Lucien Febvre

Lucien Febvre

Infobox Person
name = Lucien Febvre

caption =
birth_date = 11 July 1878
birth_place = Nancy, France
death_date = 11 September 1956
death_place = Saint-Amour, France
other_names =
known_for = Establishing Annales School
occupation = Historian
nationality = French

Lucien Febvre (July 22 1878 - September 11, 1956) was a French historian best known for the role he played in establishing the Annales School of history.


Lucien Febvre born and brought up in Nancy, a northeastern part of France. His father was a philologist, who introduced Febvre to the study of ancient texts and languages, which played a significant influenced Febvre’s way of thinking. At the age of twenty, Febvre went to Paris to enroll into the Ecole Normale Superieure. Between years of 1899 and 1902, he concentrated on studying history and geography. After his graduation from college, Febvre went on teaching at a provincial lycee, where he worked on his theses on Phillip the Second and the Franche-Comté. Febvre was forced to leave his teaching post in 1914 for the mobilization for the army during World War I, where he served for four years. Febvre took up a position at the University of Strasbourg in 1919 when the province was returned to France. While there, Lucien Febvre became acquainted with Marc Bloch, who shared in Febvre’s philosophical and political approach, which brought the two men together.

Besides the influence of his father, the time Febvre spent in Paris also proved to play an enormous role in reshaping his outlook on the world as a whole. Prevalent approaches to art, philosophy and modern ways of thinking had shaped Febvre’s ways of thinking. Febvre embraced 20th century modernism which, in turn, disconnected him from the earlier attitudes, so much so that he later claimed to have become “untuned” from the old world and the old ways of thinking. A mere collection of facts no longer held an interest to Febvre. In his approach at history, Febvre contextualized historical facts against geography, psychology and culture of the epochs that he wrote about.

Febvre’s first thesis on Phillip the Second and the Franche-Comté, published in 1911, showed the strength of this approach. In this work, Febvre tried to determine context that truly reveals facts and puts them to light. Febvre reconstructed life of villagers and town dwellers in a small traditional province in France by contextualizing facts in terms of geography and environment of the times. By describing it’s rivers, salt mines, vineyards and other surroundings Febvre created an accurate and true to life portrayal of the atmosphere and outlook on the epoch. With this approach, Febvre was able to also reveal a negative influence that French Government of the time played in the life of this Province. This approach at history is known as a histoire totale, or histoire tout court. Later, Febvre’s work would be considered the Annales way of thinking and would become a new way of historical thinking.

Another influential work of Febvre dealt with the study of Protestantism. Published in Revue Historique in 1929, “Une question mal posee, “attempted to study popular religion by trying to observe and quantify human behavior. Through an enormous amount of research, Febvre was able to collect information from various monasteries and chapels to study the influence of new wave philosophy in religion and clergy’s approach to understanding and translating their views to commoners. Through this work, Febvre became very involved in the field of ethnography, which is study that quantifies human behavior. Some critics consider this work to be heavily influenced and suggestive by Febvre’s own views of the surrounding world.

As time went by Fabvre grew increasingly suspicious of theology. Febvre refused to see people bound by forces beyond their control. He determined for himself that religion and old ways of thinking were impractical, maybe even dangerous in modern times. “In the general confusion of our time,” Febvre wrote, “old ideas refuse to die and still find acceptance with the mass of the population.” Febvre became convinced that changing views and attitudes of religion is as difficult as trying to influence an outcome of political or social upheavals of any other sort. He believed that people needed to be educated in order to avoid the dangers of old way of thinking.

In 1929, Lucien Febvre, along with his colleague and close friend Marc Bloch established a scholarly journal Annales d’Histoire Economique et Sociale (commonly known as The Annales), from which the name of their distinctive style of history was taken. The journal followed Febvre’s approach at describing history and was edited in this way of thinking to educate the world of the dangers of old world thinking to avoid possible future economic and political disasters. It was meant to influence the academic circles and urge them in “studying the present so as to reach a profounder understanding of the past”. This journal was like no other scholarly publications of those times.

The Annales was met with great reviews and proved to be very successful in its early years. It was in such demand that the journal was able to increase the frequency of its publications in 1932. However, in 1938 the journal appeared to be running its course and the publishers seized their support.

In 1933 Febvre was appointed to a chair at the "Collège de France". He published vigorously throughout the thirties and early forties, although World War II interrupted his work. The war also resulted in the death of Marc Bloch, and so Febvre became the man who carried the Annales into the post-war period, most notably by training Fernand Braudel and cofounding the "VI section" of the "École Pratique des Hautes Etudes", later known as EHESS. Febvre died in 1956 in Saint-Amour, France.

Works by Lucien Febvre

*"Martin Luther, A Destiny"
*"The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800," co-written with H.-J. Martin
*"The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais"
*"A Geographical Introduction to History"
*"A New Kind of History" (selected essays)

See also

* École Pratique des Hautes Études
* École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales


*"The French Review, Vol. LV, No. 4, March 1982

External links

*fr icon [ A short biography]

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