Alfred Cobban (1901–1968) was a Professor of French History at University College, London, who along with prominent French historian Francois Furet held a 'Revisionist' view of the French Revolution. They believed the Revolution did little to change French society, in direct contrast to the Orthodox Marxist school which saw the Revolution as the rise of the bourgeoisie against the nobility and the transition from feudalism to capitalism. As such, the Revolution was a symbol of progress.
However, Cobban claimed that the quality of daily life after the Revolution remained basically unchanged, identifying that:
- France was still a rural society with small farms.
- The French Industrial Revolution came later in the nineteenth century as most cities retained a majority of small workshops and artisan's small enterprises (often employing around four people) rather than large-scale production facilities (factories), although the latter were found in Anzin, for example. This was a town of iron foundries and coal mining and employed 4000 in these trades.
Cobban claimed that the urban poor fared worse than before as they lost the charity supplied by the Roman Catholic Church. This occurred in 1791 when the National Constituent Assembly abolished the tithe and sold Church properties. Cobban also notes that French society still had a significant amount of social inequality, as many nobles still retained political and economic leadership and dominance under the collective title with the bourgeois as 'Notables'. Gender equality did not advance far, with women still considered the 'lesser' sex as they lost the rights gained during the Revolution under the reign of Napoleon I.
However, Cobban's views and works in the macrocosm were to be the inspiration and birthplace of the historical school now known as Revisionism. Along with George V. TaylorThe Social Interpretation of the French Revolution. His resultant argument was that the Revolution could not be seen as a social revolution exacerbated by economic changes (specifically the development of capitalism and by corollary, class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the nobility). Rather, it should be seen as a political revolution with social consequences.