"History Written with a Little Spite"

Palmer, Brinton, and an American Debate on the French Revolution

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
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How did the historical profession in America view the French democratic tradition during the international crisis of modern liberalism of the twentieth century? Although Robert R. Palmer is remembered for his historical texts, his defense of popular democracy in the historiography of the French Revolution was an important, and as yet overlooked, contribution to the intellectual defense of democratic values during the 1930s, just when Western faith in "enlightened reason" was reaching a new low. This contest becomes visible in Palmer's debate on the meaning of the Revolution and the Great Terror with the Harvard historian, Crane Brinton. Viewed in the discipline's historical context, their debate shows that, rather than a consensual support for the ideal of European popular democracy, up to the 1950s American specialists of European history were quite divided on the French republican and revolutionary experience.

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