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Guide French Historians 1900-2000: New Historical Writing in Twentieth-Century France

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Lefebvre lost the prestige that he had enjoyed as a scholar and public intellectual before the war; compounding his situation were several personal tragedies that deeply affected his psyche. In , Marc Bloch, his colleague from Strasbourg days, was also executed for resistance activity. In the autumn of the German occupation authorities distributed the first list of banned books.

Because Lefebvre was a prominent professor, his name was placed on the list that same autumn.

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The war years were unproductive compared to the preceding decade. As a banned author, he had few opportunities to continue writing on the Revolution. He draws comparisons between the occupation and the dark days of the Revolution when the principles of were in danger. The essays also celebrate those who resisted the Vichy regime and advocate harsh punishments for those who were guilty of collaboration. His support, however, was mainly due to his belief that the PCF had provided the bulk of resistance to the Germans and that the Soviet Union deserved a large amount of credit for the defeat of Nazism.

He also became a contributor to the journal. Lefebvre continued writing on the history of the Revolution after his retirement in In Quatre-vingt-neuf was translated into English; it quickly became a standard work in the English-speaking world, where it was read by undergraduates as well as scholars. Structured around a tight narrative of the Revolution, this book contributed significantly to the social interpretation of the Revolution and immediately led to the revisionist critique of his scholarship that began in the s and continued into the s.

French Historians 1900-2000

The Marxist methodology Lefebvre used to interpret the Revolution was important, because he viewed as an important break between a pre- Revolution era when French society was based on a hierarchical corporate society that rested on birth and privilege, and a post-Revolution era when society was based on the individual. Lefebvre portrays the bourgeoisie, or middle class, as a coherent class intent on creating a civil society once its domination was assured.


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In addition, this class immediately took it upon itself to remove all barriers to free organization of individuals. For example, the clergy of the Catholic Church was one social corporation that the bourgeoisie sought to transform through revolutionary activity. The clergy enjoyed property rights and financial resources that the bourgeoisie sought to destroy in order to bring about a leveling of French society. In the Civil Constitution of the Clergy made clerics employees of the state. The nobility, another social corporation, became the target of the Revolution because of its hereditary titles, privileges, and seigneurial authority.

The bourgeoisie sought to destroy distinctions between noble and commoner, a point he believed pleased the peasants greatly. The sweeping away of feudal social corporations and legal inequality, and the establishment of a new capitalist order that included private property as a fundamental legal notion, provided the foundation of the liberal political order of the nineteenth century.

American historian Crane Brinton, a non-Marxist scholar, praised the book in a review published in the American Historical Review in Lefebvre had argued that the Revolution removed the feudal barriers that had blocked the transformation to a new capitalist reality around which the industrial world of the nineteenth century was based, and through which means the bourgeoisie would exercise its dominance.

Cobban argued that the notion of the Revolution as being primarily bourgeois and antifeudal was wrong, because the Revolution had begun as an aristocratic revolt against the monarchy and because the National Assembly consisted of men who had bought their titles of nobility and had lived lives resembling those of the nobility. Lefebvre responded to Cobban directly. Cobban had taken great pains to demonstrate that the bourgeoisie was largely indifferent to capitalism and would have been unable to play the economic role that Lefebvre had assigned it.

In this book, Lefebvre relies heavily on Marxist methodology and emphasizes social structures, quantitative history, and demographic history. For example, his discussion of the bourgeoisie also reflects a great deal of effort on his part to distinguish the different levels of this class through an analysis of income levels. He also insists that wealth was not the only characteristic of this class, and that bourgeois attitudes and lifestyle also defined it in contrast to other classes.

One example he cites is the bourgeois respect for birth and wealth and marked disdain for those who owned little or no property. Reaction to Etudes was mixed, despite Lefebvre amassing a wealth of statistics to support his research. Furet and other revisionist historians denied the social interpretation in favor of the study of the political culture of the Revolution, and in the process opened up new avenues for understanding the meaning of Marquant, ; in 2 volumes, Paris: F.

Lenig, ; revised edition, La Roche-sur-Yon: H. Potier, ; Les Thermidoriens Paris: A. Colin, ; revised, ; revised again, ; revised again, ; Quatre-vingt-neuf Paris: Maison du livre francais, ; translated by R. Leslie J. Oliver Cromwell New Perspectives. Handbook of Oral History. Writing Postcolonial History Writing History. The Quest for the Invisible Microscopy in the Enlightenment. Peoples of the Pacific The History of Oceania to The Historiography of Communism. Andrew J.

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