thought inform each? Do ideas transform societies?
Students Will Know:
- That the bourgeoisie saw themselves as holding and desiring to implement Enlightenment ideas about politics and society.
- That the American Revolution was also based on Enlightenment principles
- Despite this, the French and English focused on different features of Enlightenment thought in creating their new nations.
- That the French revolutionaries focused more on equality and internal social arrangements, while the Americans concentrated on individual freedom and freedom from a perceived oppressor in another land.
- The differences between the Declaration of the Rights of Men and the Declaration of Independence
- Exit ticket asking the question, “Yesterday we read Marx who said that the French Revolution happened all because of class battles between the bourgeoisie and the nobles. Today we read about how ideas shape society.” Which one matters more in making a revolution- class conflicts, ideas, or both the same? This assignment is weighted as a quiz and students will be made aware of this.
- Deliver brief lecture on aspects of Enlightenment salient to French and American Revolutions. Heavy on excerpts from Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau.
- Handout Declaration of the Rights of Man and excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. Each student will have one or the other. Key terms of lecture will go on the chalk board.
- Students read and underline key phrases in text related to lecture on Enlightenment, using terms from chalk board as a guide.
- Students write brief synopsis on their text using most underlined words.
- Put students in group with student using other text.
- Students spend a couple of minutes explaining to each other the points of their text related to Enlightenment principles while partner takes notes
- Hold discussion about findings and sum up differences between texts.
French Revolution Unit Day Four
Established Goals: As they see the revolution unfold students will understand the advancement of the French Revolution from the popular level.
- Students will evaluate the role and character of “popular” movements within the French Revolution
- Students will assess the difference in character between the bourgeois revolution and the popular revolution.
- Students will compare the accomplishments of the popular revolution and its relationship to the principles and declarations studied in earlier classes.
Essential Questions: Does popular protest and revolt create change? Is this kind of protest more or less constructive than political reform in creating change in France?
Students will know:
- That the French Revolution involved many types of people and different stages; Key Terms and concepts: “popular”, Women’s March to Versailles, Abolition of Feudalism, Fall of the Bastille, Great Fear.
- At the end of the lesson, students will be asked to write a letter from the perspective of a working-class Parisian to a relative in the countryside during the Revolution describing the events taking place as he/she sees them. All key terms will be used to describe what is taking place in Paris. “You are a member of the Sans-Culottes- one of the people depicted in Prieur’s sketch. You are in the middle of the revolution and want to tell your relative in the countryside of Paris all of the great changes you are seeing. Write a letter describing the events you have seen.”
- Give students a list of they key terms above to be filled out during lecture
- Art of David (Tennis Court Oath) and Prieur side by side (portraying Paris street violence) on overhead projector when students arrive. The popular protests will be mentioned in Prieur’s art. A depiction of the Women’s March to Versailles will be shown and discussed as will the Fall of the Bastille. The Abolition of Feudalism and the Great Fear will be lectured on and put on board.
- Discussion about what they think about events and recap of slides.
- Students write letter from street level Paris
French Revolution Unit Day Five
Established Goals: Students will understand how and why the French Revolution turned more radical, paying attention to the fact that the character of the revolution changed over time.
- Students will examine the role of untested ideology in the making of the radical phase of the revolution.
- Students will judge the place of terror in the revolution in relation to the revolution’s founding documents and principles.
Essential Questions: Why did the French Revolution become more radical? Was the terror a departure from the founding principles of the revolution?
Students will know:
- Key Terms and Concepts: Robespierre, Jacobins, Girondins, War with Austria, “virtue and terror”.
- The war with Austria and fear of losing the gains of the revolution felt imminent to many revolutionaries.
- That the response to this fear came in the form of violent reprisals against suspected enemies of the revolution as defined by certain members of the Jacobin Club.
- Presentation of findings from think-pair-share exercise.
- Discussion about the merits and demerits of Robespierre’s position. Question posed to be, “Is terror justified in pursuing justice and freedom?”
- Exit ticket/writing assignment. Question, “The Jacobin Marat was killed by Charlotte Corday because she felt Marat had betrayed the revolution by supporting Robespierre’s terror. Was she right? Did the terror betray the revolution?”
- Brief lecture on differences between Girondin and Jacobin positions and fear of Austria destroying the revolution.
- Excerpts of Robespierre’s “Virtue and Terror” given to half of class. Excerpts from Declaration of the Rights of Man given to the other half. Each student independently summarizes the excerpts.
- Each student paired with student who had different reading.
- Students explain to each other their readings
French Revolution Unit Day Six
Established Goals: As the terror enters its most brutal stages some of its root ideological causes will become more apparent. Students will see more clearly the change and readjustment of the revolution’s course as Robespierre worked to root out enemies and remake France.
- Students will evaluate the role of terror in the French Revolution
- Students will judge the efficacy of an elite group in making decisions on behalf of the people
Essential Questions: Was the Reign of Terror successful? In what sense?
Students will know:
- The French Revolution entered a new stage characterized by greater radicalism.
- This radicalism took on the form of state terror, executed by a handful of people.
- This handful of people claimed to represent the “General Will” of the nation.
- Both real traitors to the revolution as well as innocent people fell victim to the terror.
- Key Terms: Robespierre (revisited), Committee for Public Safety, Guillotine, Reign of Terror, “enemy of the people”.
Assessment Evidence: “Do now” exercise on question below and end of class follow up question will be collected and given a check, check plus, or check minus.
- Do now: “What do you expect to come from Robespierre’s talk from last class on Terror?” Do you think Terror will be successful? In what way?
