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H-France Review

H-France Review Vol. 6 (January 2006), No. 1

Bertrand Müller. Lucien Febvre, lecteur et critique. Paris: Albin Michel, 2003. 467 pp. Notes, annexes, selective bibliography. €26 (pb). ISBN 2-226-13282-1.

Olivier Dumoulin. Le rôle social de l’historien: De la chaire au prétoire. Paris: Albin Michel, 2003. 343 pp. Notes. €22.50 (pb). ISBN 2-226-13484-0.

Review by John L. Harvey, St. Cloud State University.

The Social Role of “Lecture Critique”

In 1912, the American historian Carl Becker presented a paper before the AHA on “The Reviewing of Historical Books,” in which he discussed a “species of writing which ranges from bibliography to creative criticism” that is often underappreciated in our profession.[1] Becker proposed that “first rate historical criticism [fell] within the general trend of historical investigation and thinking, and with the relations of history to other branches of knowledge.” As historical writing is “a part of the entire intellectual activity of a time,” he suggested that reviewers ought to select books that “illustrate aptly some larger subject,” especially iconoclastic works of investigation and interpretation, or “great undertakings” that reflect contemporary intellectual movements. A well-crafted review should impart by its presentation a “grasp and breadth of view as well as erudition; information mediated as well as catalogued, and something of originality and constructive literary power.” But of greatest pertinence today, Becker held that reflective criticism within the Cité du Savoir embraced a wider dialogue with a national society and its body politic. This dual nature of peer review poses two important issues for students concerned with the history of modern historiography. How have concepts, traditions, and organizations of intellectual criticism shaped our modern historical profession? Can scholars reconcile critical independence with contemporary social interests, either in areas of jurisprudence, public service, contemporary debate, or commercial employment?

Such questions are the central interest of two substantial books to appear recently on twentieth-century historiography: Le rôle social de l’historien: De la chaire au prétoire, by Olivier Dumoulin, a maître de conférences at the University of Rouen, and Lucien Febvre, lecteur et critique, by Bertrand Müller, chargé de cours at the University of Geneva and co-editor of the Revue suisse d’histoire since 1994. Each book, reflecting years of extensive research, appeared in 2003 through the historical series of Albin Michel. Together they form a comparable pair of historians, trained during the final phases of Annaliste-oriented approaches in Paris and Francophone Switzerland. Both practice approaches to historiography that test ideas with empirical-archival research, as opposed to theoretical studies that are purely of literature and philosophy.[2] These two respective tomes are touchstones for understanding how French scholars have pursued active civic engagement, while defending a commensurate separate professional identity, based on commitments to intellectual independence and procedures for critical peer review. Due to the format of the publisher, unfortunately neither book includes an index or full bibliography. Müller, however, has appended a brief list of prominent works to supplement his annexes. He also includes data tables that summarize the number and classification of Febvre’s vast array of book reviews.

Müller offers an extended critical study that is most directly related to Becker’s commentary on the writing of modern historiography. Intellectual biographies of scholars such as Lucien Febvre who are central to the growth of a discipline have commonly determined the thought of their subjects through historical legacies of books and major articles. But for Müller, Febvre’s strategies for the organization of historical writing in France must be deciphered through his corpus of some 1,700 comptes rendus and his plans to coordinate academic exchange through centers of critical review.[3] He believes that this prominence of analytical book reviews and Febvre’s legendary influence over the direction of academic research derives from his faith in critical exchange as a means of intellectual renovation during a period burdened by general national stagnation. But rather than merely centering this question on the ideas of Febvre, Müller presents a wider context for the development of reviewing in the academic and literary circles of the Third Republic.

Influenced by Michel de Certeau’s heuristic reading of historical construction “sans fin et sans téléologie” (p. 11), Müller asks how historians came to define their autonomy as critical producers of an “institution of knowledge” that enforces rules or expectations of scholastic “authoritativeness.”[4] The compte rendu and critical bibliography comprise part of a self-regulating discursive community within the Cité. This community fashions sites of exchange (usually reviews) to introduce books into networks of peer evaluation, staffed since the nineteenth century by professional secretaries or editorial boards. The normative basis of “legitimate” historical writing demands thus that reviews can only be analyzed in relation to the context of values and debate with the profession (pp. 36-39). Müller cautions that critical reviewing is a dialogue between the book and the field, not merely a unidirectional policing of discourse in the Foucaultian sense of personal character and power. Rather than mere polemic or narrow censure, Febvre considered his reviews to be a dialogue of enlightened esprit, one which engaged works in order to expand new horizons of investigation, or to measure the possibility of innovation within the discipline.[5] In this light Müller attempts to free Febvre from both the shadow of “Blochomania,” (pp. 19-21), and a historiography freighted with a certain diabolisation of Febvre, due to his direction of the Annales under Vichy.[6]

Febvre’s reliance on the critical review and its utility for promoting national academic reform developed across multiple sites of disciplinary experimentation well before the appearance of the Annales. Müller analyzes how texts are constructed within places where disciplinary discourse is formed, staffed, and policed. Thus inspired, he organizes his argument into a complex of four sections, each with its own introductory chapter: “Invention,” “Lieux,” “Moment,” and “Discipline.” These trace, in order, the creation of the critical review in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, its introduction into professional historical reviews during the belle époque, the separation of critical scholastic reviewing from traditions of general literature, and, finally, the influence on Febvre of the compte rendu as an experimental praxis of the Durkheim school’s Année Sociologique. Each of these contextual essays is followed by three to five further chapters, devoted to the history of the Annales, Febvre’s methodological combats, and his contact with other research disciplines.

