Between Memory and History: Political Uses of the Napoleonic Past in France, 1815-1840 Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Naujoks, Natasha S.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation examines the political uses of historical memory in France between 1815 and 1848 through the lens of the Napoleonic myth. Reflections on the recent Napoleonic past permeated opposition discourse throughout the Restoration despite the regime's attempts to enforce collective amnesia, while Louis-Philippe's more favorable attitudes towards the Napoleonic legacy secured it a vital role in the July Monarchy's political culture as well. Whereas historians have long accepted the thesis that the myth originated in Napoleon's efforts to impose a carefully constructed public image through propaganda, this dissertation argues that it is better understood as part of the nineteenth-century obsession with the past as a mode of explanation. Long recognized in studies of Romanticism, this dissertation attempts to locate the same historicism in popular political discourse and examines the work of largely unknown or anonymous writers who flooded the increasingly popular market for literary novelties in early-nineteenth-century France. Drawing on published sources such as political pamphlets, poems, songs, and other ephemera, as well as police and judicial records, this study analyzes how this community of politically engaged writers fashioned multiple and often contradictory narratives of the Napoleonic past in order to make arguments about France's present and future. This dissertation argues that the Napoleonic myth exemplified the power of the past to both divide and unite the post-Revolutionary nation. The myth took shape as a political discourse against the Restoration regime, and carefully woven narratives of Napoleonic history gave liberal opposition writers a potent means of condemning the Bourbon regime as anti-national for undermining its commitment to unite and forget, succumbing to political factionalism, and perpetuating fractures in the French polity. Napoleon's death in 1821 made it even easier for liberals and republicans to make use of the myth for their own purposes, while also freeing his apologists to reframe their narratives as a path towards reconciliation. The ultimate act of national reconciliation with the past came with the triumphant return of Napoleon's ashes to France in 1840, and the attendant celebrations of a spectacular military legacy formed a useful proxy for reasserting French importance in international diplomacy.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History."
  • Smith, Jay
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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