Three Lesson Plans: France in the Late-18th and Early-19th Centuries

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Authored by

  • Thomas Lenihan
    Yorktown High School
    Arlington, Virginia

Lesson Plan 1: Re-creating an Enlightenment Salon

Salons were popular intellectual and social gatherings during the Enlightenment, hosted by wealthy, educated French women like Madame Geoffrin. A salon was an extension of the court, where women of leadership entertained and engaged in discussion with the elite.

The lesson involves re-creating a salon. Students will be assigned the role of a philosophe, assistant to a philosophe, enlightened monarch, or host for this one- to two-day activity. ("Assistant to a philosophe" is an optional role for larger classes; assistants can help with research and with discussing their philosophes' ideas during the salon.) The lesson should begin with students doing research on their assigned roles. They will portray that person at the salon. You may want to allow one class period for online or library research or assign it for homework.

Topics to be discussed at the salon may include:

  • Deism
  • Religious toleration
  • Economics
  • Types of government
  • Capital punishment
  • Human nature
  • Slavery

Figures to be portrayed during the salon:

  • Madame Geoffrin, hostess
  • Butler (announces arrival of salon guests and assigns them a seat)
  • Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Denis Diderot
  • Adam Smith
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Cesare Beccaria
  • Voltaire
  • Mary Wollstonecraft
  • King Louis XV of France
  • Madame de Pompadour
  • King Frederick the Great of Prussia
  • Emperor Joseph II of Austria
  • Empress Catherine the Great of Russia
  • King Gustav III of Sweden

The structure of the salon should be a seminar/discussion. The teacher may want to throw out some questions or assign that role to the hostess, Madame Geoffrin. Everyone should participate by asking questions or raising ideas throughout the salon from the above topics. You may want to encourage students to dress in a costume. Consider allowing refreshments as would have been done in an actual salon.

While this is somewhat based on historical events, obviously not all of these philosophes or enlightened monarchs were around at the same time, nor would they all have been together for a salon in the Enlightenment era.

Lesson Plan 2: Debating the French Revolution

The French Revolution is, without question, one of the major turning points in modern European history. Both the causes and consequences of the Revolution have been widely debated. This lesson involves debating this event in class.

Assign students a position to research. Have half the class be the conservative historians and half the class be the liberal historians. The purpose is to do research on historians' views of the French Revolution and then present and debate those views in a class seminar. A helpful book to have students use is Revolution and Terror in France, 1789-1795 by D. G. Wright, part of the series Seminar Studies in History. Essentially, you are asking students to be current historians examining the French Revolution and how it has been looked at by different historians since 1789.

The debate may consist of three parts: debating views of the French Revolution with a partner, taking a stand on teacher statements about it, and a seminar. Everyone is required to participate and will be graded on their comments and participation throughout the three parts of the debate. One of the main questions we will discuss is: Was violent force justified in overthrowing an unrepresentative government?

You may want to allow students a class period to do research. The actual lesson will take two regular class periods or one block period.

Agree/disagree part:

  • Can the Reign of Terror be justified as being necessary?
  • Louis XVI was not as incompetent as some would say but merely was king "during the wrong time."
  • If the Enlightenment had not occurred, there never would have been a French Revolution.
  • Women played a significant role during the Revolution.

Seminar circle part:

  • Liberal historians' views of the revolution: causes, influence, role of the three estates, effects, changing views over time
  • Conservative historians' views of the revolution: causes, influence, role of the three estates, effects, changing views over time

Lesson Plan 3: Mock Congress of Vienna

The purpose of this lesson is to re-create the ending of the Congress of Vienna. This unique event transformed modern Europe and redrew many boundaries after the Napoleonic Wars, leading to an unprecedented period of peace across Europe that would last almost 50 years.

Assign students a country that attended the Congress of Vienna (Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria, Prussia) and either assign them a role from the list below or allow them to choose a role within their group. The questions below can be given as a homework assignment in preparation for the mock congress.

The Mock Congress of Vienna lesson will take one regular class period. It can be done in the form of a press conference, with students pretending that they have just finished the treaty and are presenting it to the media who have come to Vienna. It would be helpful to have students use a map from 1815 when discussing any territorial gains or losses.

  • Ambassador (one): Makes an opening statement, introduces the other diplomats, and assists them during the press conference
  • Diplomats (one or two): Discuss the role that they played in negotiating the peace agreement and answer questions from reporters
  • Public relations representatives (one or two): Help answer reporters' questions in advance by meeting with them in class and assist with preparing the ambassador's and diplomats' opening statements
  • Speechwriter (one): Assists the public relations representatives with preparing statements and answering reporters' questions that are submitted in advance
  • Reporters (one or two): Represent a country and direct questions about the peace agreement to their country's ambassador and diplomats. Reporters must submit some questions in advance.

Students should answer the following questions individually based on their assigned countries. Encourage them to use Internet resources and/or the textbook to answer the questions.

  • What role did your country play, and for what reasons did you feel a need to attend the Congress of Vienna?
  • Who was your country's chief representative at the Congress, and what was his role?
  • What did your country propose and/or seek at the Congress of Vienna?
  • Did your country ally with any others, and for what reasons?
  • What role did your country play in formulating the European settlement?
  • What did your country gain (if anything) through the settlement agreement?

Thomas Lenihan graduated cum laude with a B.A. in history from Marymount University in 2001. He has taught AP European History at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, since 2003.