The initial chapter on “Invention” discusses different modes of critical discourse that emerged from general literature through private criticism of creative works during the Enlightenment, most often through private letters. Mass media in the nineteenth century steadily transformed intellectual criticism into a regularized form of popular mediation that framed public awareness of the visual, literary, and performing arts outside of state authority. An underlying tension developed within the appropriation of public criticism. As a regularized process central to the identity of professional knowledge, the quest for scientific detachment seemed to conflict with the justification of expertise applied towards the goals of general national progress. The chapter “Moment” then details how academic reviewing separated itself from a general literary aesthetic by claiming a “skeptical spirit” that borrowed heavily from philology to interrogate the “truth” of a work, particularly in history (p.205). Suspicious of a public definition of “legitimate” veracity, scholars either cloistered themselves apart from social discourse in archival priories, such as the École des Chartes, or portrayed their expertise over public opinion as the final verdict on historical matters. Readers may find that interspacing these contextual chapters between four multi-chapter sections somewhat hinders an overall thematic clarity. But treating Febvre’s intellectual antecedents suggests how French scholars traditionally considered a commitment to detachment as supportive of national-democratic renewal, as long as the content of critical exchange sponsored an advance of disciplinary innovation.

In order to determine how Febvre and his colleagues defined this “progress” of historiography, Müller examines the content of his critiques and the goals of his projects to control critical exchange. His early chapters focus on the nuanced role of Henri Berr’s Revue de synthèse as the formative headwaters for Febvre’s later designs for a “sociability of collaborative experimentation” among historians, based on the coordination of critical exchange through directed studies in new research fields.[7] Inevitable interdisciplinary competition challenged imperatives to unite a critical exchange of scientific knowledge, exemplified though the Revue’s tense relationship with Durkheim and his Année Sociologique, as well as a future institutional rivalry between Febvre and Berr.

The Great War and the service of historians to national propaganda during it became a second challenge to the construction of critical autonomy. Febvre emerged from these experiences girded with a lifelong skepticism of narratives informed by nationalism, tendentious synthesis, or service to the modern state. To overcome the disorganization and nationalism found in research by 1919, he promoted the critical coordination of new attempts at the writing of social history.[8] Müller demonstrates how Febvre considered an international and interdisciplinary critique of historical study to be a principal means to revitalize the profession with new ideas, while supporting a wider national renewal of scientific self-confidence. History could strengthen French society by directing critical exchange on questions relevant to the present and by co-opting contemporary expertise on these topics beyond academia, all within an idealized desire of scholastic objectivity.

The subsequent chapters describe how Febvre coupled commitments to scientific renewal and an outreach to present-minded social knowledge in the interwar development of the Annales. Müller takes pains to dispel old historical myths of the director’s accomplishments as an uncomplicated success, drawing on two decades of research to discuss successive personal, publishing, and political crises within the journal’s early years.[9] Müller is especially adept at showing how the Annales emerged from precedents and previous historical journals, beginning with the first “police de la librairie,” the Revue Critique d’histoire et de literature, followed by the Revue historique and Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine. Although the content of these older reviews was mostly distant from the Annales movement, their experiments of critical exchange set a crucial foundation for Febvre’s own basic appreciation of collective “scientific processes” in editorial procedures, reviewing standards, or models of contemporary history (p. 118).

Chapters on the interwar Annales lend fresh attention to the journal’s unique focus of critical exchange that combined established academic scholars with subject experts who worked outside of the universities (pp. 146-7). Müller is not entirely praising in his estimation of Febvre’s “Franco-centrism,” even if the journal as a whole was more contemporary, issue-oriented, and originally somewhat more international than its peers. (Almost 90 per cent of all books reviewed by Febvre were in French.) These national limitations of Febvre’s critical gaze contributed to certain superficialities in his programmatic treatment of research in the international history of price, linguistic theory, or collective psychology (pp. 209-300, 354). Müller is therefore relatively more ambivalent about the overall success of the interwar review than some present-day admirers, as the author is clear to emphasize the “perilous” nature of the enterprise gripped by recurring operating crises.[10] Nevertheless, he defends Febvre and Bloch as politically engaged scholars who used the review effectively for reasonably objective responses to interwar European crises of National Socialism or domestic extremism.[11] Might, however, a different perspective appear if one asked how the Annales treated delicate questions of Americanization, the “New Deal,” capitalism or French imperialism? Müller might also have probed into the editorial process of policing a critical review. Is the editor’s selection of a reader for a book truly a value-neutral responsibility? Moving from the Annales to the under-studied Revue historique, for example, one finds historians attempting to influence the reviews of fellow scholars, for personal and political motives, rising even to the level of international incident with Belgium over the “affaire Coornaert.”[12]

The book is strongest where Müller’s intricate, internal knowledge of the Annales reveals how Febvre conceived of critical reviewing as a reform of historical writing, through his publications and surviving correspondence with Berr and Marc Bloch.[13] But when this set of core source material does not cover issues, certain weaknesses appear. Discussion of Febvre’s plans in the decade after 1918 to “federate” scholarship on social history around new centers of critical exchange suffers somewhat from an over-reliance on Febvre’s well-known ties with Berr, Bloch, and the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne.[14] It is unclear, for example, to what extent Febvre’s relationship with Pirenne or Berr actually reflected a distrust of conventional professional reviews after the war, as he sought to secure support for the coordination of “new” social and economic history.[15] As Müller underscores, commitments to renew historical research after 1919 did not immunize friendships between Febvre, Bloch, and Berr from professional competition and notable intellectual differences. This tension was especially apparent when Febvre’s “petite révolution intellectuelle” clashed with Berr’s decisions to launch a Centre de synthèse and the review Science (pp. 104-109).

