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May: Site update and the controversy over Napoleon

Wednesday 26 May 2021

What is new on the site?

The topic on Slavery for Paper 3, The Americas is now completed:

We are also continuing to add to Topic 10: The Emergence of Americas in global affairs. The latest addition is on the Spanish-American War:


May 2021 is the 200 anniversary of the death of Napoleon.

In March's blog we shared an article from The Economist which claimed that, as May approached, tempers were rising in France over how this anniversary should be commemorated.

This has proved to be the case especially as President Macron commemorated the death of Napoleon by laying a wreath at his tomb - something that many French thought was unacceptable given Napoleon's actions and attitudes regarding such issues as slavery and women, and his style of rule.

This controversy provides an excellent focus for those of us teaching Napoleon for Europe, Paper 3. It also raises TOK questions regarding how different times look at key events/individuals in different ways according to the prevalent thinking of the time. As an article by France 24 puts it 'Every era sees Napoléon in a different light'.

This article provides a good introduction to Napoleon and the controversy surrounding his legacy

Napoleon€'s contested legacy | The Week UK

Two hundred years after the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, a bitter debate is still raging in France over his place in its history

The following article from the BBC is more specific regarding current opinions in France and the debate on how Napoleon should be remembered.

Which of these views (given in the BBC article) do students think is more valid?:

'Decisions by Napoleon that seem outrageous today have to be seen in the context of the entire history of colonisation. Powerful people always abuse their powers.'

‘[commemorating Napoleon is] worrying in the current French climate, when there is widespread doubt about democracy, and when some French people perhaps even hope for an authoritarian strongman.'

Napoleon's incendiary legacy divides France 200 years on (BBC News)

Dictatorship and slavery taint the Napoleonic reforms that shaped modern France.

 Book review: The Light of Days

This recently published book by Judy Batalion on women resistance fighters in the ghettos in the Second World War caught our eye this month:

The Light of Days€ Review: To Resist and Connect (WSJ)

The young women of the Polish ghetto were a defiant and resourceful breed, acting as couriers, smugglers and, sometimes, warriors.

Preparing for university applications: Essay competitions

Some students in the first year diploma programme will now be thinking about applying to study history at University. These students might want to consider entering an essay competition from a prestigious university. This gives them the opportunity to hone their research and essay skills with the added bonus that if they get short listed (or even win!) they can add this achievement to their University application forms.

Here are a couple of places offering History essay competitions with deadlines in next couple of months:

St Hugh's College, Oxford (Deadline 30th July)





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