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MICHELET, JULES (1798-1874) A prolific historian who viewed the Great French Revolution of 1789 as a product of the misery of the masses and who was recognized in the twentieth century as a forerunner of the Annales school of French historical scholarship. Born the son of a printer August 21, 1798 in Paris, he lived his early life in intermittent poverty. Through education he rose in social standing. After obtaining his doctorate of letters from the Sorbonne in 1819, he entered the teaching profession. Following an assignment at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, he was appointed in 1827 as a lecturer at the Ecole normale supèrieure. In 1830 he became head of the historical section of the National Archives, and in 1834 he replaced Guizot at the Sorbonne. Then, in 1838 he was appointed professor at the Collège de France, where he held the chair of History and Ethics. From the late 1820s until 1843, he served as a tutor to the ruling elite, first tutor for the Duchess of Berry and then Princess Clémentine, daughter of Louis-Philippe. However, given his sympathies for the Revolution of 1848, the government of Napoleon III suspended his popular lectures at the Collège de France in 1851. After refusing to take an oath of allegiance to Emperor Napoleon III, who terminated the Second Republic, Michelet lost his position at the Collège de France and at the National Archives, living the rest of his life with his second wife (Athénaïs Mialaret) in relative poverty. Among his numerous books are the following: Introduction à l'Histoire Universelle (1831); Histoire romaine (2 vols., 1831); Histoire de France (a multi-volume work the included the Moyen Age, 6 vols., 1833-44); Histoire de la Révolution française (7 vols., 1847-53); Temps Modernes (7 vols., 1857-67); Histoire du XIX siècle (3 vols., 1872-73); and Le Peuple (1846). He also authored works on a variety of other subjects, such as Vico, love, women, witchcraft, students, and anti-clericalism. Le Peuple., first published in 1846, is often considered his best single volume. On its initial day of publication Le Peuple sold a thousand copies and was immediately translated into English. It discussed various economic and political transformations as France and Europe shifted from an agrarian to an industrial society and examined the condition of the social classes. According to Michelet, modernization and industrialization were heightening political and ideological conflict. He called for a love of one's country to solve many of France's problems and placed faith in the innate goodness of the masses, seeing "the people" as the source of progress in history.

In many ways, Le Peuple and his other historical works expressed the romanticism of his age and reflected the credo of the liberal petite bourgeoisie. He believed in the federation of the social classes and not their disappearance, in the nation state, in improved relations between capital and labor, in Deism, in anti-clericalism, and in the infallibility of the people. Although theMarxists criticized him because of his faith in the reconciliation of classes and the permanence of the nation state, the twentieth historian Lucien Febvre, a founder of the Annales school, viewed his work as an inspiration for a new variety of history because of Michelet's concern for "a total history" and "la longue durée" in history. Consequently, there has been a revival of interest in Michelet, an historian whose works reflect many of the changes, conflicts, trends, and hopes of the nineteenth century. Thus, he has had a significant impact on French historiography in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Wayne Northcutt


Barthes, Roland. Michelet, trans by Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1987).

Fauquet, Eric. Michelet ou la Glorie du professeur d'histoire. (Paris: Cerf, 1990).

Michelet, Jules. The People, trans by John P. McKay (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973).

Michelet, Jules. Oeuvres complètes. (Paris: Flammarion, 1980).

Mitzman, Arthur. Michelet, Historian: Rebirth and Romanticism in Nineteenth Century France. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

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