New Work in French Economic History
Why should historians—and especially French historians—pay attention to economic history? After all, isn't most of it written by economists? And aren't their methods and concerns alien to most historians? In short, can't it just be ignored? We say no. It would be a mistake to ignore economic history, particularly for French historians. Indeed, some of the best recent work in economic history concerns France, and although much of this scholarship has been overlooked by historians, it bears upon issues at the heart of French history: the nature of politics under the Old Regime, the strategies that women pursued in French society, and the origins and course of the French Revolution. This research speaks directly to French historians, but even when economic historians address questions in economics, what they say has important implications for French history. In recent years, their work has overturned older Marxist and Malthusian models of French society, models that still linger on in the background of much cultural history. In the place of these models, economic historians have fashioned a new understanding of French agriculture and peasant society; of French industry and demography; of the French fiscal and financial systems; and, above all else, of economic growth and stagnation in France up to the twentieth century—all matters that touched the lives of French men and women in the past.