In 1958, David Pinkney advised young American historians studying nineteenth century France to differentiate themselves from their French colleagues by limiting their doctoral research to a monograph focusing on a crucial or controversial aspect of this tumultuous century, before moving on to more synthetic works. However, beginning in the late 1960s, young American historians ignored the ‘Pinkney Law’ and started to study periods and subjects that the French had neglected, by asking original questions and even by taking greater advantage than the French of the works of Michel Foucault and Philippe Ariès. These new American research works touched a large audience in France, not only by triggering a visible change in the approach of French historians, but also by emphasising the plasticity and power of memory in social and political life. The article gives two examples of this approach applied to the study of 1877.
By Susanna Barrows