Transforming the educational delivery and public understanding of French Revolutionary Terror
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Portsmouth
Unit of AssessmentArea Studies
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Through a range of publications and public engagements, the research of
Professor David Andress into the French Revolution and its international
and historical ramifications has achieved a notable impact on students and
teachers in the educational sphere, becoming an influential interpretation
in syllabi at undergraduate and postgraduate levels across the
English-speaking world, as well as for A-level studies within the UK. This
research impact has also been extended into the broader culture through
engagement with public audiences, with a highly positive response, and
participation in a major BBC factual production.
Since he began working at the University of Portsmouth in the mid-1990s,
Professor Andress has published extensively on the history of the French
Revolution. He has developed through his research an interpretation of the
Revolution which complicates and challenges earlier historiographies at
several levels, redefining an engagement with lived experience and the
complexities of shifting understandings and allegiances that marked the
period. While continuing to develop publications based on archival primary
research (Outputs 1-3, see Section 3), he has incorporated such research
into wider analyses through a series of books.
His 2000 monograph, Massacre at the Champ de Mars (Output 4), was
reviewed as a `compelling' argument in the Journal of Social History
(Supporting evidence 1), as a `nuanced, multi-layered analysis ... to be
entirely welcomed' in the Journal of Modern History (Supporting
evidence 2), and as `an important departure' for revolutionary
historiography, `undoubtedly right' in its methodology and thus
`especially informative' in the Historical Journal (Supporting
evidence 3). His 2004 text, The French Revolution and the People
(Output 5), was reviewed by the International Review of Social History
(Supporting evidence 4) as `a truly excellent book', offering `insights to
specialists and a rich and clear account to general readers'. The European
History Quarterly (Supporting evidence 5) noted it was `a crisply
written, remarkably well-researched and informative synthesis... a
coherent, passionate and thought-provoking reinterpretation ... an
excellent book, engaging, combative and well-written'.
This body of work culminated in his most widely-read work, The Terror,
published in the UK in 2005 and in a US edition in 2006 (Output 6). The
impact achieved by this book, as representing the underlying body of
research, is the subject of this case-study. Widely and positively
reviewed in the UK quality press, it also received academic praise.
Reviewed by the Annales historiques de la Révolution française
(Supporting evidence 6) as `This laudable effort ... an excellent
summation', Prof David Bell (Princeton) noted in the New Republic
(Supporting evidence 7) that it was `a remarkably good job... a sure guide
through some of the most compressed and tangled political undergrowth in
history', and Prof William Doyle (Bristol) in the Independent
(Supporting evidence 8) called it `The most authoritative treatment we are
likely to have for many years.'
The core argument of The Terror is encapsulated in its sub-title:
civil war in the French Revolution. Andress argues that the major
historiographical currents of the late twentieth century, the
Jacobin-Marxist `social interpretation' and the `revisionists' such as
Furet and Schama who place great emphasis on the power of abstract
political rhetoric, are both essentially limited when attempting to engage
the complexity of revolutionary processes.
Andress's research findings demonstrate the need for an understanding of
the deep cultures of the eighteenth century when explaining the French
Revolution. Groups such as Parisian radicals and `counter-revolutionary'
peasants, previously painted as heroes or villains of competing accounts,
can now be seen as having complex perspectives of their own, meriting
reconsideration. Andress also demonstrates that amongst the elites
themselves the apparently delirious rhetoric of revolutionary enthusiasm
was in fact firmly grounded in the culture of the period, and represented
both the necessary and the virtuous way to conduct public affairs amidst
In works both of original research and original synthesis, Andress has
used insights such as these to restore agency to the many different groups
involved in revolutionary events, presenting new explanations for extreme
behaviour and conflict that restore the thought-provoking commonality
between reader and subject, rather than, as so many past versions of the
French Revolution have done, creating a playing-field for cheering on one
side against the other, in the name of present politics.
References to the research
• (Output 1) Andress, David. (1995). Social Prejudice and Political Fears
in the Policing of Paris, January-June 1791. French History 9(2),
pp.202-226. DOI: 10.1093/fh/9.2.202
• International peer-reviewed journal
• (Output 2) Andress, David. (1998). Press and Public in the French
Revolution: A Parisian Case-Study from 1791. European History
Quarterly, 28(1), pp. 51-80.
