1François Lebrun, Jacques Le Goff, Maurice Agulhon, Joseph Goy, Jean-Paul Bertaud, and Pierre Goubert–French historiography has lost many of its finest representatives in the last few years. This issue of the Romanian Journal of Population Studies brings together a considerable number of tributes to the personality and work of a founding father of historical demography, Pierre Goubert.
2The first tribute was offered during a roundtable conference at the Archives of the département of the Oise in Beauvais on 5 March 2012. The second commemoration was held at the Sorbonne on 9 June 2012 and entitled, “Demain, l’histoire sociale : Hommage à Pierre Goubert” [Tomorrow, social history : a tribute to Pierre Goubert]. A number of those talks, illustrating the different phases of Goubert’s professional life, the diversity of his intellectual interests, and stressing the contribution of his Beauvais et le Beauvaisis, which opened the way for “histoire totale,” have been brought together here. The first is by the historian’s son Jean-Pierre Goubert, who outlines his father’s career while emphasizing his nonconformist personality. Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux, in a particularly well-documented and thorough account, then retraces the intellectual development of this well-rounded “honnête homme,” hardly preordained an academic. Goubert’s encounter with Marc Bloch was decisive. His particular bent for the study of social and economic phenomena was already inclining him toward histoire totale, an approach to studying historical problems that takes all aspects of the situation into account. Goubert was there for the founding of the new Annales (“Economies, societies, civilisations” until 1993 ; “Histoires, sciences sociales” from 1994 on). But he would always remain independent, refusing to be identified with what could be defined–mistakenly, as it turned out–as a School. His study of the Beauvais and the Beauvaisis enabled him to do “bottom-up” history of France, the history of an as yet overwhelmingly rural population of labourers, day-labourers, small farmers and poor manual workers sorely afflicted by the three great scourges of the time : epidemics, wars and famines.
3Fauve-Chamoux discusses at length Goubert’s activities outside France, his participation in a great number of international conferences and seminars, colloquia organized by European universities ; also the classes and conferences he was invited to give outside Europe. She notes that his works were translated into many languages, including Spanish. Within the national framework, she underlines Goubert’s role as head of the Société de Démographie Historique, founded by Marcel Reinhard in 1963. Goubert headed the Society from 1965 to 1968, (publication of the Annales de démographie historique began in 1965). She recounts the debate in the 1950s between the demographic historian of the Beauvasis and INED demographer and statistician Louis Henry, demonstrating that in 1994 Goubert was already trying to use the wealth of data represented by parish registries ; i.e., well before Louis Henry forged his notion of reconstituting families (1954 ; and Henry himself was following the 1942 lead of Sweden’s Hannes Hyrenius). She also discusses Goubert’s relations with what was to become the French sub-commission on historical demography, established at INED by Lucien Febvre to develop exchanges between historians and demographers and prepare the future congress of the International Committee of Historical Sciences in Rome (1955). And the debate between Goubert and historian Roland Mousnier on the oversimplified “myth” of the three orders, not to mention the one between Goubert and Braudel, the latter being of the opinion that regional studies made no sense if they were not conducted from a general perspective.
4Goubert gave up demographic history when the Annales took up the “new history” of attitudes and mentalities, but he did manage to integrate his material into the field of History and to help bring about the advent of histoire totale even before John Hajnal paved the way in 1965. Having broken free of the obsession with archives, and writing for general and scholarly audiences alike, Goubert had successfully learned Michelet’s lesson : to recreate the lives of humble inhabitants in their own small part of the world. Thanks to him, Clio did indeed descend into the world of men.
5In his paper, E. A. Wrigley (Cambridge University) notes that the closeness of ties between a region’s population and its physical surroundings is a recurrent theme among French historians and geographers of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ; he cites Goubert and Paul Vidal de La Blache. But La Blache himself acknowledged that the industrial revolution, which also revolutionized transportation, had caused such radical changes that it was important to study other-than-regional frameworks. The difference between the approaches of French and English historians lies among other things in the fact that geography is a much more important component of French education. Another difference : whereas the vast majority of French lived on the land, the proportion of farmworkers in England had been halved by the early eighteenth century and a century later fell to a third of what it had been ; rapid urbanization in England contrasts with the stability of life in the Beauvaisis. In the nineteenth century, new fossil fuel sources generated what was to be an exponential rise in material production ; this, Wrigley concludes, explains why the relative importance of the region, the nation-state, and the world changed so radically.
6The other two papers discuss Goubert’s especially strong influence in Spain following the Compostela conference in 1973. According to Antonio Eiras Roel of the University of Santiago de Compostela, Beauvais et le Beauvaisis marked the arrival of Annales methodology in Spain, particularly Galicia, where Goubert was invited as a “celebrity guest” together with Ernest Labrousse, Emmanuel Le Roy-Ladurie, Roland Mousner and others. What Galician historians found above all in Goubert’s work–a near-perfect example of histoire totale, claims Roel–was an analytic grid that covered the entire set of phenomena, a quest for new sources, and a dual critique of those sources, both external (regarding their authenticity) and internal (their credibility). Meanwhile, the work’s analytical methods, specifically Goubert’s concern to quantify all quantifiable phenomena, and the structuralist concept of “model” made it possible to compare analogous and non-analogous societies. Spanish historians are therefore unquestionably indebted to Goubert, Roel concludes.
7Ofelia Rey Castelao, also of the University of Santiago di Compostela, further widens the scope by studying Goubert’s influence in Spain and throughout the Hispanic world, driven to a large extent by translation of his works into Spanish (Ancien Régime was a great success there, becoming a modern history textbook) as well as the predominance of French in language teaching there and Spain’s early reception of Annales historiography. The regional monograph model was of great interest in a country like Spain which, in its 1978 Constitution, legislated decentralization down to the regional level. Goubert visited Spain several times from 1973 to 1984, giving a long series of lectures in 1979-80 in Madrid and other cities. But in 1984, French influence began to be undermined by English historiography. Sectorial studies were criticized for not apprehending the whole, and regional monographs seemed to present a danger of fragmentation. However, for Castelao, “Pierre Goubert’s name remains that of a master who made us understand and love history.”
8To this set of contributions, enhanced by substantial bibliographies, were added two more personal tributes, the afore-mentioned one by his son Jean-Pierre Goubert, and a paper by Anne-Marie Cocula-Vaillières (University of Bordeaux/ Centre Régional d’Aquitaine), who, as a former student in what would later become the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Cachan, remembers Goubert as an extraordinary professor, one of a cohort of highly original teachers, “adventurers in research within their discipline.”
9It is to the honour of the Romanian Journal of Population Studies to have confirmed so completely the international stature of the man who Maurice Garden justly considered “one of the greatest French historians of the twentieth century,” a pioneer who gave a new and different lustre to Beauvais than the one it derived for centuries from its cathedral and its famous tapestry stitch.