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WIU Professor Releases Book Researching French History

September 22, 2022

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MACOMB, IL – Western Illinois University History Professor Edward Woell has released the book "Confiscating the Common Good: Small Towns and Religious Politics in the French Revolution," which is based on research he completed since writing his previous book.

Woell's book was released Aug. 2 by the Manchester University Press (UK), and is available everywhere, including locally at New Copperfield's Book Service, on the Macomb square. The book is part of Manchester University Press' French History and Francophone Studies Series.

The book examines five French communities and the impact of the French Revolution on each. The description on the back cover explains "'Confiscating the Common Good' delves into the civic life of five small communities as they faced the upheavals of the French Revolution. It argues that the Revolution's religious politics weakened democratic society in small towns by taking away key sources of identity, autonomy and development."

Woell researched the towns of Pont-à-Mousson, Gournay-en-Bray, Vienne, Haguenau and Is-sur-Tille.

"These are microhistories of five small towns in France, in difference parts of the country, from 1789-1793, the first years of the French Revolution," said Woell. "The book looks at religious reforms during the Revolution, and the closing of institutions people relied on, including those held by all of the religious orders that were eliminated."

Some of the research for the book was completed during Woell's sabbatical year, from 2018-2019. Prior to that, Woell had made five research trips between 2004 and 2015, often visiting regional archives located near the small communities he was examining.

For research at that level, you better not be in Paris or other larger cities," he said. "This was very revealing; a gateway to the unknown."

Obstacles Woell faced included documents that had been damaged or destroyed, over time or by fire.

This is Woell's second book – the first was published in 2006 and is titled "Small-town Martyrs and Murderers: Religious Revolution and Counterrevolution in Western France, 1774-1914."

For more information about Woell's publication, visit

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