Students certainly need to understand the historical background of the French Revolution before they can move on to learning about the Revolution itself. The TimeMap of World History is ideal for providing such background.
A glance at the map of Europe in 1789 will show that it was a very different place from what it is now. Take, for example, the Holy Roman Empire. Voltaire said that it was “neither Holy, Roman, or an Empire”. So what exactly WAS it?
The answer is found in its history, but researching this can be time-consuming. By using the TimeMap of World History, students can access the information they need quickly and easily.
The countries of Europe have their roots in the Middle Ages – and the TimeMap of World History has the map-timelines to show clearly how they originated and evolved.
Taking the example of the Holy Roman Empire, students can follow the maps of the relevant region (a good starting point might be Germany in AD 979) to discover how the Holy Roman Empire came to be the way it was. The same is true for France, Italy, Poland and other countries.
Before teaching the French Revolution, therefore, do this:
Divide your students into groups and ask each group to use the TimeMap of World History to research the histories of the different nations of Europe up to the late 18th century: except one group, which should look at the map-timeline for Europe as a region.
Try and form at least six groups, so that Europe, plus the map-timelines for France, Germany, Central Europe, Britain and Russia are covered. If there is enough for seven groups, add Italy; then the following in priority order: Spain, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries. If more – ask for budget increases for more teachers and smaller classes!
The groups can then present their findings to the whole class. It is up to the individual groups at which point in history to start their presentations; they will be different depending on the country/region (the teacher may steer them to 750 for Europe and France, 979 for the others).
The presentations should be followed by a class discussion teasing out the main features of Europe at this time:
– which were the leading powers in Europe in 1789? Had this always been the case?
– which countries were ruled by absolutist monarchs – and which not?
– what changes had been at work on European society during the 18th century?
– why (does the class think) did a Revolution break out in a leading European country in 1789?
This discussion will give students a good background before they start to home in on the Ancien Regime and the specific causes of the French Revolution.
If you have time, and if you think your class can handle it, an interesting question to ask the class at this time might be:
“Having looked at the maps in the TimeMap of World History for 1789, predict what happened next!”
(The short answer, of course, is that the French soon got rid of their monarchy, and the other leading countries of Europe, being monarchies, ganged up on the French to defeat the Revolution.
It doesn’t matter if some students know roughly what happened in the years following 1789. The purpose of asking this question is to encourage them to think about the nature of the different countries, and therefore how they might react. There’s no need to spend much time on this question, but with the right class it might sharpen their learning about the Revolution.)
The TimeMap can be used for other history topics in a similar way, for example, the First Word War – why was Turkey regarded as the “Sick Man of Europe” (actually, not quite as sick as is popularly supposed)? What was the Austro-Hungarian Empire? Why were the Balkans so pivotal? – and so on.