• International peer-reviewed journal
• (Output 3) Andress, David (2006) The Micro-physics of Öffentlichkeit?
Habermas, Foucault and the Administration of Democratic Space in the
Palais-Royal, 1789-1790. Cultural and Social History, 3(1),
pp.1-22. DOI: 10.1191/1478003806cs056oa
•International peer-reviewed journal
• (Output 4) Andress, David (2000) Massacre at the Champ de Mars:
popular dissent and political culture in the French Revolution,
Royal Historical Society studies in history: new series. Boydell Press for
the Royal Historical Society, Woodbridge. ISBN 0861932471. Available
• (Supporting evidence 1) Review, Journal of Social History,
36.1, 2002, p. 200.
• (Supporting evidence 2) Review, Journal of Modern History,
75.1, 2003, p. 169.
• (Supporting evidence 3) Review, Historical Journal, 46.3, 2003,
• (Output 5) Andress, David (2004) The French Revolution and the
People, Hambledon and London, London, xviii + 301 pp. ISBN 18528
5295X. Available on request.
• (Supporting evidence 4) Review, International Review of Social
History, 50.3, 2005, pp. 503-5.
• (Supporting evidence 5) Review, European History Quarterly,
36.1, 2006, pp. 117-9.
• (Output 6) Andress, David (2005) The Terror: Civil War in the
French Revolution, Little, Brown, London. vi + 424 pp. ISBN 03168
61812. Available on request.
US edition, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006 (As The
Terror; the merciless war for freedom in revolutionary France, ISBN
• (Supporting evidence 6) Review, Annales historiques de la
Révolution française, no. 344, 2006, pp. 263-5.
• (Supporting evidence 7) Review by Prof David A. Bell, Princeton
University, in The New Republic, 17 April 2006, p. 30.
• (Supporting evidence 8) Review by Prof William Doyle, University of
Bristol, in The Independent, 10 June 2005, p. 28.
Details of the impact
In the fields of undergraduate and postgraduate education, the research
findings embodied in The Terror have had a global impact.
Information in this area is necessarily diffuse, but an informal survey
through the H-France online community (conducted January 2012) produced
over 30 responses indicating that the text had become a key presence on
syllabi for teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Institutions included: (UK) Birkbeck College, Reading, and Keele;
(Australia) Deakin, Melbourne, and the Australian National University;
(Canada) Universities of Ottawa and Regina, and Wilfrid Laurier
University; (United States) Northwestern University, the University of
Arkansas, Reed College, SUNY Albany, California State University, Los
Angeles, Fullerton and North Ridge, the University of Mississippi, SUNY
Oneonta, the University of South Alabama, Washington and Lee University
(Corroborative Source, hereafter CS, 1).
Individual feedback comments from respondents include: `your book,
judging from the response of my students, has been one of the most
stimulating and rewarding among those I assign in this course.' (Erik
Goldner, California State University, Northridge); `the book helps grad
students and upper level history majors tackle questions of historiography
in their long writing assignment... thanks for this powerful contribution
to the field.' (John Savage, Lehigh University, Pennsylvania); `your book
is and will be on the doctoral exam book list of every student I have who
does any reading on the French Revolution.' (Richard S. Fogarty,
University at Albany, SUNY) (CS1).
Given that the field of French Revolution studies is a highly congested
one, with new high-level surveys and analytical syntheses appearing every
year, these results, seven years after initial publication, are testimony
to the lasting and significant impact of Andress's work on the
teaching-practices of university teachers and the understanding of their
students across the Anglophone world.
This research has also had impact on UK A-level teaching. For the past
five years Andress has lectured regularly on the themes of his work to
sixth-form students (a cumulative audience of several thousands) at events
organised by Premier Student Conferences and Sovereign Education, the most
significant bodies offering direct experience of academic history to UK
school students. The Director of Premier Student Conferences has noted
that Andress receives `much praise from teachers' in feedback on these
events, with the clarity and quality of Andress's interpretations
consistently acknowledged, along with their positive impact on student
In 2010, the exam board EdExcel chose an excerpt from The Terror
as one of only three historiographical extracts for commentary on their A2
History paper on the Revolution. Building on this significant impact, in
2011/12 Andress was commissioned by the Society for the Study of French
History to produce a revision-guide and series of audio podcasts for free
distribution to A-level students nationwide (CS3). The launch of this
resource was accompanied with a further contribution to the Historical
Association magazine Teaching History. Both the written and audio
materials encapsulate the key findings of the underpinning research and
make it accessible to new educational audiences. This work has been
accessed by students and teachers not merely in the UK, but as far afield
as Islamabad, Pakistan. Recent feedback on the podcasts from teachers
includes: `I have found them very helpful, not only for myself but for my
exceptionally bright group of Year 13 students'; `your podcast has proved
especially useful ... along with the accompanying essay, very helpful
particularly for revision' (CS4).
