Things that changed the world: Communicating Napoleon’s legacy

Napoleon was responsible for forming a centralised administrative system in France.
Source: Map showing Europe divided according to the general treaty signed 1st june 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, Wilkinson, Robert, 1826, Mapová sbírka Přírodovědecké fakulty UK v Praze via Europeana

This article is the tenth of an ongoing series from EUROCLIO and Europeana providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series on

As a leader, Napoleon affected great change in France and Europe. This change has gone on to become a legacy that continues to echo in the world today. The Historiana source collection, Napoleon and his legacy, explores some of Napoleon’s lasting impacts from the introduction of the metric system in France to the development of nation-states and nationalism in Europe. The source collection gives students the opportunity to consider Napoleon’s ongoing effect on the world in which they live, building a sense of relevance from what can sometimes feel like a long-distant topic. Examining legacies of historical events and individuals in this way promotes an understanding of historical significance and also a greater appreciation of the way in which history is interwoven into our present-day lives.

One way to help students engage with the meaning and significance of legacies such as this is to encourage them to communicate these in different ways. The eLearning Activity available on Historiana aims to do just this.

Communicating History

Closely intertwined with learning to think like members of the historical community, is learning to communicate like members the historical community. Learning to write and speak like a historian is important for students to understand the conventions of the discipline, but history communication goes far beyond this. Considering other ways in which history can be communicated – documentaries, museum exhibitions, oral histories, memorials, and so on – offers a wealth of opportunities for students to be creative and think about how history can be conveyed in different ways for different audiences. This also provides students with different means of integrating source materials and evidence in their work; for instance, multimedia presentations allow students to incorporate image and video sources in their work. This is a great way to take advantage of the huge number of visual sources available online from digitised collections like Europeana.

Modelling can be particularly important when constructing activities in which students need to communicate in different ways. Providing students with authentic examples of different text types to analyse helps them to form a clear understanding of the conventions and strategies used to communicate history in different contexts. From here, they can begin to construct their own texts for different audiences.

Napoleon meets Francis II, the final emperor of the Holy Roman Empire which was dissolved following Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. Source: Napoleon meets Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, after the Battle of Austerlitz, the cause of the demise of the Empire, Painting by Aleksander Stankiewicz (1824-1892), Cyfrowe Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie via Europeana

Teaching Historical Communication and Napoleon’s Legacy

The eLearning Activity, How Napoleon Changed Our World, asks students to script a promotional trailer for a fictional documentary series entitled Three Things That Changed Our World. Students are required to investigate Napoleon’s various legacies, evaluate their significance, and select the three most important to them. After reviewing some examples, students prepare and script a short promo video.

While the eLearning Activity stops here, where resources permitted, it would be wonderful to have students assembling a simple video with their script which included relevant images and music to create a sense of mood. Equally, teachers might select an entirely different communication type for students to prepare, such as a museum exhibit using objects from the past and present that represent Napoleon’s legacy. These are only a few ideas of how to approach getting students to communicate about the relationship between the past and present, but they show how easy it is to allow students to be creative as they learn to communicate like members of the historical community.


Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.


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