- Show youtube film clips of “Terror!”, stopping at key points to ask questions and discuss what we are seeing
- Write key terms on the board as they appear in film and tell students to write terms in notebooks
- At end of film students will add to their “Do now” paper, and write on the question, “Why did the Committee for Public Safety and Robespierre think they were helping France?” “Did they help France”?
- Papers collected
French Revolution Unit Day Seven
Established Goals: Still during the reign of Robespierre, we will be exploring what measures he took to try and remake not just the political climate of France, but the culture of France as well. Students will examine the culture of the “Republic of Virtue” and link it to the political aspects of the revolution.
- Students will assess the possibility of trying to remake an entire culture and society.
- Students will examine the motives of Robespierre in trying to carry out such an experiment.
Essential Questions: Can we change human nature? Can a society reject its past
Students will know:
- That Robespierre attempted to remake an entire culture based on the concept of the Republic of Virtue
- That these attempts were largely unsuccessful because it is difficult to change a culture quickly
- Key Terms: “Republic of Virtue”, “Cult of Reason”, “Cult of the Supreme Being”, Dechristianization, Revolutionary Calendar
- Monitor student note-taking and discussion contributions
- “Do now”: Students asked to answer the question, “What is human nature? Are we good, bad, both? Can society change human nature?”
- Key terms written on board, students copy into notes.
- Film “The French Revolution” shown which deals with cultural aspects of the French Revolution.
- Film stopped periodically to discuss what is being shown and to make note of key terms.
- At end of film students will write on question, “Could you turn your back on your culture and create a new one if you thought it might create a better world?” “What things about Robespierre’s vision could you accept?”
- A discussion is held on the question they attempted to answer.
French Revolution Unit Day Eight
Established Goals: Students will work on editing and revising their essays on the origins of the French Revolution using both their peers’ and the teacher’s suggestions to better their essays.
- Students will understand the revision of work is key to a better finish product.
- Students will understand the potential shortcomings in their own papers by being asked to assess others.
- Visual monitoring by teacher and interaction with students through review and editing.
- With final paper due two days later students will hand in their first rough draft along with the work they completed today.
- Stages of work assessed in paper rubric.
- Editing job of peers assessed in paper rubric
- Students put into groups of three
- Each student in the group reads the essay of the two other students and makes general written comments on the essay
- Students then asked to underline other students’ thesis statement, topic sentences, and summarize the main point of each paragraph in the paper
- Teacher moves in and out of each group scanning papers for any glaring mistakes or difficulties in the student writing process
- Students return papers to their authors with editors names on top of paper
- Students then compare their classmates findings with the intent in their paper
- Corrections are made in the case of thesis and topic sentences
- Students take home with them a revised introductory paragraph, topic sentences, and suggestions to aid in further revision
French Revolution Unit Day Nine
Established Goals: Following the killing of Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror a revolutionary “thawing” took place known to later historians as Thermidor- a term which has been applied to the cooling off phase of revolutions since the French Revolution. Students will learn about the shift from the Terror to the Constitution of 1795 that attempted to reverse the powers of Robespierre and the Committee for Public Safety.
- Students will examine documents related to a change in the tenor of the revolution
- Students will evaluate the reasons for Thermidor
Essential Questions: Why did the revolution have the slow down? Was the revolution in the radical phase furthering the aims of liberty, equality, and fraternity?
Students will know:
- That the Reign of Terror ended with the death of Robespierre
- That this death brought the end of a system close to dictatorship justified because of fear of losing the revolution, but at the cost of the concepts in the Declaration of the Rights of Man
- That Robespierre’s death was carried out by the same people who aided him in the Reign of Terror
- That fear of being labeled “enemies of the revolution” themselves prompted the execution of Robespierre
- That the French people had had enough of the terror and wanted to return to stability
- Key Terms: Thermidor,
- Visual/Graphic representations of the Terror Vs. Thermidor
- Brief lecture on the death of Robespierre- who killed him, why, what people in France wanted, and the fact that a small group controlled France. Students take notes
- Discuss with students and compile list of changes brought on by the Terror during the “Republic of Virtue”
- Write these changes on the board
- Hand out excerpts from the new Constitution of 1795
- Have students work independently to find contradictions between this document and the Republic of Virtue
- Put students in groups of three to add to or modify their lists of differences
- Students in groups create a visual representation of these changes with art supplies, incorporating aspects of the terror and the new constitution
French Revolution Unit Day Ten
Established Goals: The terror has ended but France’s factions are still vying for control. Students will examine learn about the rise of Napoleon, considering primarily his role in the French Revolution.
- Students will evaluate the role of Napoleon Bonaparte in the French Revolution
- Students will rank his reforms in relation to previous concepts in the French Revolution
Essential Questions: Is Napoleon a completion or a departure from the French Revolution?
Students will know:
- That Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in a military coup d’etat
- That Napoleon was an absolute ruler, like the kings before the revolution
- That Napoleon introduced a number of reforms that brought stability to France
- Results of “Do now” exercise and reflections, given a check, plus, check, or check minus
- Monitoring Socratic seminar for student participation and understanding
- Do now: Students write on question, “What were the guiding principles of the French Revolution?”
- Mini-lecture on Napoleon’s background, what a coup is, how he came to power, and state of France set to backdrop of portraits of Napoleon
- Give students worksheet listing Napoleon’s accomplishments
- Discuss accomplishments with class and detail on board
- Socratic style discussion answering question, “Did Napoleon complete or turn away from the revolution?”
- Exit ticket: “With this new details in mind, how did Napoleon reject or make good on the principles you mentioned in your “Do now” exercise?”