The final sections of the book concentrate on the effort by Febvre to reform traditional fields of historical research and education through interaction with projects of interdisciplinary cooperation. Müller convincingly shows how the influence of interdisciplinary debates after 1900 and the Année Sociologique influenced Febvre’s early reflections on critical engagement. Durkeim’s review was especially important as an organization model, suggesting how directed criticism could “cull the wheat from the chaff” with categories aimed at screening out alleged “dilettantes” of social thought, such as the Le Playists or collaborators of René Worms (pp. 309-310). Without casting the main protagonists of interdisciplinary battles (i.e., François Simiand and Charles Seignobos) as emblematic of their disciplines, Müller also suggests that their unresolved border wars compelled Febvre to search for practical compromise between theoretical extremes, as laid out in La Terre et l’évolution humaine. This search for resolution became a talisman for the “conjuncture nouvelle” of the 1930s, waged through biting criticism of tradition-minded historiography.[16]

By the 1930s, academic optimism among French academic historians was threatened from all corners. (pp. 334-5) Deepening methodological cleavages in the guild led scholars to question the possibility for any enlightened unity of knowledge. Nationalist history from the amateur right found a wider public echo than more detached, center-left academic research. Journals clung precariously to dramatically insufficient subscription rates; and institutional sclerosis gripped shrinking faculties that were barnacled with “blocages, crispations, divisions internes.”[17] Employing the compte rendu as his favorite “weapon of attack,” Febvre (and others) demanded a more analytical practice of collaborative empirical history, within fields poorly supported by a university system that remained dominated by stale diplomatic and political history. Not concerned with the republican ideology of his elder generation per se, his sometimes radical critiques attacked the manuels of his teachers enshrouded in “histoire psittacique (parroting), sans mystère et sans vie”(p. 383). Febvre was thus not so much assaulting the old Dreyfusards’ linkage of professionalism and social responsibility, as he was demanding historical writing with a distanciation critique from the state that proved its social relevance through modern techniques, research areas, and ideas. If the aims were those of Seignobos, the standards to achieve them had changed.

In contrast, Le rôle social de l’historien by Olivier Dumoulin examines the eternal unease of academics with the dichotomy between intellectual detachment and the desire for civic engagement. The book is a triptych of three extended research essays, each again subdivided into three thematic chapters, which begin with a nuanced discussion of the status of civic engagement by French historians since the 1970s. Dumoulin summarizes the present debate about the potential “contamination of mediating and political fields” (p. 21) for historians who volunteer their services to the needs of the public courts or state functionaries. He presents this debate by distinguishing between the validation of the historian as an expert in the service of a public institution, and historians as autonomous critics who prize their occupational skepticism as “myth-killing” guardians of objective knowledge about the past (p. 43). One follows the debate among François Bédarida, Gérard Noiriel, and Henry Rousso with an impression that French historians are defensive, that “client-oriented” public service (pp. 108-9) is eroding the professional sanctity for empirical impartiality.[18]

Dumoulin is not so much concerned with the fact that scholars are often by nature intellectuals and that “politics” will inevitably arise in the normal activities of academia. As his concluding chapter clarifies, one must distinguish between actions associated with civic politics that do not demarcate one specifically as a historian--such as contentious hiring decisions found in all faculties or with individuals who might sign petitions or voice political views--and dedicating historical expertise for public causes that affix service to subjective causes as characteristic to the profession’s basic purpose.[19] This siren call of “applied knowledge” entices historians. It distinguishes them before the public from antiquarians or ivory-tower technicians, often in the promotion of apparently consensual progressive ideals. Such activities may also reinforce an appreciation among civic leaders for scholars as a prized social asset worthy of material investment.

Dumoulin expounds on this possibility by looking west toward North America. There he discovers forms of public history, the production of in-house histories of corporations, or the participation of historians in civil litigation as “expert witnesses” that all seem to legitimize the attachment of professional historical knowledge to a wider public duty.[20] But would this “système Amérique” actually stigmatize dissenting interpretation in universities? If historians bear witness in a formal hearing, do they even implicitly allege a consensus of interpretation? Although Dumoulin does not sponsor this position, the book’s overall impression seems relatively sympathetic to the idea that “une république des historiens serait tout aussi dangereuse qu’une république des juges.”[21]

Another ambiguous American prologue for French scholars is the general institutional commodification of applied knowledge, which may not be a specific ideological agenda regarding civic engagement per se. It is not, for example, an argument against the moral or political merit of historians who lent testimony to proceedings surrounding the infamous cases of Klaus Barbie or Maurice Papon. Dumoulin’s unease springs instead from the very process of establishing over time even an implicit expectation that society or academia will gauge the legitimacy of professional history only as it renders assistance to public cases, be it the Dreyfus or Touvier affairs. He seems to warn fellow historians, by the cumulative impact of his presentation of the transatlantic debate, that becoming mediators of knowledge among competing public interests will fragment historical departments along embittered lines of cultural engagement mirrored by our present societies. However much historians may desire or disavow being hermetically sealed from social pressures to preserve their authority, public bodies will expect conclusions from historians that are finite and definitive within arenas of politics or law that are by their very nature fields of perpetual conflict.

