Published by EH.NET (August 2000)
Fernand Braudel, Les ?crits de Fernand Braudel. Paris: Editions de
Fallois. Volume I, Autour de la M?diterran?e, 1996. 535 pp. 150 French
francs, ISBN: 2-87706-259-7. Volume II Les ambitions de l’histoire,
1997. vi +529 pp. 150 French francs, ISBN: 2-87706-290-2.
Fernand Braudel, Les m?moires de la M?diterran?e: pr?histoire et
antiquit?. Paris: Editions de Fallois, 1998. 399 pp. 150 French francs,
Reviewed for EH.NET by Cheng-chung Lai, Department of Economics, National Tsing
Hua University, Sinchu 30013, Taiwan.
Braudel’s Memories of the Mediterranean
Fernand Braudel’s miscellaneous writings were published by ?ditions de Fallois
in four volumes between 1996 and 2000. The first three volumes have their
respective subtitles under a common title Les ?crits de Fernand Braudel,
the fourth volume is an independent monograph on the ancient history of the
Mediterranean. Volumes II and III of Les ?crits contain Braudel’s
various essays that are, in my opinion, of secondary importance, on which I
have no particular points to offer. On the other hand, there is a common
subject between the first and the fourth volume that may be of interest to
Braudel readers, economic historians and scholars of the Mediterranean.
Braudel’s La M?diterran?e et le monde m?diterran?en ? l’?poque de Philippe
II (1949) is a masterpiece that is still in print half a century later.
There is another less well-known book on the Mediterranean that he edited La
M?diterran?e, l’espace et l’histoire (volume 1); La M?diterran?e, les
hommes et h?ritage (volume 2) (Paris: Arts et M?tiers Graphiques, 1977;
reprinted by the Edition Flammarion, 1985-6 in the Collection Champs Nos. 156,
167). There are twelve articles in this handsomely illustrated two-volume set
(often used as Christmas gift), in which Braudel contributed five: “La terre”,
“La mer”, “L’aube”, “L’histoire” and “Venise”.
Yet, Braudel had some other writings (about 850 pages) on the Mediterranean, a
major part of which is unfamiliar to many specialists of the Mediterranean
studies and unknown to most Braudel readers. They were published more than ten
years after his death in December 1985. We shall begin with Autour de la
M?diterran?e of 1996.
Autour was edited by Roselyne Ayala and Madame Paule Braudel, with a
Preface by Maurice Aymard, and a detailed index (pp. 511-32). This volume
collected writings of Braudel on the Mediterranean, including his early project
proposal, unpublished manuscripts, published texts and many reviews. It
contains three parts: North Africa (4 chapters), the Spanish Empire (4
chapters), Italy and the Mediterranean (6 chapters).
Among the abundant text, “Charles Quint” (pp. 171-212), which had already
appeared in his ?crits sur l’histoire II (1990), should not be reprinted
here. Another article, “Philippe II” (pp. 213-57), also appeared in ?crits
II, but it was retranslated from the Italian version, the original French
text is included here for the first time. For Braudel readers, neither of these
add any new information, except for being the “original version”.
The first two chapters of this volume attract me particularly. The very first
one entitled “The Early Researches” (pp. 15-28) has an old story. In 1927,
Braudel (aged 25) proposed doctoral dissertation subject to the Sorbonne,
entitled “Philippe II, Spain and the Mediterranean.” At the same time he used
this proposal to apply for a research scholarship from the Bourse Jules Ferry,
which he obtained in 1928. On March 29, 1929, he reported to the Bourse
explaining his work in progress and what he was going to do that summer. This
report could be found in the Archives municipales de Saint-Di? and had never
been published before. It reveals significant information about the young
Braudel: his eagerness, his ambitions, his methodology, his initial ideas about
the Mediterranean, and we can see that the initial project diverged
considerably from the finished book that was published in 1949.
A few things stand out. There is no room for diplomatic history, showing that
Braudel was already taking a different path. Surprisingly, he was very
interested in the religious life in Spain (p. 16). The great varieties of
documentation that he consulted also manifest his unique ways of selecting
information from the sea of archives in various Spanish cities (as listed on p.
