Understanding the French Revolution through print culture in education and heritage
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The research has shown the ways in which responses to the trauma of the
French Revolution are revealed in contemporary printed images and fiction.
A collection of prints at Waddesdon Manor (National Trust) formed the
basis of activities which have brought a greater awareness of the
ramifications of the Revolution among the broader public, improved the
knowledge-base of heritage industry staff, and supported teaching in
schools. Insights into the prints have been used to create educational
resources which introduce new research methods and themes to primary and
secondary pupils in History, Citizenship and Modern Foreign Languages.
Waddesdon has drawn on the research to realise an important aspect of its
institutional strategy through the development of an online catalogue and
The intersection between politics and culture is a central research theme
in Warwick's French Studies department. Within this theme, Dr Katherine
Astbury (appointed 1999) researches responses to and representations of
French Revolutionary events in contemporary texts and images. Her most
recent monograph (2012) examines how print media were used to reflect both
individual and collective responses to the trauma of the French
Revolution. Her research challenges previous conclusions that narrative
production in the 1790s was largely a-political, and demonstrates how the
bestselling novels of the decade are instead reflections on the emotional
and psychological effects of the Revolution and of the Terror in
Denial is the first stage in the grieving process experienced by trauma
survivors. Therefore, novels or images which are not overtly political are
not examples of escapism or a desire to avoid the trauma, but rather
represent the author's or artist's attempt to come to terms with the
traumatic experience. Only after retreat into a safe location is it
possible for the trauma sufferer to restore the social bonds and affective
ties shattered by the traumatic event and begin to relive the experience
by confronting it. Eventually, it becomes possible for survivors to bear
witness and tell of the trauma, come to terms with the experience, and
reconnect with ordinary life and society. Trauma victims often want to
both deny and declare their experiences. Reading these texts therefore
means attending to implicit as well as explicit meanings in order to
uncover what is being avoided as well as what is being articulated.
Analysing symbols and gestures portrayed in novels and images produced
during the 1790s is a means for accessing individual reactions to the
collective trauma. For example, the émigré novel, a sub-genre of the
sentimental novel which Astbury explored in her 2011 article, used the
wounded émigré rescued by peasants as a common motif. It was depicted
frequently in illustrations and frontispieces, as the representation of
retreat into a place where the social bonds and trust broken by the
Revolution could be restored.
Dr Astbury's expertise in printed narrative and visual responses to
trauma in the French Revolution led to an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral
Award (CDA), in parallel with Queen Mary, University of London, to explore
images of the French Revolution in the Tableaux de la Révolution
française, a unique collection of prints at Waddesdon Manor.
Acquired by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild in the 1890s, the Tableaux
comprise 4 bound volumes of nearly 500 images - from crude etchings to
sophisticated propaganda - which record and satirise the major events of
the French Revolution from a range of political standpoints. The bulk of
the prints were produced during the 1790s following the relaxation of
censorship laws in 1788-89. The dramatic upsurge in the number of prints
on the market demonstrates the importance of narrative and imagery to the
illustrators and the consumers of these works. The successfully completed
PhD at Warwick (Claire Trévien, 2008- 2012) examined the presentation of
spectacle in the prints 1789-94. Spectacle and theatricality reflected the
traumatic experiences of the Revolution as readers craved increasingly
sensational materials in response to the increasingly extraordinary
political and social reality. The CDA produced an online catalogue and
database of the Tableaux prints which is available on the
Waddesdon Manor website.
References to the research
Astbury, Narrative Responses to the Trauma of the French Revolution
(Oxford: Legenda, 2012) ISBN: 978-1-907975-42-4. [REF2; peer reviewed]
Astbury, `The Trans-National Dimensions of the Émigré Novel during the
French Revolution', Eighteenth-Century Fiction 23.4 (Summer 2011),
pp. 801-832. [REF2; peer reviewed]
AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, PI Dr Katherine Astbury; non-academic
Waddesdon Manor (National Trust), 2008-2012, £45,000.
British Academy Small Research Grant, Literary Reponses to the trauma of
the Revolution, Jan 2006-Jan 2008, £6,500.
AHRC Research Leave Award, Apr-Jun 2008, £18,767.
British Academy Small Research Grant, Fiction in the Periodicals of the
1789-95, Sep 2003-Aug 2004, £2,000.
Details of the impact
Key prints from the Tableaux collection at Waddesdon Manor were
used to create teaching resources and educational activities, introducing
primary and secondary school pupils to the Revolution and to source
analysis. The research has improved understanding of the Tableaux
at Waddesdon among its staff and visitors (both virtual and in person) and
supported the historic house in achieving elements of its institutional
1. Impact on the Heritage Industry
`Waddesdon Manor's mission is to enhance understanding and enjoyment
of the collections, and research is the foundation on which this should
be built.' (Curator). Warwick's projects (digital catalogue,
exhibition, and educational resources) based on research into the Tableaux
have helped Waddesdon work towards this. Waddesdon's institutional
strategy involves creating a general online catalogue (for completion
2015/6), and the Tableaux project has contributed significantly to
this objective. 400 prints were catalogued, digitised and contextualised
by doctoral students Claire Trévien (Warwick) and Paul Davidson (QMUL),
supervised by Astbury, Colin Jones (Professor of History, QMUL) and Juliet
Carey (Curator of Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Waddesdon). The
academic supervisors had overall responsibility for the research, ensuring
the accuracy of historical interpretation and understanding. They verified
the translations, worked closely on the in-depth commentaries for 54
feature prints, and helped to prepare the introductory material for the
digital catalogue. Astbury's expertise on the symbolic projection of
political attitudes towards or against the Revolution fed directly into
the interpretation of the prints. For instance, Astbury's research into
the use of the natural world as a response to the Revolution was important
since 300 of the 400 prints contain recurrent motifs recalling the
rootedness of the natural world. Astbury identified in her 2011 article
that trees were often used to represent the stability of the old order and
the constancy of the natural world in the face of revolutionary upheaval.