The remaining two essays describe how in fact French historians have navigated the choice of engagement and detachment from the Third to Fifth Republics. Drawing from a wide range of research in English and French, Dumoulin traces the emergence of scientific self-identity and its relationship to the national state in the proud “ère Monod.” He then follows the subsequent impact of professional ideals of critical engagement through the “ère des crises” from 1914 to the upheavals of 1968. This concept of “crisis,” at levels national and institutional, structures the book’s narrative more perhaps than that of Müller. Periods of national trauma form crucibles of professional transformation, in which scholars often justify their actions through broader corporate identities that reveal either deep professional cleavages or communal unity.[22] Thus Dumoulin leads the reader through the founding period of professional history personified by the leadership of Gabriel Monod. Republican-minded scholars distinguished themselves from “amateur” writers through the creation and implementation of “scientific” norms and organizations of scholastic accreditation. The Dreyfus affair posed the profession’s first crisis. Dreyfusard historians entered national service either as knights of the national conscience or as experts who could illuminate evidentiary truth through their skills in the “auxiliary disciplines.” The Great War deepened this fusion between science and national loyalty. As “the field of battle mirrored the field of science,” French historians engaged in national propaganda and lent advisory expertise to the diplomatic-military framers of the postwar treaties (p. 196).

The interwar period produced a backlash by many against a “taboo of engagement” with public authorities or interest groups. Because scholars linked the tragedy of the war to nationalism and a blind national service, historians swung towards a “demobilized” profession within universities and research centers increasingly consumed with institutional decline (pp. 223-4, 227). Dumoulin details the tale summarized by Müller of under-funded faculties, interdisciplinary competition for a place in the sun, methodological doubt, and a revival of anti-republican historiography. National and institutional crises again intersected through Vichy. Ironically, however, the interwar renunciation of utilitarian affiliation with the state embalmed French historians in universities, by and large, from Pétainisme or Nazi collaboration.[23] Unfortunately Dumoulin short-changes the last period of Republican crisis. Only six pages (of nearly 170) explain the “re-mobilization” of historical identity through the “militant socialism” of the 1940s-1960s that fused scientific history with ideals of socio-political progress.[24] These years witnessed the vision of Jean Jaurès supplant the heritage of Ernest Lavisse.

Dumoulin does not analyze modern historiography from the Archimedean point of critical reviews as Müller has proposed. But it is one of the text’s guiding threads. Using necrologies to illuminate the character of professional historiography and its social role, the author shows how historians distanced themselves from amateur writers, posing their “family of science” as a self-critical body that held its members accountable to standards of critical oversight and debate.[25] Once established by the 1880s, academic historians could wield these critical standards of objective research as weapons against enemies of the Republic, either domestic (anti-Dreyfusards) or foreign (Germany in the Great War.) Critical objectivity became the purported ideal by which to save professional independence between the wars. They were transformed again into a form of subversive resistance against the censorship powers of the Vichy and occupation authorities, through carefully worded comptes rendus critical of Nazi-oriented scholarship in venues such as the Revue historique.[26] Treating historical practice as a discursive exercise, based on critical reviews or articles that reflect professional values, helps to clarify oscillating attitudes among historians on their relationship with the state. But certain problems of methodology may exist through this textual approach.

A first question is whether the periodization employed by both Dumoulin and Müller inadvertently minimizes how developmental factors may have directed the nature of modern French professional history. For example, is it possible that conditions brought about by the Great War merely accentuated latent weaknesses within the structure of the Third Republic on which university faculties and independent schools depended? Rather than merely tracking the relationship of history and sociology, anthropology, or folklore through the publications of individual academics, one might inquire as to why the education bureaucracy, as opposed to professors themselves, did not modernize teaching and research bodies in line with the emergence of newer disciplines, through investments that could also nurture interdisciplinary exchange.[27] Without ignoring the content of professional historical writings in the Third Republic, these mixtures of viewpoints had to be acknowledged by political elites, in highly-centralized Parisian bureaucracies that were the final responsible authorities for policies aiming at greater interdisciplinarity, or geographic breadth, or social diversity within the profession.[28] To be sure, Müller and Dumoulin acknowledge this dynamic, particularly in the case of Dumoulin’s unpublished thèse. But references to government authorities appear only episodically in these works. They do not clearly relate national politics to the framework of periodic crises and emphases on individual voices.[29]

Expanding questions beyond the limits of discussion among prominent historians is essential in order to validate whether in fact the discipline ever was truly above a self-identification within the nation-state, especially between the wars. Is Lucien Febvre’s oft-cited opening lecture in 1919 on the dangers of politicized academic history really a persuasive testament to a profession’s “detachment,” if one expands the definition of “disciplinary politics” beyond the problems of anti-German nationalism or concerns for parliamentary law? Although Dumoulin has produced a fascinating study of opportunity for professional women trained in history prior to the 1950s, the books under review, as well as their wider supporting historiography, seem deaf to questions that guide current critical research on the meaning of civics in Republican democracy. Why were “un-political” historians between the wars unprepared to challenge sensitive political traditions of subjective inequality that were accepted as inherent to the Republic? What about the marginalization of women, the reinforcement of imperialism and extra-European racism under “Greater France,” or the unsettling influence of the emerging global power of the United States in public life? Were these political identities of the Cité immune to the oscillating “crises” of the 1890s, 1914, 1933, or 1940?[30]

