John Markoff’s work makes several contributions to debates about the origins of the Revolution. To begin with the evidence: first, in exploring a systematic national sample of villagers’ own statements of the grievances, he is able to clarify just what it is that France’s rural people were demanding as France slid into revolution; secondly, in exploring the subsequent patterns of rural insurrection, he is able to show how the forms and targets of peasant actions changed in the unfolding situation. This permits looking in new ways at processes unfolding on different timescales. By being able to trace rural action on a monthby-month and even (in some of his work) day-by-day basis, he provides new documentation on just what was happening in the short run. He argues that an important part of what made the French Revolution what it was occurred as rural people shifted towards attacking the rural lords, which had an enormous impact on the entire course of Revolutionary politics. In addition, by showing the ways in which peasant actions in 1789 were growing out of their increasing challenges to local elites in a variety of arenas, he strongly suggests that such a middle-run notion as “pre-Revolution” needs to be expanded. Historians have generally designated as the “pre-Revolution” the growing crisis among France’s regional and national elites out of which the fateful and fatal decision to convene the Estates General emerged. But Markoff’s work suggests that the concept of “pre-Revolution” probably should also include the growing challenges to seigneurial authority in the legal arena and certainly should include the increasing tempo of semi-insurrectionary challenge that some have noted in the wake of the great food riots of the 1770s. There appears to be a growing tension in rural France in the late ancien régime that needs a great deal more attention from historians.
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