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Lost Worlds

The Emergence of French Social History, 1815–1970

Jonathan Dewald

Publication Year: 2006

Today’s interest in social history and private life is often seen as a twentieth-century innovation. Most often Lucien Febvre and the Annales school in France are credited with making social history a widely accepted way for historians to approach the past. In Lost Worlds historian Jonathan Dewald shows that we need to look back further in time, into the nineteenth century, when numerous French intellectuals developed many of the key concepts that historians employ today.According to Dewald, we need to view Febvre and other Annales historians as participants in an ongoing cultural debate over the shape and meanings of French history, rather than as inventors of new topics of study. He closely examines the work of Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Hippolyte Taine, the antiquarian Alfred Franklin, Febvre himself, the twentieth-century historian Philippe Ariès, and several others. A final chapter compares specifically French approaches to social history with those of German historians between 1930 and 1970. Through such close readings Dewald looks beyond programmatic statements of historians’ intentions to reveal how history was actually practiced during these years.A bold work of intellectual history, Lost Worlds sheds much-needed light on how contemporary ideas about the historian’s task came into being. Understanding this larger context enables us to appreciate the ideological functions performed by historical writing through the twentieth century.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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pp. i-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

The chapters assembled here were Wrst presented as separate essays, and each can be read on its own. But they were written as elements of a single investigation, addressing a set of core questions and developing a cumulative argument. The questions concern the genesis of modern historical thought, which I define as characterized by two fundamental...

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Introduction: Historians and Modernity

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pp. 1-15

This book examines French historical thought from the early nineteenth through the midtwentieth century. Its focus is on a central fact about modern historical consciousness. Whereas Western historical writing long concerned itself mainly with political doings and the great men who performed them, contemporary writers and readers want to know how people in the past...

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1. "

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pp. 17-53

In 1938, the philosopher Raymond Aron sought to define the essential qualities of historical thought. “The biographer interests himself in the private man,” he wrote, “the historian primarily in the public man. An individual enters history only by his impact on collective development, by his contribution to the moral future.”¹

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2. Ordering Time: The Problem of French Chronology

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pp. 55-76

“Modern France does not date from 1789,” intoned Jules Michelet in a lecture of 1841; “it is eternal [de tous les temps].”¹ His comment reflected a concern shared by many intellectuals in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France. What was the shape of French history? When had France become modern, and what were the respective contributions of the Old Regime and the Revolution to its...

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3. God and the Historian: Sainte-Beuve's Port-Royal

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pp. 77-96

“Port-Royal has come into fashion,” as a topic that “reverberates everywhere,” noted Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve in 1848.¹ His assessment mixed surprise, gratification, and annoyance. He had begun his own book on the topic in complete isolation, he claimed, believing that the public would find Jansenist practices strange and repellant. In fact the public responded with enthusiastic interest. The...

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4. Lost Worlds: Lucien Febvre and the Alien Past

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pp. 97-121

In this chapter I explore an idea that was central to French historical writing in the twentieth century: the idea that fundamental di¤erences of experience, feeling, thought, and personality divide contemporary society from what came before it, making the past so unlike the present as to constitute a “world we have lost.”¹ I seek... here

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5. Private Lives and Historical Knowledge

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pp. 123-153

“Our project was fraught with peril. The ground we hoped to explore was untouched. No one had sifted through or even identified useful source materials, which at first sight seemed abundant but scattered. We had to clear away the brush, stake our claim, and, like archaeologists approaching a site known to contain riches too great to be systematically explored, settle for excavating a few preliminary...

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6. Nobles as Signifiers: Making Sense of a Class Structure

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pp. 155-182

As Europe’s traditional ruling class, the nobility holds a central yet ambiguous place in an examination of modern historical thought. Aristocratic persons and deeds had constituted the core of traditional historical narrative, which described great men and their doings. But already by the late eighteenth century, writers had also begun to describe nobles as ill adapted to the conditions of modern...

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7. An Alternative Path to Rural History

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pp. 183-211

Interest in peasants and rural life has counted among the distinctive features of historical thought since World War I, and it has stimulated some of the twentieth century’s great works of historical writing. Nowhere, it would seem, are the democratic tendencies of modern historical thought more visible, especially as concerns the medieval and early modern periods. Before the...

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Conclusion: On the Politics of Social History

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pp. 213-221

“What was history then?” asked Lucien Febvre in 1925. His question referred to the year 1869, when one of Jules Michelet’s most important books appeared, and Febvre’s answer was blunt: “In spite of the efforts of Michelet to enlarge it, enrich it, and change the traditional idea of it,” history in that era “always meant setting out . . .the long struggle of the Kings, to establish in domestic politics...


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pp. 223-233


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pp. 235-241

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052977
E-ISBN-10: 027105297X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271028903
Print-ISBN-10: 0271028904

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 75480561
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Lost Worlds

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Historiography -- France -- History -- 19th century.
  • Historiography -- France -- History -- 20th century.
  • France -- History -- Study and teaching.
  • Social history -- 19th century.
  • France -- Historiography -- 19th century.
  • France -- Historiography -- 20th century.
  • Social history -- 20th century.
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