On July 19, 1789, the first issue of Les Révolutions de Paris brought French readers the story of the storming of the Bastille. The slogan on the paper’s masthead read: “Les grands ne nous paraissent pas grands que parce que nous sommes à genoux. Levons-nous! [Our superiors only appear powerful because we are on our knees. Let us get up].” Succinctly embodying the essence of the French Revolution, this slogan captured the nature of the relationship between identity and the revolutionary process. To change their society, the people of France had to change not only their perception of themselves, but also how they perceived and behaved toward others.
This seminar used the concept of the transformation of identity as a way of shedding new light on the nature of the French Revolution and the understanding of moments of radical change throughout modern history. The notion of identity has come to play a large role in scholarship in many humanities and social science disciplines in recent years. In this seminar participants defined the concept broadly, considering identity both as a way in which individuals understand themselves, as manifested in their statements and actions, and as a potential locus of contestation, a point where individuals or groups may resist the way in which others define them. They looked at a number of aspects of the Revolution in which identity issues have surfaced, ranging from political identities such as the citizen and the patriot to gender identities and the transformation of racial and ethnic identities in French colonies. Seminar participants drew on the Newberry Library’s extraordinary collection of French Revolutionary pamphlets, as well as its rich holdings of Revolutionary newspapers and of materials related to the early modern period throughout Europe and the Atlantic world, to pursue individual research projects during the seminar.
Learn more about the seminar’s director: Jeremy Popkin, University of Kentucky
Learn more about Center for Renaissance Studies programs.