The digitised prints, which went online in 2011, have allowed Waddesdon
to display part of the collection not normally accessible to the public.
It has strengthened Waddeson's links with outside institutions and raised
awareness of the collections among the academic and curatorial
communities, and with the broader public. Having the prints digitised has
allowed them to be featured in other forums, such as the BBC History Extra
Website in February 2013 (1197 page views to July 2013). Waddesdon has
also benefited from increased exposure to school pupils who have been
introduced to the prints through the resource packs developed by Astbury.
The research was also presented as an exhibition, `A Subversive Art:
Prints of the French Revolution' at Waddesdon, seen by an estimated 45,000
visitors April-November 2011, co-curated by Trévien, Davidson and
Phillippa Plock (Waddesdon). The Tableaux volumes were displayed
alongside the digital catalogue and 20 poster-size reproductions of prints
(with explanatory text), selected to give visitors a sense of the various
print techniques used and the political messages conveyed in the prints.
Contrasting images were displayed side by side which allowed visitors to
appreciate the complexities of Rothschild's collecting tastes, not usually
a feature of the visitor experience. The exhibition was accompanied by a
special interest day (Oct 2012; 16 participants) and a trail throughout
the house which drew attention to objects and individuals associated with
the French Revolution. The trail was singled out for praise in the Enjoy
England Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance scheme annual visitors'
report (2011) as being a `stimulus for visitors to more fully appreciate
the extensive contents [of the house].'
2. Impact on Education
The research has been used to develop educational initiatives to enhance
teaching and learning of the national curriculum in Modern Foreign
Languages (MFL), History, Literature and Citizenship at primary and
secondary level. 300 secondary schools and FE colleges in the UK received
the resource pack for History A-Level and IB students developed from the
prints by Astbury (with educational expertise from A-level history teacher
Andy Holland). Astbury's research was used to establish the historical
framework, identify the prints' key themes and highlight the importance of
symbolism, the possibility of implicitly communicated messages, and the
illustrators' motives to understand better the meaning of the prints. The
pack and supplementary online resources are available to download via the
Historical Association website and Warwick's French department website.
Since the resource packs were made available in September 2012, there have
been a combined 3,753 hits and 343 downloads. Teachers who have used the
packs have said that it has helped support the acquisition of historical
knowledge: `I used the images to develop their skills in analysing primary
evidence as well as deepening their synoptic understanding. The texts were
very clear and provided valuable contextual information.' (A2 Level AQA
Module `France and the Enlightenment', John Cleveland College, Hinckley,
Leics.) According to the Access to HE History course leader at North
Warwickshire College, `No one in the group had formally studied the French
Revolution prior to coming onto the course. However, with the Waddesdon
material as a focal point, they were able to assimilate new ideas and
concepts quickly and efficiently. They seem to have enjoyed the Unit to
the extent that their enthusiasm drove them to independently organise a
visit to Waddesdon during the Easter break.' Students on the Access to HE
course found that the prints improved their understanding of the subject,
`To be able to understand key factors during the French Revolution after
only a few weeks would not have been possible without the prints.'
The material has been adapted to suit a variety of courses at primary and
secondary level and have been supplemented throughout the 2012-13 academic
year by curriculum support days and student research projects guided by
Astbury. Over 200 students from around the country, ranging from Year 6 to
Sixth Form, were introduced to the prints to learn about the French
Revolution; how to analyse visual material for research; and how the
themes in the prints, such as trauma, are relevant for their courses.
Highlights include a workshop at Oxford High School (4.10.2012) for 20
GCSE and A-Level French students. 50 Year 9 pupils attended a day about
Revolutionary propaganda (26.3.2013) where 75% felt that learning how to
analyse prints greatly helped with understanding the French Revolution and
could be applied to historical study in other areas. Nearly all of the
pupils (97%) understood that culture played an important role in politics
as a result of the session. The material has also proved useful for
students in Languages, English Literature and History: 22 Sixth-form
students in these subjects learned about literary and visual
representations of gender, violence and power in the eighteenth century
(21.3.2013) by comparing the depiction of Marie-Antoinette in the prints
with modern film portrayal.
The material has also been adapted successfully for primary school
pupils: in Spring 2013, 42 Year 6 pupils in KS2 Citizenship undertook a
research project on the Revolutionary prints, following a workshop on
campus. The finished projects were presented at an awards evening in June.
One student has said of his experience `Through this piece of writing, I
believe that I have developed my research and finding information skills.'
(Holbrook Primary School, Coventry, Summer 2013).
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Enjoy England Secret Visit Report [provided by Waddesdon Manor]
- Exhibition visitor numbers and feedback [provided by Waddesdon Manor]
- Statements from Waddesdon Head of Collections and Curator, Web Content
- Recorded feedback from teachers about the resource pack
- Recorded student feedback from schools events
- Uptake of educational material, number of hits/downloads, etc
- BBC History Extra http://www.historyextra.com/gallery/images-french-revolution.
Page views provided by BBC History Extra by email.