This clear and comprehensive history of French society—from the age of the Enlightenment to the present — offers balanced coverage of major political, social, economic, and cultural movements that have shaped France's unique path to modernity. Its straightforward, chronological approach and broad coverage gives readers the necessary background for a thorough exploration of specialized topics. Some of these topics include: the structure of eighteenth-century French society; the Preindustrial economy; successes and failures of the liberal revolution; the revolutionary republic; the Napoleonic years; The Revolution of 1848; the second empire's decade of prosperity and difficulties; the Paris commune and the origins of the third republic; economic depression and political crises; the troubled years of the Fin-de-Siècle; France in the second world war; the road to liberation; May 1968, and France after De Gaulle; and the Mitterrand years. For individuals interested in the links between American and French history—who realize that an understanding of this connection offers important new perspectives for comprehending the world in which we live and the way it evolved.
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This comprehensive history of French society -- from the age of the Enlightenment to the present -- integrates social, cultural, and economic history into a single narrative.From the Inside Flap:
Shortly after the start of the new millennium, France is scheduled to give up one of the main features of an independent country. Starting in 2002, a new currency, the euro, will replace the franc, a symbol of France's identity for more than 200 years. Already, French citizens travel with European passports identical to those held by their neighbors from the fourteen other countries of the European Union. Decisions affecting the French economy, environmental policy, and many other vital matters are increasingly taken in the Belgian city of Brussels, home of the Union's governing commission, rather than in Paris. At the same time, as it becomes ever more part of a larger European community, France is also changing its cultural identity. The descendants of immigrants have turned Islam into the traditionally Catholic country's second-largest religion. EuroDisney, an American company's theme park outside of Paris, has replaced Gothic cathedrals and famous museums as France's most popular tourist attraction. Whatever happens in France in the years to come, the country is likely to move steadily farther away from the compact national state whose history is described in this book.
Why, then, should Americans still care about the history of a medium-sized European country with a population less than a quarter of that of the United States? Fifty years ago, the reason seemed obvious. On two occasions in the first half of the twentieth century, the destinies of the two countries were linked, as American troops fought and died to liberate French soil. A knowledge of French history was essential to understanding the origins of those crises. In addition, to many Americans, French culture, more than that of any other European country, represented the epitome of taste and sophistication. French artists, French philosophers, French novelists, and French filmmakers represented a tradition that often seemed more profound, more original, and more liberated from confining conventions than our own.
At the start of the twenty-first century, these connections between American and French history are rapidly fading. Yet those Americans who have had the opportunity to live and travel in France realize that an understanding of that country's history still provides important new perspectives for comprehending the world in which we live and the way in which it evolved. Americans may see France as part of a larger European ensemble; Britons, Germans, and the French themselves recognize it as a country that still has a unique identity and often seems determined to go its own way. An understanding of French history helps us realize that the spread of a shared modern technology has by no means made the whole world the same. Thus the study of French history helps Americans better understand our own society's place in the world.
French history retains its fascination as well because of its extraordinary complexity. France was the first European nation to proclaim the principles of modern democracy, yet it had extraordinary difficulty in agreeing on stable political institutions based on these principles. France is now a wealthy industrial country, but it reached this status by a route very different from that of the world's other leading economic powers. A country that fought repeated wars against all its neighbors is now a pillar of European cooperation; a country that once dominated a vast non-European empire now tries to maintain a distinctive world role in other ways—particularly by promoting the use of the French language. France's modern history has been rich in strong personalities who have fascinated those far beyond its borders: Napoléon, Honoré de Balzac, Charles de Gaulle, Simone de Beauvoir. For anyone interested in how human beings face up to dramatic challenges, French history will remain an absorbing story.
Finally, French history deserves our attention because no other country has contributed as much to modern historians' sense of the possibilities of historical study itself. For three generations, French historians have been recognized throughout the world as leaders in the project of broadening and enriching our approach to the past. The names Marc Bloch, Lucien Febvre, Fernand Braudel, among many others, are familiar to anyone who has participated in the effort to include the common people in the story of how our modern world came to be. French historians have been in the forefront in broadening cooperation between history and other disciplines: economics, geography, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, and literary theory. Nowhere better than in the study of France's own history can we see how multifaceted our understanding of the past can be.
The pages that follow are one American historian's effort to communicate the passion and the stimulation that he has experienced over the years in studying the past two and a half centuries of France's national life. They do not pretend to give a definitive account of modern French history: the subject is too vast and the controversies concerning it too deep to permit such a thing. They do attempt to provide a basic framework for the understanding of modern French history and—on issues where historians disagree—to outline fairly the competing interpretations that that history has inspired. This book reflects the diverse contributions of hundreds of historians who have devoted themselves to the subject, both in France and in the many other countries where French history has inspired devoted scholars. Without this community of colleagues, a synthesis like this could never have been attempted. If this book helps teachers to transmit the pleasure that the author has found in striving to understand the experience of the French people over the centuries, and if it encourages students to explore the subject, it will have served its purpose.
In preparing this new edition, I have tried to take into account some of the major developments in historical research since 1993. Throughout the book, I have attempted to incorporate new insights from women's and cultural history, which are currently two of the liveliest fields of research. I have also tried to take into account new research on issues ranging from the politics of the National Assembly in 1789 to the influence of the Soviet Union on the French Communist Party. The five chapters devoted to France between 1871 and 1914 in the previous edition have been reorganized into four chapters in this edition, and the concluding chapters have been extended to cover the end of the Mitterrand presidency, the election victories of Jacques Chirac in 1995 and Lionel Jospin in 1997, and even the French World Cup soccer championship of 1998. Acknowledgments
I would like to thank the following Prentice Hall reviewers for their care in reading the manuscript and offering suggestions: Leslie Derfler, Florida Atlantic University; Michael S. Smith, University of South Carolina; William B. Cohen, Indiana University; Herrick Chapman, New York University; Michael Hanagan, New School for Social Research; and Patricia O'Brien, University of California, Irvine. My colleague Ellen Furlough offered valuable advice on the changes in the new edition. Matthew Schoenbachler and Holly Grout compiled the index.
Jeremy D. Popkin
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