A wider perspective on French historians between the wars may indicate a high degree of engagement, justified through the status of the professional historians, with public authorities in their academic, professional practice. The careers of some scholars, such as Jules Isaac, suggest that a clear distinction was impossible between independent detachment in some areas of academic engagement, which powerful colleagues might reject in any case, and continued political identities on other subjects.[31] Chairs for historians in foreign studies were immensely political, as occupied by Louis Eisenmann, Ernest Denis, or--most close to home--the chair for American history at the Collège de France under Bernard Faÿ.[32] Rather than acting as a “demobilized” historical profession, important associational bodies of scholarship, such as the French Committee of Historical Sciences or the Office Nationale des Universités et Écoles Françaises, were unambiguously bound to national political responsibilities of the state.[33] The activities of interwar recteurs, doyens, organizational directors, and key ministries of Public Instruction, the Foreign Office, Colonial Affairs, or regional government all demonstrate consistently how historians placed themselves before the state or other public bodies. Reputations for “apolitical” scholars appear problematic, even within the cercle Annales, lionized in historiography purely as a center of de-nationalized, progressive scholarship.[34] A range of its contributors, including Pierre Benaerts, André Siegfried, Marcel Blanchard, or the Americanist Jean-Paul Hütter, all collaborated closely with fascist or Vichy authorities.[35] These examples are not presented to challenge the positive legacy of Febvre, the journal, or many of the democratically-oriented scholars in its orbit. But they demonstrate that research into the nature of “political” or “detached” professional identity in the field of history must encompass the full range of academic practice that reflects political values, according to questions about the nature of Republican identity that move beyond measurements of the German threat or Maurassian political challenge.

Returning to our agnostic historian from Iowa, Becker had stressed that critical reviewing ought to engage vibrant questions of social importance with a dialogue between the text, the reviewer, and the wider public domain. One reads these books without really discerning whether that domain was actually listening to Febvre or the contemporary scholars treated by Dumoulin. Because Müller breaks off his study before 1945, one is tempted to ask about the actual impact of these comptes rendus on the “matrice intellectuelle” of French historiography. Were Febvre’s combats convincing to his peers? Did the world outside of academia express interest in the wider social role of critical historians? On this, the authors are silent. Yet if historians are still “gatekeepers” of knowledge, and the innate desire for some consensus of esprit critique (from Seignobos to Gérard Noiriel) still flows within our community of scholars, then the impact of these figures and their discourse must be gauged beyond their own discursive viewpoints. Finally, both works heartily deserve to be translated into English for an audience beyond the rather delimited students of French historiography who enjoy familiarity with their works. Extended thematic articles, at the very least, would strengthen any standard graduate course, not only for their updated expertise on modern French historiography, but also for the important conceptual problems that this review has critiqued.


[1] Carl Becker, unfortunately, never published the talk or preserved its original in its entirety. A two-page summary is in Box 245, Papers of the American Historical Association, Library of Congress, Washington D.C..

[2] Dumoulin completed his training at the EHESS during the early 1980s with a thesis, often cited, but never published in its entirety. His thèse de troisième cycle, “Profession ‘historien’, 1919-1939, un métier en crise,” (Paris, 1983) examined the interwar development of French historiography as a structural institution, with an emphasis, though by no means exclusive, on quantitatively-measurable indices. The tome of Professor Müller is a revised version of his doctoral thesis Critique bibliographique et innovation scientifique. Les comptes rendus de Lucien Febvre, thèse des sciences sociales, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, 1998. Early stages of this research followed quantitative approaches similar to modes of French book and social history of the 1970s-1980s. Article-length works that are representative of these theses, in terms of argument and methodology, include Dumoulin’s “La Professionnalisation de l’histoire en France (1919-1939),” Historiens et sociologues aujourd’hui (Paris: Éditions du CNRS, 1986), pp. 49-59 and Müller’s “Lucien Febvre et la Politique du compte rendu,” Le Goût de l’histoire des idées et des hommes: Mélanges offerts au Professeur Jean-Pierre Aguet, eds. Alain Clavien and Bertrand Müller (Lausanne: Éditions de l’Aire, 1996), pp. 437-459.

[3] For brief assessments of this project, compare previous reviews of Müller by Laurent Douzou, “Lucien Febvre en critique polémiste,” Le Monde of March 28, 2003; Pierre Chaunu, “L’art de la critique chez Lucien Febvre,” Le Figaro of 14 August 2003; Dominque Kalifa, “Leur histoire,” Libération March 6, 2003.

[4] A recent examination of this question is Torbjörn Wandel, “Michel de Certeau’s Place in History,” Rethinking History 4 (2000): 55-76.

[5] Febvre suggested this esprit in his support of and preface for the work of Léon-Ernest Halkin, Initiation à la critique historique (Paris: Armand Colin, 1951)--an interesting work not considered by the author.

[6] For the debate over Febvre and Vichy, spurred in the 1990s by writings of Philippe Burrin and Natalie Davis, contrast the arguments by Tony Judt, “France without Glory,” New York Review of Books 43 (1996): 42 against those of Peter Schöttler and Müller, “Faut-il brûler Lucien Febvre?” Le Monde, Feb. 8, 1995, 13.

[7] One can detect influences of this conception in landmark studies of intellectual history as “place,” for example with Christophe Charle’s Naissance des «intellectuels» 1880-1900 (Paris: Éditions du Minuit, 1990) and Christophe Prochasson’s Les années électriques 1880-1910 (Paris: La Découverte, 1991).

