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Old Regime and Terror in France

The Nathan & Jeanette Miller Center for Historical Studies hosts a symposium in honor of Dr. Donald Sutherland.

Event Information

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Marie Mount Hall, the Maryland Room


  • Christy Pichichero, Associate Professor of French and History at George Mason University
  • Thomas Kaiser, retired professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • Colin Jones, Professor of History at Queen Mary University of London
  • Dr. Censer, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University




Christy Pichichero

Christy Pichichero is Associate Professor of French and History at George Mason University. She earned her A.B. in Comparative Literature at Princeton University, a bachelor’s of music in opera singing from the Eastman School of Music, and her Ph.D. in French Studies from Stanford University. She has held fellowships at Cambridge University (King’s College), the École Normale Supérieure (Paris), West Point Military Academy, and the Society of the Cincinnati. She is the author of several articles and chapters on neoclassical theater, the history of emotions, and race in French history and recently published The Military Enlightenment: War and Culture in the French Empire from Louis XIV to Napoleon (Cornell University Press, 2017), which is a finalist for the Kenshur Prize. She serves on the Governing Council of the Western Society for French History, the Board of Directors of the Consortium on the Revolutionary Era, and the Presidential Advisory Committee of the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.

One of Dr. Sutherland’s richest contributions to the historiography of the French Revolution is his investigation of civilian violence. In honor of his remarkable work and career, Dr. Pichichero’s presentation explores this same theme through a diametric opposition of its terms: visions of military nonviolence. Though seemingly paradoxical, ideologies and practices of nonviolence developed in specific contexts within the French armed forces during the “military Enlightenment” of the eighteenth century. One of the most significant applications of this nonviolence pertained to the common soldier, whose mind and body were not viewed through the lens of docility as Foucault claimed, but instead became the subjects of conversation and care. Plays and artworks contributed to this cultural shift, portraying the soldier outside of the context of battle and transforming the image of the soldier from that of a nameless, vicious perpetrator, to that of a protagonist and a victim of multifarious forms of violence.

Thomas Kaiser

Thomas Kaiser retired this past spring from his professorship at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a position he held for forty-two years. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1976, and since then has lectured and published widely on a variety of aspects of Old Regime and Revolutionary France, including royal propaganda, public opinion, finance, historiography, the court, and diplomacy. Professor Kaiser has received research fellowships from many funders, among them, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, and the American Philosophical Society. His latest work deals with the diplomatic origins of the French Revolution. His current book project, parts of which he has published in the form of articles and book chapters, examines the twisted history of France's relationship with Austria in the later eighteenth century. It focuses on the widespread French belief that the nation's decline as a major power owed largely to Austria's duplicitous efforts to drain French resources for its own purposes by means of its highly placed subversive agents in Versailles, among them a royal mistress, a royal minister, and the Queen.Tentatively entitled "Marie-Antoinette and the Austrian Plot, 1748-1794," it then traces the impact of this essentially conspiratorial notion on the subsequent course of the French Revolution.

Of all the many changes in French foreign policy wrought by the Revolution of 1789, none was more significant than the shift from a diplomacy conducted by and in the name of the king and his dynasty to a diplomacy conducted by and in the name of the “nation.” This transformation has not received much attention from historians of the French Revolution, partly because of their neglect of foreign policy generally, partly because of the common assumption that the implementation of this profound change followed more or less automatically from the adoption of a democratic Revolutionary ideology. Without minimizing the impact of democratic ideology, this paper seeks to complicate the story. First, it argues that “dynasticism” under the Old Regime was by no means incompatible with “nationalism” and increasingly drew strength from it. Second, it shows that during the French Revolution, the “nationalization” of foreign policy was by no means mechanical or automatic. Not only did particular “circumstances” enormously complicate this process, but so, too, did contradictions inherent in the project to restore French “honor” and respect for French power in the eyes of foreign nations. Indeed, the requirements of that project set limits to the “nationalization” of French foreign policy under the new political order.

Colin Jones

Colin Jones is Professor of History at Queen Mary University of London and from 2018-19 will be Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. He is author or editor of many books on French history, the most recent of which are The Smile Revolution in 18th-century Paris (2015) and Versailles: Landscape of Power and Pleasure (2018). His current project is a study of the day of 9 Thermidor Year II.

The overthrow of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor is one of the great key moments of the French revolution. Yet what did Robespierre really want on that day? Historians have offered a full array of answers from intensifying the Terror to ending it. In this paper Dr. Jones seeks to throw light on the question by examining Robespierre's actions and words on the day itself.

Dr. Censer

Dr. Censer, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, became the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University in 2006. He earned his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. After three years at the College of Charleston, Dr. Censer came to George Mason in 1977. Beginning as an assistant professor, he was promoted to full professor in 1987. He served as the Chair of the Department of History & Art History from 1995-2005 and served as Dean of the College from January 2006 to July 2013. He retired in May 2015. He has given numerous guest lectures and regularly presents his work at national conferences. He has held visiting professor appointments at Cornell University and the University of Maryland. Dr. Censer’s research has examined the French Revolution, intellectual history, and the press. Previous publications include: Prelude to Power: The Radical Press in the French Revolution; The French Press in the Age of Enlightenment; On the Trail of the DC Sniper: Fear and the Media; and Debating Modern Revolution: The Evolution of Revolutionary Ideas. His latest work, coauthored with his colleague Lynn Hunt, is The French Revolution and Napoleon (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Dr. Censer will present the following talk: among the most accomplished historians of the Old Regime and the French Revolution, Don Sutherland has published important works on the causes and course of these changes and events. Although his voluminous publications include two syntheses of the revolution and Napoleonic era as well as social histories of the eighteenth century, this talk mainly focuses on his work of the last decade concerning revolutionary violence. Whatever the subject, Don is a consummate user of the archives and a master of the scholarly literature.

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