France's Struggle



Join Active Minds as we use recent events involving radical terrorism in the country as an opportunity to review France’s complex dynamics around minorities and immigration.  We will also explore the history and current challenges facing the country in general.  We will learn how French culture and values impact current national and regional issues as well as explore the role of France in the European Union.

Key Lecture Points

  • As one of the oldest countries in the world, France has had a strong cultural, economic, military and political influence on Europe and the world.  France’s history begins with early inhabitants like the Cro-Magnons who left paintings in the caves of Dordogne, starting a long tradition of the arts in France.  Important rulers in the history of France include Clovis I who united all the Franks under one rule, Charlemagne who became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800, Francois I who began France’s exploration of the New World and initiated the French Renaissance, Henry IV who ended the French Religious Wars and Louis XIV who brought absolute monarchy to its height.
  • The French Revolution began in 1789, ending forever the absolute monarchy in France and spreading the ideals of liberty and nationalism across Europe.  Rising to power during the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor of France in 1804.  The Napoleonic Wars made France the most powerful country in Europe until Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia in 1812 led to his defeat.
  • Having lost or sold most of its colonial territory in the New World, France began to build a second colonial empire with its invasion of Algeria in 1830.  By 1914, France’s empire was second only to Britain’s, stretching from Indochina (Vietnam) to Morocco.
  • France has a long history of immigration, dating back to its industrialization in the 19th century when workers were needed for the new factories.  During WWI, immigration from its North African colonies provided soldiers for the army and factory workers to replace the soldiers at the front.  After the destruction of WWII, France again looked to its colonies for the manpower to rebuild.
  • As Algeria and other North African colonies became independent in the 1960s, many of their nationals immigrated to France, fleeing political upheaval and seeking opportunity.  These immigrants, mostly Muslim, often faced social and economic difficulties and even generations later, many have not totally assimilated.  The January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris raised anew concerns about the radicalization of French-born Muslims.  In the aftermath of the killings, France grapples with how to balance its cherished ideals of liberty, tolerance and secularity with national security.
  • Since the end of WWI, France’s cooperation with Germany has been central to the economic integration of Europe and the adoption of the Euro in 1999.   France has the second largest economy in the Eurozone but it has struggled to emerge from the 2008 Recession.

Exploration Questions

  • Name three major French historical figures and how they contributed to French history.
  • Describe the key elements of the French Revolution.  How does it continue to influence French history and society?

Reflective Questions

  • How are French immigration issues similar and different from the US immigration debate?
  • Have you traveled to France?  If so what impressed you?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Doyle, William.  The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.  Oxford University Press USA, 2001. 135 pages.  Concise exploration of what caused the French Revolution and its legacy.
    Click here to order
  • Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables.  Simon & Schuster, 2005, 656 pages. This epic novel of injustice, heroism and love is told through the life of Jean Valjean, an escaped criminal determined to put his past behind him.  The novel shows us what life was like in France from the end of the Napoleonic era to the July Revolution of 1830.
    Click here to order
  • Roberts, Andrew. Napoleon: A Life. Viking Adult, 2014. 976 pages. This sweeping biography of Napoleon makes use of 33,000 letters written by Napoleon, dispelling some myths and adding new insights.
    Click here to order