Historiography of the French Revolution and the new cultural history  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Historiography of the French Revolution, cultural history, new cultural history, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France

An area where new-style cultural history is often pointed to as being almost a paradigm is the 'revisionist' history of the French Revolution, dated somewhere since François Furet's massively influential 1978 essay Interpreting the French Revolution. The 'revisionist interpretation' is often characterised as replacing the allegedly dominant, allegedly Marxist, 'social interpretation' which say the causes of the Revolution in class dynamics. The revisionist approach has tended to put more emphasis on 'political culture', and through this the cultural historians have come! Reading ideas of political culture through Habermas' conception of the public sphere, historians of the Revolution in the past few decades have looked at the role and position of cultural themes such as gender, ritual, and ideology in the context of pre-revolutionary French political culture.

Historians who might be grouped under this umbrella are Roger Chartier, Robert Darnton and Lynn Hunt. Of course, these scholars all pursure fairly diverse interests, and perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on the paradigmatic nature of the new history of the French Revolution. Colin Jones, for example, is no stranger to cultural history, Habermas, or Marxism, and has persistently argued that the Marxist interpretation is not dead, but can be revivified; after all, Habermas' logic was heavily indebted to a Marxist understanding. Meanwhile, Rebecca Spang has also recently argued that for all its emphasis on difference and newness, the 'revisionist' approach retains the idea of the French Revolution as a watershed in the history of (so-called) modernity, and that the problematic notion of 'modernity' has itself attracted scant attention.

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