[8] On the historical background for the rise of social history in France before the Annales, and the position of Febvre in this long-term process, see Jonathan Dewald, “Lost Worlds: French Historians and the Construction of Modernity,” French History 14 (2000): 424-442 and Laurent Muchielli, "Aux origines de la nouvelle histoire en France: L'évolution intellectuelle et la formation du champ des sciences sociales (1880-1930)," Revue de synthèse 4th series, 1 (1995): 55-98.

[9] On Müller’s important contribution to this effort through the publication of the private correspondence of Bloch and Febvre, see the review of Jacques Revel, “Without Walls,” Times Literary Supplement, Dec. 13, 1996, 10.

[10] Compare Müller to Matthias Middell, “The Annales,” Writing History: Theory and Practice, eds. Stefan Berger, Heiko Feldner, and Kevin Passmore (London: Hodder Arnold H & S, 2003), pp. 104-109; George Huppert, “On Lucien Febvre,” Historically Speaking 4 (2003): 15-17; Lutz Raphael, Geschichtswissenschaft im Zeitalter der Extreme: Theorien, Methoden, Tendenzen von 1900 bis zur Gegenwart (Munich: CH Beck, 2003), pp. 96-104.

[11] On these issues Müller nicely echoes statements made by Peter Schöttler, “Rationalisierter Fanatismus, archaische Mentalitäten. Marc Bloch und Lucien Febvre als Kritiker des nationalsozialistischen Deutschland,” Werkstatt Geschichte 14 (1996): 5-21 and M. Wessel,“The Politics of Scholarship: Lucien Febvre between Seignobos and Marx,“ Rivista di storia della storiografia moderna 8 (1987): 73-91. Compare this research to assertions that the Annales and its directors were indifferent to contemporary crises by Julien Vincent, “The Sociologist and the Republic: Pierre Bourdieu and the Virtues of Social History,” History Workshop Journal 58 (2004): 129-148.

[12] See the letter of Bloch to Maurice Crouzet, June 23, 1937, suggesting his intervention on a review of Charles-Edmond Perrin on a work of Ferdinand Lot, in Fonds Maurice Crouzet, Bibliothèque of the École Normale Supérieure. The “affaire” resulted from an extremely negative review by Émile Coornaert of a major book from Henri Laurent of Brussels, which Laurent and his allies believed to be both inaccurate and a national dishonor. The managers of the Revue directed a series of new critical responses, in order to appease the diplomatic sensitivities of Belgian authorities--a matter of enough importance to demand the sustained efforts of Crouzet, Marc Bloch, Georges Espinas, and Sébastian Charléty (departing rector of the University of Paris and titular Director of the Revue) from the summer of 1937 to the late autumn of 1938.

[13] See his impressive three volumes, Marc Bloch, Lucien Febvre et les Annales d’Histoire Économique et Sociale: Correspondance (Paris: Fayard, 1994, 2003).

[14] For the reviewer’s recent discussion, see “An American Annales? The Revue internationale d'histoire économique of Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre," Journal of Modern History 76 (2004): 528-621, which contradicts Müller’s assertion that German politics (p. 76) and the inchoate condition of economic history in the mid-1920s (pp. 83-5, 87) drove the failure of Febvre’s initial plan for an international review.

[15] For example, archives now reveal that Febvre’s initial postwar attempts at coordinated reform were broached before his arrival at Strasbourg through discussion with Pierre Caron and his Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine. Febvre’s proposal could not be undertaken, unfortunately, as the Revue had ceased publication during the war and would not reappear until 1926. See the letter of Lucien Febvre to Caron, dated 1919 from Dijon, AB XIX 4404, Fonds Pierre Caron, Archives Nationals.

[16] Another principal vehicle, beyond the Annales, for Febvre to promote this collaboration was his direction of the Encyclopédie française, as examined by Müller and fellow specialists on French historiography in the Cahiers Jaurès 163-164 (2002): 149-159.

[17] Even the renowned Revue Historique faced structural deficits (totaling 81,627 francs from 1927 to 1936) that finally compelled its publisher, Librairie Félix Alcan to demand either a renegotiation of the contract or a release from further obligations to publish the review. See the negotiations and figures from an “Annexe au Traité 1937-1941. Justification du déficit à amortir,” Fonds Crouzet, op. cit.

[18] French historians continue to defend the ideal that research projects or methodological approaches must be dedicated to the pursuit of scholarly “truth,” as opposed to extra-professional ideology. See for example François Bédarida, "L'historien régisseur du temps? Savoir et responsabilité," Histoire, critique et responsabilité (Brussels: Éditions Complexe, 2003): 305-329 and Bédarida, “Historical Practice and Responsibility,” Diogenes 42 (1994): 1-6, as well as Gérard Noiriel’s postface in his Penser avec, Penser contre (Paris: Belin, 2004).

[19] On this debate, with historical examples, see Dominique Damamme and Marie-Claire Lavabre, “Les historiens dans l’espace public,” Sociétés contemporaines 39 (2000): 5-21.

[20] One could note these same trends exist as well in Germany among older historians, as exemplified by H.-A. Winkler, “’Historiker müssen Mythen zerstoren’--Über das Verhältnis von Geschichtswissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit,“ Raum und Geschichte: Regionale Traditionen und föderative Ordnung von der frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart, eds. Thomas Kühne and Cornelia Rauh-Kühne (Leinfelden: Echterdingen, 2001): 257-270.

