Economic History in France

A Sonderweg?

Authored by: Jean-Yves Grenier

Routledge Handbook of Global Economic History

Print publication date:  December  2015
Online publication date:  December  2015

Print ISBN: 9781138838031
eBook ISBN: 9781315734736
Adobe ISBN:


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The study of economic history in France goes back to the later nineteenth century, when history became an academic discipline. In France the new discipline was especially dominated by political history, the study of economic history playing only a subordinate role. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that the great masters of French historiography before the First World War, such as Ernest Lavisse or Charles Seignobos, overlooked the economic dimension of history; they did in fact lend it great emphasis, especially in their more popular works. The first publications of French economic history were primarily directed to the history of work and of employment (Emile Levasseur, Paul Mantoux, François Simiand), anticipating a lasting connection of economic and social history, an association that is by no means automatic, as shown by English work in economic history of that time. This emphasis upon the social led to the initial placement of economic history towards the left of the political spectrum. This perspective was lent support in 1903, when an initiative on the part of Jean Jaurès led to the foundation of a Commission charged with publishing archives reflecting economic life during the French Revolution, a documentary source that would become of great importance for twentieth-century historians of the French Revolution. Another important feature of French economic history in these first years was the way in which it took account of the geographical dimension, favouring a spatial appreciation of economic phenomena. This had an impact upon French historiography that lasted at least into the 1980s, in which the region or the département framed the historical perspective.

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