16). He complained about the chaotic arrangement of files in the archives, he
would have been greatly relived had there been a photocopier, but he was wise
enough to use a movie camera to film the files and project them on the wall to
retrieve the information he needed. The zeal for the project that Braudel
showed in this report is evident, for instance, from the Naples papers alone,
he took 800 pages of notes. In the concluding paragraph, Braudel stated that in
early 1928 he had explained to his thesis supervisor Prof. Pag?s about the
progress of his project, some of his preliminary findings, and the questions to
be studied; he would be glad to mail the same document to the Bourse. If I were
to review the project, I would have endorsed it enthusiastically.
The second essay entitled “The Spanish and the North Africa, 1492-1577,” was
published in the Revue africaine in 1928 (Nos. 2-3, pp. 184-233 and
351-428). Henri Hauser (then professor of economic history at the Sorbonne)
wrote a comment on this long essay in Revue historique (1930): “for the
historians of the sixteenth century, this excellent study, with solid
documentation, has a rare value of critique and is remarkably suggestive.” This
long essay served as the “secondary thesis” (a kind of supplementary work to
show that the doctorate candidate’s view is not too narrow) when Braudel
presented his thesis in 1947. To his honor, it was Maurice Bataillon, then
professor at the Coll?ge de France who examined this secondary thesis (see
editor’s note on p. 31).
What strikes me in this 1928 essay (Braudel was aged 26) is that, although the
topic is quite general in nature and very broad in scope, it is easy to see
that Braudel was quite mature in writing this kind of traditional history. He
was able to present an overall structure of the topic and showed the masteries
of the rich documents that he consulted. What is even more attractive is his
talent to depict the historical scene with big and powerful brushes, the key
issues were organized systematically and the overall flow of the essay was
conquering. In short, in this essay Braudel clearly manifested a kind of
sophistication in the writing of traditional history, he would have been bored
had he remained any longer in this old camp. It is therefore unsurprising that
he soon switched to the new history camp, known as the Annales school,
advocated by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch in the early 1930s.
These two 1928 writings are particularly interesting because they allow us to
see how the young Braudel was shining. But they also serve as bad mirrors
reflecting that, except for the ingenious The Mediterranean (1949),
Braudel’s work on the Mediterranean in his more mature stage was not any more
brilliant than those written when he was a high school teacher in Algeria
Les m?moires de la M?diterran?e: pr?histoire et antiquit? (1998) was
edited by Roselyne Ayala and Paule Braudel, with a Preface by Jean Guilaine (a
professor at the Coll?ge de France) and Pierre Rouillard (a director of
research au C.N.R.S.). The book contains eight chapters, divided into two
parts, with 42 color plates and 15 maps (pp. 352-70); the index of names and
places is well prepared (pp. 371-93). As the book is printed directly from
Braudel’s manuscripts, the editors should be acknowledged for the many
editorial footnotes, which provide updated information and corrections on
Braudel’s inexact knowledge of archeological matters.
Why did Braudel write this volume and why was it published posthumously? The
publisher’s Foreword tells us that in early 1968 the famous publisher Albert
Skira in Geneva planned a series of illustrated books on the Mediterranean,
from its antiquity to the seventeenth century. Skira asked Braudel to do the
first volume for the series. Braudel complied and wrote it with great pleasure.
He soon completed the task (no more than eighteen months), as we can see from
his Acknowledgements (in four brief paragraphs) dated July 28, 1969. But
Skira’s health was declining in 1970 and he passed away three years later. Some
hesitations arose about the whole project when considering the high printing
costs, so the publisher finally aborted the plan. Braudel was then quite
involved in the writing of the second volume of Capitalism, it would
have cost him a lot of energy to do supplementary work in preparing maps and
illustrative materials on that Mediterranean book. He put the typescript aside
and forgot all about it.