[21] The quote, attributed to one Maurice Sartre from 1998, forms the concluding paragraph of the author’s introduction, in Dumoulin, p. 23.

[22] For the use of “crisis” by historians as a means to frame historical narrative or analysis, see the interesting remarks, and warnings, of Randolph Starn, “Historians and ‘Crisis’,” Past and Present 52 (1971): 3-22, esp. 20-2.

[23] The question of collaboration among historians remains however ambiguous and underexplored. In an important earlier essay, Dumoulin certainly revealed that variations of sentiment associated with the right existed within independent centers of research, as well as the faculties of law and the humanities. See Dumoulin, “Histoire et historiens de droite,” Histoire des droites en France, vol 2, ed. Jean-François Sirinelli (Paris: Gallimard, 1992), pp. 327-398. Further support for an alleged apolitical distance from Vichy or Aesopian resistance to the “national revolution” include Lutz Raphael, “Navigieren zwischen Anpassung und Attentismus: die Pariser Universität unter deutscher Besatzung (1940-1944),” Frankreich und Deutschland im Krieg (November 1942-Herbst 1944) Okkupation, Kollaboration, Résistance, eds. Stefan Martens and Maurice Vaisse (Bonn: Bouvier, 2000), pp. 701-725; Claude Singer, “Henri Labroue, ou, l’apprentissage de l’antisémitisme,” L’antisémitisme de plume, 1940-1944: Études et documents, ed. Pierre-André Taguieff, (Paris: Berg International, 1999), esp. pp. 238-241; Jean-William Dereymez, “L’Université de Grenoble entre Pétainisme et résistance,” Les Facs sous Vichy: Étudiants, Universitaires et Universités de France pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, ed. A. Gueslin (Clermont-Ferrand: Publications de l’Institut d’Études du Massif central, 1993), pp. 113-131; Stéphanie Corcy-Debray, “Jérome Carcopino et les lois d’exception,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 49 (2002): 91-100.

[24] Whether or not identification with political ideologies truly closed off intellectual pluralism remains a difficult and sensitive issue. An important case study for the interpretation of socialist-oriented thought in leading centers of postwar history is Maria Novella Borghetti, L’oeuvre d’Ernest Labrousse. Genèse d’un modèle d’histoire économique (Paris: EHESS, 2005), pp.54-72.

[25] The number of significant books to analyze the process of professional development in French historical practice from the 1860s to 1914 are numerous and overlapping. Compare, as a short-list, William Keylor, Academy and Community: The Foundation of the French Historical Profession (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975); Charles-Olivier Carbonell, Histoire et historiens. La mutation idéologique des historiens français (Toulouse: Privat, 1976); Pim Den Boer, History as a Profession. The Study of History in France, 1818-1914, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); Christian Delacroix, François Dosse, and Patrick Garcia Les courants historiques en France 19e-20e siècle (Paris: Armand Colin, 1999); Gabrielle Lingelbach, Klio macht Karriere: Die Institutionalisierung der Geschichtswissenschaft in Frankreich und den USA in der zweiten Halfte des 19. Jahrhunderts (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003).

[26] For Dumoulin’s use of necrology as a showcase for professional self-identity and for the critical book review as a subversive form of corporate-intellectual resistance under Vichy, see his "Le tribu des médiévistes," Genèses 21 (1995): 120-133 and “La langue d'Ésope: les revues historiques entre science et engagement,” La revue des revues 24 (1997): 45-73.

[27] On the lack of attention to the role of the education bureaucracy or political figures in research on interdisciplinary tensions, compare Robert Descimon, “Declareuil (1913) contre Hauser (1912): Les rendez-vous manqués de l’histoire et de l’histoire du droit, Annales- HSS 57 (2002): 1615-1636; Christina Chimisso, “The Mind and the Faculties: The Controversy over ‘Primitive Mentality’ and the Struggle for Disciplinary Space at the inter-war Sorbonne,” History of the Human Sciences 13 (2000): 47-68 and sections on interdisciplinary confrontation in Laurent Muchielli, La découverte du social: Naissance de la sociologie en France (1870-1914) (Paris: La Découverte, 1998); Michel Espagne, Le paradigme de l’étranger: Les chaires de littérature étrangère au XIXe siècle (Paris:n Cerf, 1993); Manet van Montfrans, and Ruud Meijer. “Travailler pour la Patrie: Gustave Lanson, the Founder of French Academic Literary History,” Yearbook of European Studies 12 (1999): 145-172 and Pierre Favre, Naissances de la science politique en France 1870-1914 (Paris: Fayard, 1989).

[28] Scholars have tended to treat these questions either at high levels of general analysis, or through the publications of prominent professors, or by focusing on the state-academic interaction in primary and secondary education. For general overviews, see Françoise Mayeur, Histoire Genérale de l’enseignement et de l’éducation en France: Tome III de la Révolution a l’École républicaine (Paris: Perrin, 1981); André Tuilier, Histoire de l’Université de Paris et de la Sorbonne, Vol. 2. (Paris: Nouvelle Librairie de France, 1994); Christoph Charle, La République des Universitaires 1870-1940 (Paris: Seuil, 1994) and his “Les références étrangères des universitaires. Essai de comparaison entre la France et l’Allemagne, 1870-1970,” Actes de la recherche en science sociales 148 (2003): 8-19. Studies more specific to the role of history in education include Fritz Ringer, Fields of Knowledge. French Academic Culture in Comparative Perspective 1890-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Evelyne Héry, Un siècle de leçons d’histoire. L’histoire enseignée en lycée de 1870 à 1970 (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1999); Alain Choppin, Les Manuels scolaires: histoire et actualité (Paris: Institut National de Recherches Pédagogiques, 1992). A study that integrates these levels of analyses well is Mona Siegel, The Moral Disarmament of France. Education, Pacifism, and Patriotism, 1914-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

