This dictionary had its inception following a series of discussions between the present coeditors. We had taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the French Revolution for over thirty years collectively, one of us at Wayne State University, the other at Wayne and at the University of Northern Colorado, and each of us had spent research time in France at various archives. As friends, we shared our teaching and research methodologies, and our professional concerns. At one point or another in every conversation we had, talk invariably turned to the lack of a single, easily obtainable, and cohesive work that would present students of the French Revolution with the basic facts and interpretations surrounding persons and events connected with that cataclysmic upheaval. Such information, we believed, would be of enormous value to students, who ordinarily would not have sufficient knowledge of the sources to know where to look for accurate data. A sophisticated work of this sort would also be of significance to mature scholars of the Revolution. Familiar as they are with the sources, they often lack the time to examine them even when the material is available in their college or university library.
We observed additionally that although comprehensive historical dictionaries exist in English for virtually every other area of world history, no equivalent historical dictionary in English--or recent work in French--existed for historians of the French Revolution--this despite the fact that much significant research and writing on the Revolution is conducted by English-speaking historians and that interest in the Revolution remains uniformly high in English-speaking universities on both sides of the Atlantic.
During early spring 1978, we met in Detroit to begin the actual planning of a historical dictionary of the French Revolution to overcome these scholarly gaps. From the beginning of our discussions, we agreed that the scope of the Revolutionary decade, the enormous impact it has had on the modern world, the sweeping reforms it engendered, and the many interpretations of its causation and progress during the decade before Napoleon was so vast and complex that