Neither Reformers nor Réformés

The Construction of French Modernity in the Nineteenth Century

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Gavin Murray-Miller

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Modernity has typically been considered a process consisting of “modernizing” initiatives concerned with nation-building, industrial economic development, and new social and political practices associated with democratization. This article engages ongoing debates regarding the import and meaning of modernity for historians and argues in favor of an historically situated understanding of the modern based upon an examination of social power and identity in post-revolutionary France. In particular, it assesses the transformation of social and political relationships in the nineteenth century as France embraced mass democracy and overseas imperial expansion in North Africa, arguing that modernity became a convenient means of preserving elite primacy and identity in an age increasingly oriented toward egalitarianism, democratic participation, and the acquisition of global empires.

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