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Eugen Weber and his Critics (1870-1914) Dr Chris Pearson.

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1 Eugen Weber and his Critics (1870-1914) Dr Chris Pearson

2 Lecture themes The modernization of the French country The creation of a unified sense of French national identity The impact of Weber’s book and controversy it provoked

3 Eugen Weber (1925-2007)

4 Rural France went from being a world ‘where many did not speak French or know (let alone use) the metric system, where pistols and écus were better known than francs, where roads were few and markets distant, and where a subsistence economy reflected the most common prudence. This book is about how al this changed, and about how mentalities altered in the process; in a word, about how undeveloped France was integrated into the modern world and the official culture – of Paris, of the cities’ (p.x)




8 ‘A Country of Savages’ Peasants bewildered by modernity and cities: ‘suspicious, anxious, bewildered by everything he sees and doesn’t understand, he makes great haste to leave the town’ (Flaubert) Extreme poverty – agricultural was underdeveloped Static countryside Suspicious minds Violence


10 A fragmented countryside Isolated communities, fearful of outside ‘Isolation made for ignorance, indifference, for rumors that spread like wild-fire in contrast to the stubbornly slow assimilation of current events’ (p.43) A linguistic mosaic – ¼ of countryside didn’t speak French in 1863



13 The ‘Agencies of Change’: Transport Roads – expansion during Third Republic, especially after 1881 Railways – branch lines constructed 1880s+ 19,746km in 1879 26,327km in 1882 64,898km in 1910 ‘Before culture altered significantly, material circumstances had to alter; and the role of the road and rail in this transformation was basic’ (p. 206)




17 Other ‘agencies of change’ The army (universal conscription from 1889) – ‘the school of the fatherland’ – an ‘agency for emigration, acculturation, and in the final analysis, civilization’ (p. 302)


19 Schools – ‘civilizing in earnest’ Jules Ferry’s reforms of 1880s Schools spread literacy, the speaking of French, cleanliness, morality (importance of effort and duty), patriotism ‘ schools brought suggestions of alternative values and hierarchies; and of commitments to other bodies than the local group’ (p. 338)

20 Roads, railways, schools, and the army modernized the countryside Modernization a positive thing; brought progress to the countryside Influential book Weber’s argument in a nutshell:

21 Critiques of Weber Exposure to markets well before 1870s and proto- industrialization throughout 19 th century (Tilly) Research on proto-indutrialization shows ‘the utter inadequacy of any portrayal of the nineteenth-century rural world as a territory essentially populated by peasants and fundamentally devoted to agriculture’ (Tilly, p. 33) ‘The European world bequeathed to the nineteenth century by the eighteenth was actually connected, mobile and even, in its way, industrial. There was no solid cake of custom to break’ (Tilly p.39)

22 In France, economic modernization and agricultural output developed throughout the nineteenth century Pre-1880 economic growth had ‘created a countryside which was bustling with productive energy, not just in a few favored zones but in widespread areas of the nation’ (Margadant) Slow, gradual change occurred in rural France, well before the Third Republic (Margadant) Rural economies in 19 th century France

23 Peasants were not “backward” Imaginative resistance during Guerre des Desmoiselles Involvement in national politics; 1789, 1848-1851 Sense of “Frenchness” during the Franco-Prussian War Education had already reached the countryside, well before Ferry’s reforms of the 1880s (MacPhee)

24 Two further critiques 1. Weber’s model is too “top down” and centralized Peter Sahlin’s study of Cerdanya valley suggest that a sense of national identity developed on the periphery 2. Weber too uncritical of modernity – sees it as progress

25 Weber on colonization ‘Change is always awkward, but the changes modernity brought were often emancipations, and were frequently recognized as such. Old ways died unlamented… Perhaps this should make us think twice about “colonialism” in underdeveloped countries’ (p.492)

26 Graham Robb, The Discovery of France (2007)

27 ‘A post modern view would identify modernity as a normative project. If social history is the child of modernity, then it is seen to be part of this project, not innocently naming the world but creating it in its own political and intellectual image’ Patrick Joyce, ‘The end of Social History?’ Social History 20:1 (1995)

28 ‘In many ways Peasants into Frenchmen bears the marks of modernization theory that was so popular in the 1950s and 1960s, which rested on certain kinds of binary categories, distinguishing the local and the national, the “archaic” and the “modern,” urban and rural, elite and popular.’ Caroline Ford, ‘Peasants into Frenchmen Thirty Years After,’ French Politics, Culture, and Society 27:2 (2009), 88


30 ‘Never has the land held such a complete fascination for those who no longer live by working it – those city dwellers who still want to find themselves connected with it, part of it. In the years since the Second World War, the land has become the focus of an exceptionally abundant literature, both scholarly and popular in nature.’ Armand Frémont, ‘The Land,’ in Pierre Nora (ed.), Lieux de mémoire (1992)

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