Team research and interdisciplinarity in French social science, 1925-1952

Mulroney, Kelly Ann, Department of History, University of Virginia
Megill, Allan, As-History, University of Virginia
Schuker, Stephen, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation traces the history of collaborative and interdisciplinary work among historians and social scientist from 1920s to the 1950s. The intellectual group most associated with interdisciplinary research in France is the coterie of historians associated with Annales: économies, sociétés, civilisations, a history/social science journal founded in 1929 by the historians Marc bloch and Lucien Febvre.

Rather than focusing only on the historical discipline, however, this dissertation follows the evolution of cross-disciplinary and collaborative researched among several fields in the social sciences and then highlights the attempt by historians to assert their leadership over the social sciences in France. From the twenties to the fifties the study of rural society and human civilization served both as a crossroads of the social sciences and as a locus of competition among them.

The dissertation begins by discussing projects undertaken during the twenties and thirties by historians, linguists, geographers, sociologists, and folklorists. Their research was characterized by a shared preoccupation with the meticulous accumulation of data on the agricultural economy, rural history, peasant societies, and material culture. The common interest in rural France carried with it a common political program to define the French nation through representation of its rural past. Social scientists on the political left defined France by focusing on the diversity of its landscape, its rural communities, and its peasant customs. Systematic and cross-disciplinary research on rural France was accelerated by Vichy government, which endorsed research on rural France and peasant life as part of the National Revolution.

Claiming to structure intellectual exchange through their alliances with other fields, Bloch and Febvre worked to seize a new intellectual terrain for history. During the thirties Annales’s collective projects and reviews of research on rural society helped to maintain the historians professional role as guardian of national identity. During the Vichy period, Febvre clung to the journal’s program, hosting research projects and reviewing on-going research. After World War II Febvvre and Fernand Braudel exploited the cultural politics of the “après-guerre” to position history and Annales as the intellectual unifier and institution patron of the other social sciences.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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