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A more detailed biography of Fernand Braudel.

Fernand Braudel (1902-1985)

Fernand Braudel was born on 24 August 1902 in Luméville (northwestern Lorraine), in the Meuse department, near Verdun, France. The son of a teacher, he spent his childhood in the countryside, living often at his grandmother's farmhouse. In 1908, he moved with his family to Paris. He received a classical education at Lycée Voltaire, in Paris, from 1913 to 1920. He then studied history at the University of Paris, at La Sorbonne and took his degree in 1923.

After receiving his degree, Braudel hoped to get a position of teacher at the high school of Bar-le-Duc (Lorraine), the town next to his birth village. But the central bureaucracy, in Paris, decided otherwise. In 1923, he had to move to Algeria to become a history teacher at the high school (lycée), first in Constantine, then, after one year, in Algiers. Algeria was then a French colony, even more than a colony: the Northern part of it was fully integrated, as three departments, in the political structure of mainland France, like French Guyana or French Polynesia today. Braudel tought in Algiers until 1932. He met his future wife, Paule, in Algeria. She was a student at his courses. He made his military service in 1925-26, in Rhenany (Germany), as part of the French occupation troops.

Fernand Braudel wished to enter the academic career. For that purpose, making a PhD was a prerequisite. In accordance with his Sorbonne professors, he avoided German history, which his fiery French nationalism would not have allowed him to deal with fairly. Instead, he plumped for a thesis on Spanish history. He started research in 1927, going during his Summer holidays to Salamanca (Spain) to study Spanish archives. However, Braudel quickly expanded the scope of his research, visiting many other places around the Mediterranean, like in 1934 Ragusa/Dubrovnik (Yugoslavia at this time, now Croatia), where, in his own words, he saw for the first time the XVIth-century Mediterranean. He was smitten. Gradually, an entirely different thesis began to take shape, devoted more to large scale, economic, history.

In 1932, Braudel quit Algeria to start as a high school teacher in Paris. He encountered for the first time Lucien Febvre (1878-1956), a professor of history at Collège de France. Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch had founded in 1929 a journal called "Annals of economic and social history" (Annales d'histoire économique et sociale), with the goal of departing from traditional political and military history to explore economic and social history, and to focus more on a long term perspective. This journal changed name several times during the following decades (1).

In 1935, Braudel moved to Brazil to start as a professor at University of Sao Paolo, that the French had helped create (in the same time as Claude Lévi-Strauss). He remained there for three years (1935-37).

He went back to France in 1937 to work at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. During this second stint in Paris, he became an intimate friend and disciple of Lucien Febvre. Braudel became a fixture of Febvre's private house in the Jura mountains. He decided to compose, under the guidance of his master Febvre, a book about the Renaissance Mediterranean world. But the war interrupted his project.

He enrolled in the French army in 1939 and was captured by the victorious Germans in June 1940. He spent some time in Mainz, and then was located in a prisoner camp on the baltic coast, near Lubeck, where he remained three years (1942-45). According to his own account, Braudel took advantage of that captivity to write La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II, the book that would become his masterwork. During five years, he allegedly wrote on schoolboy booklets on a corner of a table without any documentation, in his prisoner camp, and sent the filled booklets one after another to his master Lucien Febvre. He would manage this extraordinary feat by tapping into the vast knowledge he had accumulated over years of research in southern European libraries (Spain, Venice, Ragusa/Dubrovnik).

Upon his return to France, Braudel worked for a while at La Sorbonne, in Paris. In November 1947, Lucien Febvre and Charles Morazé founded the VIth section of the "Ecole pratique des hautes études" (EPHE), with money from the Rockefeller foundation. This "Practical School" had been opened in 1868 par minister Victor Duruy with the aim to spread in France the German, more technical-oriented, teaching methods. Creating a brandnew institute (within an existing school, outside the University) was a convenient method to circumvent the opposition that their new approach to history was facing in established faculties. It one more example of the crucial importance of a prosperous economy for the progress of knowledge and science, as developped in Le Secret de l'Occident. These progressive French historians could open their new own institute only because they lived in a society enjoying wealthy businessmen, like Rockefeller, having funded large generous foundations.

Braudel migrated from the Sorbonne to this new VIth section of the EPHE. In 1949, Fernand Braudel defended his doctoral thesis in Paris and published it under the title La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II. After receiving his PhD, he hoped for a professoral position at the University of Paris but was rebuffed.

At the death of Lucien Febvre, in 1956, Braudel was nominated president of the "VIe section de l'Ecole pratique des hautes études". He remained president until his retirement in 1973. He inherited as well Febvre's chair at the Collège de France. In 1959, Braudel additionally created a library and research center called "Maison des sciences de l'homme" (House of Humanities) with money from the Ford Foundation. This center opened in 1970.

At the death of Lucien Febvre, a power vacuum had emerged in the mini-world of French large-scale long-term history. In his last years, the old master had been closest to another disciple, Robert Mandrou, with whom he had written his last publications. Mandrou strutted publicly as the successor of Febvre. Fernand Braudel set up a "coup" to overthrow his rival. On a certain day of 1962 Mandrou suddenly found himself without any function at the journal "Annals", of which he had been secretary. He finished his life isolated, depressed and feeling persecuted.

Braudel published the initial version of Civilization and Capitalism in 1967, but, not fully satisfied, he worked at it over and over again until he published a deepened and extended definitive version in 1979.

Fernand Braudel had much charm but he relished power. He reigned upon a court of students and disciples with the munificience and the mercilessness of a Renaissance prince. He was both admired and feared. A shrewd tactician, he removed the best talents from his academic empire, in order to suppress any potential rival. Pierre Chaunu, his most brilliant disciple, was refused all positions to which he applied in Braudel's empire – the VIth section, the MSH and the journal Annals. "There is no place for both of us here" Braudel told him. Chaunu had to look for a position far away from Paris – in France a sure sign of demotion. He became high school teacher in Caen (Normandy) and later entered the academic staff of this city's university.

The riots of May 1968 in Paris took Braudel by surprise. He wanted to take the lead amidst the students, but, for the first time since a long time, they disobeyed. This left him disgruntled for long against his disciples.

Fernand Braudel marked his imprint on a whole generation of French historians. Among his disciples are Maurice Aymard, Pierre Chaunu, Georges Duby, Marc Ferro, François Furet, Jacques Le Goff, Emmanuel Leroy-Ladurie, Jacques Revel. However, (like Joseph Needham) he had no successor up to the task he had himself set, i.e. tackle the social and economic history of civilizations. Perhaps by fault of his bent to discourage any potential rival, all his disciples have remained mere specialists of subdomains.
Fernand Braudel died on 28 November 1985, after having chaired a last historical colloquium organized on his honour on 18-20 october, at Châteauvallon, in Southern France, on the Côte d'Azur.

The various names of Febvre's journal across its history:
1929-39: Annales d'histoire économique et sociale
1939-46: Annales d'histoire sociale
1946-94: Annales Economies Sociétés Civilisations
from 1994 on: Annales, Histoire, Sciences Sociales (as of Jul 2002)