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University of Melbourne

The French Revolution

University of Melbourne via Coursera


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 - 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Taught by

Peter McPhee


4.7 rating, based on 23 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 322 ratings

Start your review of The French Revolution

  • Anne

    Anne completed this course, spending 4 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Outstanding. The videos, with transcripts, were very clear, detailed and helpfully illustrated. The assignments were relevant and helpful. McPhee is a world authority on the subject and his books are worth reading as a follow up. I did this course a second time as there was so much information that I did not absorb it the first time round.
    The Discussions however were disappointing. McPhee put up a provocative question or two and altogether there were some answers no one took the discussions further. Students seemed just to want to read.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    The course was excellent. The professor was warm and friendly even though it was just pixels. Great discussions in forums and for once it cleared it up for me with regard to the different factions and what was happening. Intriguing bit of history, pivotal in understanding revolutions and regime changes. Loved the class on of my favorites and McPhee is a real pleasure to watch, he loves the subject.
  • Antoine Ciolkovitch completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    By far the course where the lecturer was the most involved in interacting with the online learners . Pr McPhee offers us a brilliant set of lectures . This was an excellent overview of what is taught in french schools . Portraying the french sociology and economy of the 1790's from a clear point of view helped me clarifying the several phases of the French Revolution . Pr McPhee' s involvement in forums,the Facebok Group and additional materials is a real bonus.
  • Valorie Hamachek

    Valorie Hamachek is taking this course right now.

    Absolutely fascinating course on the revolution. I learned a lot. Professor McPhee is very learned about the revolution and easy to follow. Don't let the 1,000 word essay scare you. You learn so much about the revolution and have so much to say, you will find yourself having to pare it down, down, down. Highly recommend the course.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This is a really fantastic course - stimulating, well-structured, and pitched at just about the right level to appeal both to history undergraduates and to people with no background in historical studies but a strong interest in the French Revolution.
  • Anne Hotchkiss completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Both the professor and the material were terrific! What a fascinating (and meaningful) time in history, and it's told to us by an engaged, articulate, interested, and well-organized professor. (The Aussie accent was charming, too.) Thank you for a delightful and important experience! Anne
  • Diego Riccardi completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Very well done course about a crucial event where you're also given some very good readings about it for free.
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    Elena Orlova

    Elena Orlova completed this course, spending 5 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    The lecturer of this course is by far the best of all I've seen. He's passionate, engaged, and his enthusiasm is contagious. His presentation of history is interesting, detailed and very easy to follow, you will only have problems if you've got very…
  • Tracy Peel

    Tracy Peel completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Loved this course. Excellent lecturer and well-rounded subject matter. I took this course while preparing for my french citizenship interview. While knowledge of this subject is not necessary in such detail for the interview, it was great to immerse myself in an event that was so important in French history.
  • Philopatear Ashraf Botrous

    Philopatear Ashraf Botrous completed this course, spending 5 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    a very good course with easy and understandable English .
    very useful and uses lots of references and illustrations .
    strongly recommended
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    Luis Ribeiro

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    Michael Ye

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    Aana is taking this course right now, spending 1 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

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