But Madame Braudel and some other people did remember this almost completed
book. It would have been difficult to publish the manuscript as such because
many archeological discoveries and new techniques had rewritten the prehistory
of the sea since the 1970s. The solution was simple but arduous: publish the
manuscript as such, but seek clarification from specialists for ambiguities,
update the related literature, and offering supplementary evidence in the form
of footnotes. Readers are therefore reading Braudel’s original writings along
with new evidence provided by modern specialists.
How could Braudel complete 350 pages of writing so quickly? As we do not see a
long list of archives or references that he consulted, one wonders if this is
an original profound research or if this is a work of synthesis based on
unidentified secondary literature. In his Acknowledgments, Braudel stated that
“my own real researches covered only the 1450-1650 period. ? The present
volume, designated for the general public, allows me to undertake a fantastic
voyage to travel into the very longue dur?e. I seized the occasion”.
So, should we read it as a masterpiece or as a synthesis of the
state-of-the-field (1960s) by a great Mediterranean historian named Braudel?
One realizes that what is interesting in this volume would be Braudel’s views
of the topic, his ways of selecting the materials, but not his opinions as an
expert so far as the archeological aspect is concerned. His ambition was to
describe a pre-fifteenth century history of the Mediterranean such that it can
be connected to his already famous book covering the 1450-1650 period.
The table of contents reveals another message. In the eight chapters that were
divided into two parts we see again Braudel’s famous tri-partition of
historical time (the longue dur?e, conjoncture and event). One may think that
in this book that covers so many centuries, perhaps only the longue dur?e is
the appropriate notion. This is the case for the first five chapters (Part I),
in which the sea, the island, the catastrophes, in short the geography has the
central role. Most Braudel readers are familiar with this in all his books, so
we shall not be surprised to see that the second notion “conjoncture” plays a
central role in Part II. For instance, the section in entitled “Face aux
conjonctures” (pp. 223-25) begins with the statement: “Living in the
Mediterranean, the Carthaginians were necessarily sensible to the overall
movement of the sea, to its conjoncture. The history of the city follows step
by step the rhythms of the Mediterranean life.” By “conjoncture,” Braudel meant
the political, religious and economic crises of the era.
Is there room for the history of events, Braudel’s third notion of historical
time? Yes, Section II of Chapter 7 entitled “Error of Alexander the Great” (pp.
277-83) is an example. But Braudel was alert enough not to have a Part III for
the history of events alone, he combined the history of conjoncture and events
in Part II. How about Braudel’s other important notion, the “economic world”?
He had not forgotten it, as can be seen from Map 15 “L’Empire Romain sous
Septime S?v?re (193-211)” and the related pages (mainly in Chapter 8). If I
were shown this table of contents without knowing who was the author, I would
guess that it was by Braudel or by his imitators. The same framework of The
Mediterranean (1949) was simply applied to an earlier period.
As a general reader, I find the book intriguing, the scale and scope are broad,
and the story is attractively told; it expands my knowledge about the
Mediterranean. Although I have, as most general readers, no sufficient
background knowledge to judge the contents, I do have some feelings about the
book. The writing style is basically synthetic, there is no central argument to
be defended and no new concept is offered. Under the same Braudellien brushes,
I find the ancient history of the Mediterranean much less interesting than that
of the Philip II period.
Experts may have other complaints: the nature of the topic is not Braudel’s
specialty, little archeological insight is added, and no new historical
proposition is offered. Perhaps it is in this sense that Braudel was not
totally wrong to abandon the typescript. For him and the general readers, this
is merely a “popular” book, it should not be a representative volume among his
lifework; for specialists, it was wise for Braudel not to publish what he did
not really know about the pre-fifteenth century Mediterranean.
Cheng-chung Lai’s recent publications include “Braudel’s Key Concepts and
Methodology Reconsidered,” The European Legacy, 2000, 5(1): 65-86. He is editor
of Adam Smith Across Nations: Translations and Receptions of The Wealth of
Nations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
|Subject(s):||Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History|
|Geographic Area(s):||General, International, or Comparative|
|Time Period(s):||General or Comparative|