Schama’s revolution

Quite a number of previous posts have focused on historical cognition: how does the historian conceptualize a complex bit of history? Let's reflect a bit on Simon Schama’s conceptualization of the history of the French Revolution in Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989). Schama is a highly original thinker when it comes to …

Ontology of the French Revolution

How does the historian need to think as he or she formulates a discursive representation of a complex period of history? What assumptions does the historian make about the structures and entities that make up the social world? And what sorts of conceptual systems are needed in order to permit the historian to do his …

What is Alsace?

It may seem like a strange question: What is Alsace? It is a region of France. It is a culturally and linguistically distinct population of 1.8 million people. Most visitors would observe that there is a distinctive Alsatian style in life, in architecture, and in culture. It possesses one great city (Strasbourg), many middle-sized cities …

The Franco-Prussian War

The rapid, bloody, and total defeat of the French army by the Prussian army in 1870-71 was an enormous and unexpected shock to France and to Europe. Since the Napoleonic Wars it was taken as given that France's armies were powerful, well-equipped, and well generaled. But the Prussian army quickly defeated French armies across eastern …

Darnton’s history

Twenty-five years ago, Robert Darnton offered a highly original perspective on historical understanding in his The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984), and the book still warrants close attention. He proposes to bring an ethnographic perspective to bear on historical research, attempting to arrive at nuanced interpretation of the mentalities …

French sociology as a distinctive tradition

One might think that the globalization of intellectual life has led to the result of the "unification" of major scientific disciplines around one shared set of global assumptions about the discipline: what the major unsolved problems are, what the discipline should strive to achieve, what the products of knowledge ought to look like. From the …

Social control of crowds

There is a pretty high level of social protest taking place in France today. Strikes and demonstrations are taking place in many cities, involving students, faculty, workers, and other ordinary people. (Here is a recent news roundup dated March 19, 2009, on strikes, demonstrations, and manifs in the past month or so, and here is …

eighteen forty-eight

The revolutions of 1848 were the stage upon which the "spectre haunting Europe" danced. Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, Alexandre Herzen, Alexis de Tocqueville, and numerous other critical observers of Europe's trajectory looked at 1848 as a moment of continent-wide social and political revolution. Mike Rapport's 1848: Year of Revolution is a very interesting effort to …

Inequalities in France

Inequalities in France are particularly volatile these days, with high unemployment, rising income inequality, increasingly evident differences in opportunities for young people from immigrant communities, and rather different levels of schooling available to different communities in France. Social conflict, strikes, and political disagreements are rising in France, and it will take skillful work by community …

Sociologie de Paris?

What might be involved in creating a new sociology of Paris? Paris is a particularly good subject for a new urban sociology. It is a gritty, diverse, and dynamic city, and a city displaying unceasing chaotic surges and currents of social life. It is a global city, both in Saskia Sassen's sense (strong networked interconnection …

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