Experiencing and Remembering the French Wars, 1792-1918

Tutor: Jasper Heinzen

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00077M

Credits: 20

This module examines how European societies came to terms with the 23 years of conflict that followed the French Revolution, a period one historian has called ‘the first total war’. The public interest generated by Napoleonic anniversaries even today illustrates the long term and in fact ongoing nature of this process, overlaid as it is by the memory of still more destructive total wars in the twentieth century. Focusing especially on the nineteenth century, this module seeks to show why the lessons of the so-called French Wars legitimised rather than prevented the cataclysm of the First World War. We will study the ways in which contemporaries experienced the political upheavals, battles, and foreign occupations of this period and made sense of them in fiction, memoirs, poems, paintings, cartoons, public commemorations, and monuments. In a second step, we will investigate how trauma, cultural transfer, and the rise of nationalism changed the meaning of the French Wars as the latter transitioned from lived experience to collective memory over the course of the nineteenth century.

The likely seminar programme is as follows:

    • The question of what ‘experience’ is and how it is articulated
    • The concept of total war
    • The French Wars as a catalyst of state-building
    • War and gender
    • The concomitance of intensified transnational contact and emergence of modern nationalisms in the shadow of prolonged warfare
    • The switch from French hegemony to equilibrium and ultimately imperial rivalry in great power politics between 1792 and 1914
    • The workings of cultural memory over the longue durée. Who remembers what and for which reason? How can memory be manipulated?
    • Intersecting memories: The significance of the French Wars in relation to the commemoration of other modern wars 

Further reading   

    • Bell, David A. The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Modern Warfare. London: Bloomsbury, 2007
    • Chickering, Roger, and Stig Förster, eds. War in an Age of Revolution, 1775-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010
    • Forrest, Alan, Karen Hagemann, and Jane Rendall, eds. Soldiers, Citizens and Civilians: Experiences and Perceptions of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1790-1820. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009
    • Forrest, Alan, Étienne François, and Karen Hagemann, eds. War Memories: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in Modern European Culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.