In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nineteenth-Century France

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Atlas
  • Bibliographies
  • Primary Sources
  • Journals

Atlantic History Nineteenth-Century France
Quentin Deluermoz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0089


While not as powerful as Great Britain, France nonetheless remained the second imperial and economic world power for a large part of the 19th century. Molded by a kind of republican tradition, historians have long focused on the French Revolution’s legacy and the construction of a seemingly republican regime, as well as on the ascent of industrial modernity, with its new social stratifications and class struggles, and the French cultural influence. This was, after all, the century of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s First Empire, and the Third Republic, as well as of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and Manet’s artistic avant-garde. Over recent decades, however, scholars have tended to move in new directions. They now place greater emphasis on the multiple social, cultural, and political paths not taken in 19th-century France. They underline the richness of political experimentation and the construction of citizenship throughout the entire period. They also explore the changes in the social categories and perceptions that shaped the century. Last but not least, they have begun to link the history of metropolitan France to its colonial, imperial, and global dimensions, suggesting that new narratives and interpretations of this imperial nation-state should be made. This work is, however, still underway. As such, it cannot be said that “Atlantic history” today constitutes a delimited field. First, the French global outlook, at this time, was turned toward several areas, including Asia and the Mediterranean. Second, ways of approaching this perspective vary greatly: France in Atlantic history supposes transnational, colonial, and imperial dimensions, as well as asymmetrical mutual influences. It also supposes a revised chronology between the “early modern” and “modern” periods, as it is necessary to explore whether or not, and how, the study of France in Atlantic history contributes to the crystallization of specific societies around the Atlantic. For these reasons, the present contribution proposes both classic and influential works on French history, as well as works addressing Atlantic history for 19th-century France, to show the specificity, the interest, and the potential of such a perspective.

General Overviews

There are many very good books on French history, in both French and English. Démier 2000 presents one of the most complete empirical overviews of the century. Jarrige and Fureix 2015 offers an excellent presentation of the recent historiographical stakes and trends. A number of essays and textbooks have begun to include the Atlantic dimension, among other things, in the French narrative, as can be seen, albeit in different ways, in Chapoutot 2012–2014 and Stovall 2015. Osterhammel 2014 and Vidal 2008 are also useful, the first for a broader perspective on global history, the second for an analysis of the academic field of “Atlantic history” in France.

  • Chapoutot, Johann, ed. Histoire de la France contemporaine. Paris: Seuil, 2012–2014.

    This multivolume collection replaces the famous Nouvelle Histoire de la France Contemporaine. Each volume proposes new analysis of its given period, using both classic and recent works on a social and political level. The whole presents an interesting synthesis of the process of “politicization” of French peoples throughout the century, encompassing imperial, colonial, and, in particular, Atlantic perspectives. For the 19th century, see the following: Lignereux, Aurélien, L’Empire des Français (1799–1815), 2012; Goujon, Bertrand, Monarchies postrévolutionnaires (1814–1848), 2012; Deluermoz, Quentin, Le crépuscule des révolutions (1848–1871), 2012; Houte, Arnaud, le triomphe de la République (1871–1914), 2014.

  • Démier, Francis. La France au XIXe siècle: 1814–1914. Paris: Seuil, 2000.

    A complete textbook on the history of France, from the end of the Napoleonic empire to the First World War. It shows the complexity of the century and contains very good chapters on constitutional monarchies, economy, social history, and the history of representations.

  • Jarrige, François, and Emmanuel Fureix. La Modernité désenchantée: Relire l’histoire du XIXe siècle français. Paris: La Découverte, 2015.

    This book synthesizes all recent historiographical trends in 19th-century French history, including new historical fields, such as environmental history, colonial, and global perspectives. Very useful for familiarizing readers with the current problematics and debate in 19th-century French history.

  • Osterhammel, Jürgen. The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

    English translation of Die Verwandlung der Welt: Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, first published in 2009. A major book for all 19th-century history. It shows both the multiple dynamics existing around the world and the growing importance of Europe. France’s unquestionable key role clearly appears here, without any national centrism. Thanks to a rigorous chapter organization, it is easy for readers to navigate through this voluminous work.

  • Stovall, Tyler. Transnational France: The Modern History of a Universal Nation. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2015.

    One of the rare attempts to propose a transnationalized history of France in the 19th and 20th centuries. The chapter on the global dimension of Paris and the discussion concerning the notion of “Universal Republic” from the French Revolution to the Third Republic are particularly interesting.

  • Vidal, Cécile. “La nouvelle histoire atlantique en France: Ignorance, réticence et reconnaissance tardive.” Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos (24 September 2008).

    A state-of-the-art publication on French Atlantic history, which proposes a clear definition of the field and explores both its promises and the resistance of French historians.

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