Through this work, and its basis in his research, Andress has a
significant claim to have a leading active impact on the educational
understanding of the French Revolution, structuring syllabi and
influencing both the construction of examinations and the pedagogical
response to them, with a reach extending from UK school students and
teachers to postgraduate students across the Anglophone world.
The Terror has had global sales of some 17,000 copies (CS5). One
indicator of direct impact on individuals is their engagement through
ratings on the goodreads.com website, where the US edition of the work has
an average score of 4.01 out of 5. It continues to attract individual 4-
and 5-star ratings in 2013. This compares, for example, to a rating of
3.97 for Schama's Citizens, and 3.71 for Doyle's Oxford
History of the French Revolution, and is the highest rating of any
recently-published history text on the Revolution (figures here and below
accurate as of 10 October 2013). Comments include `This is History at its
best', `an author who understands the relevance of their lessons for
today's world', `Fascinating and very informative... It will make you
hunger for more' (CS6).
The impact of this research on other non-academic bodies is demonstrated
by a series of engagements explicitly arising from the public profile of The
Terror. Oxford Analytica, a consulting company, commissioned Andress
to write a guide to the French Revolution for a major client, and the Wall
Street Journal commissioned a blog piece on the contemporary
resonance of French revolutionary experiences (CS7). Orion Publishers
invited him to act as historical consultant on Sally Gardner's children's
fiction books set in the Revolution, The Red Necklace and The
Silver Blade. As the author noted, Andress's contribution `was
significant, contributing to my ability to set a stimulating story in a
realistic historical context, and assisting through this additional
dimension of the work with the achievement of the very positive critical
and reader response that it received' (CS8). In a review, the leading
magazine Publisher's Weekly specifically noted that The Red
Necklace `paints vivid, convincing pictures of the Revolution'
(CS9), and the book is rated at 3.81 out of 5 by a large sample of readers
on goodreads.com. The Silver
Blade is at 3.93.
The conclusions of The Terror were further articulated in a TV
drama-documentary, `Terror! Robespierre and the French Revolution',
produced in 2008/09. The programme was broadcast on 11 July 2009 on BBC2,
and repeated on BBC4 on 24 October 2009. Well-received on first broadcast,
the programme is currently rated at 7.8 out of 10 on the Internet Movie
Database, a global monitor of broadcast output. As well as providing
initial background information and perspective, Andress was interviewed
extensively for the programme itself, and appeared as one of the major
on-screen contributors. This programme, thanks to the input of Andress and
his work, was able to counterpoint a continued left-right oppositional
engagement with more subtle debate about the contexts of revolutionary
actors and the constraints on their behaviour (CS10).
Sources to corroborate the impact
The following items available for audit from University of Portsmouth on
CS1. Email survey replies on using The Terror in Higher Education
CS2. Supporting statement on lectures to 6th-forms by Director of Premier
CS4. Teachers' feedback on French Revolution A-level podcasts.
CS8. Supporting statement from the author concerning contribution to the
quality and reception of fictional works.
Contact information provided:
CS5. Publishing Director for Non-Fiction at Little, Brown. Can corroborate
global sales figures for The Terror, and confirm the highly
positive critical reaction to the text and its continuing interest for
Openly accessible information:
CS3. Podcasts hosted at http://www.frenchhistorysociety.ac.uk/french_revolution.htm
CS6. Goodreads.com entry for The Terror:
CS7. Wall Street Journal blog entry: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/10/18/is-occupy-wall-street-similar-to-the-french-revolution/
CS9. Publishers' Weekly entry for The Red Necklace: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8037-3100-4
CS10. IMDB entry for `Terror!': http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1468876/