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

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Simon Quinn
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

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 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.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

The module aims 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

After successfully completing this course students should have:

  • A good grasp of the main outcomes of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars;
  • A familiarity with the workings of collective memory and its evolution over time; and
  • An ability to make sense of nineteenth-century primary sources and to understand the heuristic challenges which their interpretation presents.

Module content

Teaching programme:
Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The likely seminar programme is as follows:

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


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 Words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000 word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the spring term. They will then submit a 4,000 word assessed essay in week 1 of the summer term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 Words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 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 term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary 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.

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.