The Pre(r)amble: Over the past few months I've gotten interested in the development of history and historiography in Victorian England, and how the Victorians saw themselves reflected in and contrasted by past societies. I've read several historians who claimed that the nineteenth was a uniquely 'historical' century, in which rising secularism, the idea of progress, and other broad trends pushed historical explanations to the fore, so that they increasingly supplied the "just-so" stories of the new generations. To give an example, as the British Empire reached its height there was a resurgence of interest in ancient Rome, which was used to analyze, support, and critique British imperialism.
This in turn got me wondering if there were comparable movements in nearby European countries during the second half of the 19th century, particularly in France and the German states. For this question I'd like to ask about the French.
My Question: Was there a comparable interest in history in France during the later half of the nineteenth century? If so, what periods were of interest, and what uses were they put to? Did history make itself known in art and literature? Was it used by or against the French state, or in relation to French colonialism?
I suspect that history in France under Napoleon III would have been dominated by the shadows of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Revolution, so I want to be clear that I'm asking about how the French used history outside of their own living memory. An answer about, say, the attitude of the Second French Empire to the French Revolution, is not what I'm looking for. But if there were French historians commenting on the Revolution in the guise or context of, say, Greek classicism, that would be a perfect fit.
Finally, though I've used Second French Empire as a conveniently narrow frame of reference, I would be very happy with answers that touched on the adjoining Second and Third Republics. My main area of interest is the second half of the nineteenth century.