[29] Dumoulin is rather weak on this area of cross-disciplinary comparison, limiting discussion of interdisciplinary exchange to pp. 248-251. Yet it remains unclear whether the problem of institutional and intellectual detachment for academic historians differed from professors in cultural anthropology, criminal justice, sociology or social work. To be fair, scholars cited by Dumoulin who have led the debate are historians, concerned with their discipline. But without comparison, how can readers know if such a tension is truly exclusive to history?

[30] See especially for example Bonnie Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women and the Historical Practice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998); Michelle Perrot, “Women and the Silences of History,” Historians and Social Values, eds. Joep Leerssen and Ann Rigney (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000), pp. 157-168; and Janet Horne, “In Pursuit of Greater France: Visions of Empire among Musée Social Reformers, 1894-1931,” Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism, eds. Julia Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998), pp. 21-42, as well as Dumoulin’s own "Archives au féminine, histoire au masculin. Les historiennes professionnelles en France, 1920-1965," L’histoire sans les femmes-est elle possible? eds. Anne-Marie Sohn and Françoise Thélamon (Paris: Perrin, 1998), pp. 343-361.

[31] The historian Jules Isaac, for example, had his thesis topic rejected by the Sorbonne in 1922 over fears of potentially weakening the French claims of innocence for the origins of the First World War. His reaction against nationalism after 1918 was in fact a political stance, and he interpreted his role as a scholar by the Second World War as a public commitment to inter-denominational understanding. See Andre Kaspi, Jules Isaac, ou, La passion de la vérité (Paris: Plon, 2002).

[32] Examining the ladder of Febvre’s own superiors at the interwar University of Strasbourg reveals scholars who defined their own practice of academic history in defense of national interests, conceived under the tutelage of Ernest Lavisse, including Christian Pfister (dean of the faculty), Sébastien Charléty (university rector and director of public education for Alsace), and Alfred Coville, (the postwar national Director of Higher Education).

[33] For context, see François Chaubet, “L’Alliance française ou la diplomatie de la langue (1883-1914),” Revue historique 128 (2004): 763-785; Annie Guénard, "Les institutions français en Europe centrale et orientale dans les années 30," Paris «Capitale Culturelle» de l’Europe centrale? Les échanges intellectuelles entre la France et les pays de l’Europe médiane 1918-1939, eds. Maria Delaperrière and Antoine Marès (Paris: Institut d’études slaves, 1997), pp. 45-58; Antoine Marès, “Puissance et présence culturelle de la France,” Relations internationales 33 (1983): 65-80 and the reviewer’s forthcoming “Propaganda within an Atelier des Recherches: Refashioning the Société d'Histoire Moderne, 1918-1939,” Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French History 33 (2005).

[34] Students of French folklore studies, though divided, have in part emphasized undertones of national essentialism among figures associated with the Annales under Febvre and Bloch. The issue remains ambiguous, as scholarship on the Annales focuses on the writings of the two directors, rather than a reading of the content within the journal and the background of its collaborators. See Carlo Ginzburg, “Mythologie germanique et nazisme, sur un ancien livre de Georges Dumézil,” Annales E.S.C. 40 (1985): 695-715; Kelly Mulroney,"Team Research and Interdisciplinarity in French Social Science, 1925-1952," Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Virginia, 2000 and especially the controversy surrounding Philip Whalen’s Gaston Roupnel: âme paysanne et sciences humaines (Dijon: Éditions Universitaires de Dijon, 2001) as played out in the reviews of H-France, October 2003. Febvre’s circle is defended as anti-essentialist in its view of nationality by Whalen, Lutz Raphael, Peter Schöttler, and more cautiously, Marleen Wessel. For Müller’s recent defense of Febvre and his circle in folklore and anthropology, see Müller and F. Weber, “Réseaux de correspondants et missions folkloriques. Le travail d’enquête, en France, vers 1930,” Gradhiva 33 (2003): 43-55.

[35] The most frequent contributor of research articles, aside from the directors, was Marcel Blanchard, the specialist on Napoleon III who was responsible as rector for the Gleichschaltung of the university with education policies of Vichy and German authorities. As James Friguglietti has discovered, Jean-Paul Hütter, who became the primary reviewer of works on American studies after 1939 for the Annales, actually joined the Wehrmacht to fight Soviet communism on the eastern front. On the case of Siegfried, see Sean Kennedy, “Situating France: The Career of André Siegfried, 1900-1940,” Historical Reflections 30 (2004): 179-203; for Benaerts’ role in the Conseil National of Pétain and his role in anti-Semitic legislation against Jewish businesses under Vichy, see Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews (New York: Basic Books, 1981), pp. 157-160, 391 and Joseph Jones, “Vichy France and Postwar Economic Modernization: The Case of the Shopkeepers,” French Historical Studies 12 (1982): 546-563. For Blanchard and other pro-Vichy historians, see Claude Singer, L’université libérée, l’université épurée (1943-1947) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1997), pp. 282-283.

John L. Harvey
St. Cloud State University

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