Cross-Channel Entanglements


Authored by: Robert Howell Griffiths

The Routledge Companion to the French Revolution in World History

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  September  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415820561
eBook ISBN: 9781315686011
Adobe ISBN: 9781317413875


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The history of ideas has always been bedevilled by influences and origins, and the attendant philosophical problem of causation can easily turn into an aetiological curse afflicting any historian who is rash enough to embark on bringing together distinctly separate cultural spatial entities (countries, or nations with different languages) as well as different time spans (particularly ages or centuries). History of ideas is here subsumed into a broad conception of cultural history, with discourse and other forms of human expression as the central concern. This approach has wide implications. As Keith Baker argues, it means that even the distinction between ideas and events becomes untenable, since events are the play of meanings in human action.1 The purpose of this chapter is not to attempt any full-blown comparison of two major revolutionary experiences (that is best left to modelling exercises carried out by social scientists) but to point to ways in which the English political upheavals of the seventeenth century impinged one hundred (or even one hundred and fifty) years later on French revolutionary mentalities, beliefs, attitudes and consequent actions. This influence has been the subject of much recent and fruitful research – of which we can give little more than a cursory indication in this chapter, adding a few comments on several selected examples and some reflections on the importance of the subject in the context of the increasing internationalization of French revolutionary studies. Only twenty-five years ago, at the time of the Bicentenary, the general historiography of the French Revolution barely mentioned seventeenth-century England and preferred to see the Enlightenment – sandwiched between the two Revolutions – as the dominant seedbed of revolutionary wisdom and the dawn of modernity.2

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