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1 - The people of Paris and their historians

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

David Andress
Affiliation:
University of Portsmouth
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Summary

Having looked directly at the place of the Champ de Mars Massacre and its actors in historians' writings, several broader dimensions of historiographical development will need to be explored to lay the foundations for the study which follows: work on policing, neighbourhood and culture under the Old Regime; on cultures of the artisanate in the eighteenth century; on the identity of the sans-culottes; and on the elite perception of the urban population at the beginning of the Revolution. This will be largely, with some important exceptions, an anglophone historiography, and some comment on this is needed.

It would be unfair to say that French historiography of the people of Paris has not advanced beyond the viewpoint established forty years ago by Albert Soboul, but it is difficult to see developments within this field as substantially revising that position. The presence of the historiographical trend marked most clearly by François Furet, which would dismiss concern with ‘the people’ (other than in terms of their use as a referent within discourse) as irrelevant to the real meaning of the Revolution, has led to a severe retrenchment by other French historians into defence of the notion of a ‘popular movement’ in Soboulian or quasi-Soboulian terms. This hinges on the conviction that the artisans and traders who made up the leadership of the politically-radical Parisian Sections in 1793–4 were genuine adherents of a socially radical political philosophy – not yet socialism, but the closest the era could get to that state.

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Massacre at the Champ de Mars
Popular Dissent and Political Culture in the French Revolution
, pp. 19 - 38
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2000

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