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Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution

Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution

Rebecca L. Spang

ISBN 9780674975422

Publication date: 02/20/2017

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Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
A Financial Times Best History Book of the Year
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year

Rebecca L. Spang, who revolutionized our understanding of the restaurant, has written a new history of money. It uses one of the most infamous examples of monetary innovation, the assignats—a currency initially defined by French revolutionaries as “circulating land”—to demonstrate that money is as much a social and political mediator as it is an economic instrument. Following the assignats from creation to abandonment, Spang shows them to be subject to the same slippages between policies and practice, intentions and outcomes, as other human inventions.

“This is a quite brilliant, assertive book.”
—Patrice Higonnet, Times Literary Supplement

“Brilliant…What [Spang] proposes is nothing less than a new conceptualization of the revolution…She has provided historians—and not just those of France or the French Revolution—with a new set of lenses with which to view the past.”
—Arthur Goldhammer, Bookforum

“[Spang] views the French Revolution from rewardingly new angles by analyzing the cultural significance of money in the turbulent years of European war, domestic terror and inflation.”
—Tony Barber, Financial Times


  • For [Spang], the issues surrounding Revolutionary paper money, or assignats, were neither simply social nor ideological. They were simultaneously social and political. In fact, the assignat, she deftly shows, was meant to be both state-sponsored, i.e. national, and natural, i.e. worth something that was very real… This is a quite brilliant, assertive book. For Spang, all historians (‘pace Furet’ and ‘pace Soboul’) were wrong, as are—or were—culturally blind, apolitical economists; all Jacobins; some prostitutes and beggars, and, also, Edmund Burke, who explained in 1791 that ‘the utter destruction of assignats, and…the restoration of order, are one.’ Restoring ancient world orders, as we know, usually doesn’t work.

    —Patrice Higonnet, Times Literary Supplement


  • 2016, Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize


  • Rebecca L. Spang is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Indiana University. She is the author of Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution (Harvard).

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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