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Experiencing & Remembering the French Wars, 1792-1918 - HIS00077M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jasper Heinzen
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

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 and re-enactments even today illustrates the long term and 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 (i.e. the military conflicts of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras) 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. Since experiences are embedded in specific discursive frameworks, we will try to understand how people mediated the events they witnessed through 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.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. What is ‘experience’ and how is it articulated?
  2. The concept of total war
  3. The French Wars as a catalyst of state-building
  4. War and gender
  5. Transnational contact and modern nationalism
  6. The transformation of international relations in the wake of the French Wars (1815-1914)
  7. The workings of cultural memory over the longue durée
  8. Intersecting memories: The significance of the French Wars in relation to the commemoration of other modern wars


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For reading during the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

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

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.