George Lefebvre (1874–1959) or a Possible Social History

By Stéphane Buzzi

"Observing Georges Lefebvre's trajectory allows an understanding of the institutional and intellectual founding of social history in France. As a matter of fact, diverging from a brutal assumption that would explain the birth of social history by a single man's social and economic background, we suggest to extend the field of biographical study to that intellectual and professional configuration in which Georges Lefebvre put himself. He took part in the creation of the Annales as soon as 1929 and he stood up for Ernest Labrousse; he is also a historian who posed a question that had already been raised as early as the beginning of the 20th century about the social origins of the Revolution. His work is part of these perspectives and is based institutionally on the Jaurès Commission created in order to gather social and economic facts. Therefore, it can be shown that the birth of the major paradigm of the French social history during the 1950s and 1960s is nothing short of the revival of Georges Lefebvre's efforts. The organization, the sources, and the pilot project were his. Labrousse's students took the place of the local scholars. One must admit, beyond the history of social facts, an idea of historical knowledge that did not eliminate any historical, political, cultural, or military “fact.” Thus Georges Lefebvre showed that breaking with “positivist” history was not so final and as for him, when he wrote, innovation was always the daughter of tradition."

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