The century and a half from 1756 to 1906 was an era of profound change in France. It spanned the Seven Years’ War, the end of the ancien régime, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, and the nineteenth-century development of France into a dominant industrial power. These periods have been the subject of intense “top-down” histories, almost from their inception. According to some scholars, however, the flaw in the “top-down” approach is that it takes little account of how ordinary people are affected by historical forces. Carlo Ginzburg, for example, in a series of articles in Quaderni Storici and Critical Inquiry in the 1970s, argued that accounts based on the experiences of individuals and groups can o


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