Online course: The French Revolution

Dates: any time

Duration: 24 hours

Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 out of 321 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: any country

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Organizer: The University of Melbourne at Coursera


  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

The French Revolution

The French Revolution was one of the most important upheavals in world history. This course examines its origins, course and outcomes.

This course is designed for you to work through successfully on your own. However you will not be alone on this journey. Use the resources included in the course and take part in the suggested learning activities to get the most out of your learning. To successfully complete this course, it is recommended that you devote at least six hours to every module over the six weeks of the course. In that time you should watch the video lectures, reflect and respond to in-video pause points, and complete the quizzes. As part of the required reading for this course, during each week of this course you will have free access to a chapter of Peter McPhee’s textbook, The French Revolution, which is also available for purchase as an e-book. View the MOOC promotional video here:


WEEK 1: 4 hours to complete

Week 1 – France in the 1780s

We begin this course with an introduction to the French Revolution. We will examine the social and institutional structures of the Old Regime. We will look at the main occupational groups and the roles of the First and Second estates (the clergy and nobility) in particular. We will also consider the relationship between Paris and the provinces in Old Regime France. Finally, you will be introduced to the Enlightenment and we will reflect on its significance and its possible revolutionary implications.

Welcome to the French Revolution MOOC

1.1 An Introduction to the French Revolution
1.2 The Essentials of Eighteenth-Century France
1.3 The First & Second Estates: Clergy and Nobility
1.4 Paris and the Provinces
1.5 The ‘Enlightenment’: ‘from above’
1.6 The ‘Enlightenment’: ‘from below’

WEEK 2: 3 hours to complete

Week 2 – The Revolution of 1789

This week we look at the Revolution of 1789 and its causes. We will explore the tensions and conflicts that led to the crisis of the Old Regime. The focus will be on the Third Estate and the revolt of the bourgeoisie, the ‘menu peuple’ and the peasantry. We will look at the Declaration of the Rights of Man and citizen and you will be asked to reflect on its ‘universal’ significance.

2.1 An Atlantic crisis
2.2 A fiscal crisis and its repercussions
2.3 The Third Estate in revolt: bourgeoisie and menu people
2.4 The Third Estate in revolt: the peasantry
2.5 The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the August Decrees
2.6 The October Days – the end of the Revolution?

Week 3 – The Reconstruction of France, 1789-92

Week three of this MOOC deals with the reforms introduced in 1789-91. We look at the institutional and administrative reorganisation of France. We will then consider three critical turning points of the Revolution: the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the King’s attempted flight in 1791 and the outbreak of war in 1792. Finally we will look at the fate of the King and the ultimate failure of the monarchy. You will be asked to reflect on the immediate effects and longer-term consequences of these events.

3.1 Making the new nation 1789-91
3.2 The Revolution divides
3.3 Turning-point 1: Church reform
3.4 Turning-point 2: the King’s flight June 1791
3.5 Turning-point 3: The outbreak of war April 1792
3.6 A second revolution: 10 August 1792

Week 4 – The Republic in crisis 1792-93

Week four deals with the crisis of the Republic in 1792-93. We will examine the conflicts and disunity within the National Convention and consider the balance between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces by mid-1793. We will explore the civil war in the Vendee region of Western France and attempt to make sense of the growing revolutionary violence. We will look at the origins of the ‘Terror’, its institutions and its ideology, and students will be asked to reflect more broadly on the role of violence during the Revolution.

4.1 September 1792: blood and death
4.2 September 1792: republican unity and disunity in the National Convention
4.3 Revolution and counter-revolution: the balance of forces
4.4 The crisis of 17931
4.5 Emergency measures: the implementation of ‘terror’
4.6 How to end ‘terror’, December 1793
Interview with Dr Marisa Linton
Interview with Professor Timothy Tackett
Interview with Professor Ian Germani
Interview with Charles Walton

Week 5 – Ending the Terror and Ending the Revolution

This week we look at the ideology and culture of the ‘Terror’ and the nature of the Jacobin and sans-culottes alliance. We will consider possible explanations for the increasing intensity of revolutionary violence and ask whether such violence was a proportionate, emergency response to the growing counter-revolutionary threat. This module also deals with the end of the ‘Terror’, and the overthrow of Robespierre and the ensuing ‘Thermidorian reaction’. Finally we look at the ‘settlement’ of 1795 and ask whether the Revolution was indeed over.

5.1 Robespierre and ‘virtue’
5.2 The ideology and culture of the Terror
5.3 The Jacobin and sans-culottes alliance
5.4 Emergency measures or revolutionary violence?
5.5 Thermidor Year II – 27 July 1794
5.6 The ‘settlement’ of 1795: the end of the Revolution?

Week 6 – Change and continuity: How revolutionary was the Revolution?

This final week of the course offers you the opportunity to reflect broadly on the significance of the Revolution. We begin by looking at Napoleon Bonaparte and the Restoration of the monarchy in 1814-15. We then consider the ways in which the revolutionary experience affected the lives of women and slaves. We will discuss the Revolution’s global implications and ask whether or not 1789 can be understood more broadly, as part of an international ‘Age of Revolution’. Finally we explore the ‘minimalist’ and ‘maximalist’ approaches to the significance of the Revolution and you will be asked to reflect on the impact of the Revolution on the lives of French citizens.

6.1 Napoleon Bonaparte and the Restoration
6.2 The ‘minimalist’ approach to the signifance of the Revolution
6.3 Who is a citizen? The experience of women
6.4 Who is a citizen? The experience of slaves
6.5 The international repercussions: a global crisis?
6.6 The ‘maximalist’ approach: the turning-point of the modern world