Henri Pirenne

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Pirenne, Henri


Born Dec. 23, 1862, in Verviers; died Oct. 24, 1935, in Brussels. Belgian historian.

From 1886 to 1930, Pirenne was a professor at the University of Ghent, where he served as rector from 1919 to 1921. He was a member of the Belgian Royal Academy of Sciences, Literature, and Fine Arts. The focal point of his scholarly research was the socioeconomic history of the Middle Ages in Western Europe. In working out the problem of the rise and development of the medieval city and its institutions, Pirenne developed the theory that the cities had originated as merchant settlements (Medieval Cities, 1927; in Russian translation, Srednevekovye goroda i voz-rozhdenie torgovli, 1941). He exaggerated the role of the merchant class and of trade in the historical process.

The problem of the origin of the Belgian nation is the core of Pirenne’s fundamental work, The History of Belgium… (vols. 1–7, 1900–32, covering up to 1914; reissued beginning in 1972; Russian translation of parts of the work, Srednevekovye goroda Bel’gii, 1937, and Niderlandskaia revoliutsiia, 1937). The underlying thesis of The History of Belgium is the unity of the socioeconomic development of the various Belgian regions. Based on this thesis, Pirenne sought to demonstrate the historical unity of the Belgian nation and show how the history of the Belgian state conforms to historical laws.

Pirenne was one of the most prominent figures in the polemic over the character of the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages—a controversy that developed in bourgeois medieval studies in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His conception of economic development during this period, which he defined in Muhammad and Charlemagne (1937), was an outgrowth of his idea that foreign trade plays a paramount role in the historical process. He linked a critical moment in Western European social history with the Arab conquests of the seventh-eighth centuries, which put an end to the Mediterranean transit trade between Western Europe and the East. As a result, the subsistence economy became the foundation of economic life in the eighth century, and urban life declined. Trade and the cities revived in the 11th century, when the Arabs were ousted from the Mediterranean area. Pirenne linked the development of capitalism with the rise of the medieval city, defining capitalism very loosely and dating its first stage of development (in Flanders and northern Italy) as early as the late 11th and 12th centuries. Accordingly, he viewed the social relations of the medieval city as more modern than they had actually been.

Pirenne’s theoretical and methodological views, which basically remained within the confines of positivism, were characterized by eclecticism, pluralism, and a tendency to inject psychological considerations into the historical process. At the same time, he recognized the existence of historical laws and posed problems of great historical importance. Pirenne founded a school of historians in Belgium and greatly influenced Western European medieval studies. However, his conceptions and his periodization of socioeconomic development have recently come under criticism in bourgeois historiography.


Sadretdinov, G. K. “Teoretiko-metodologicheskie osnovy istoricheskoi kontseptsii Anri Pirenna.” In the collection Trudy Tomskogo gos. un-ta, vol. 187. (History series.)
Metodologicheskie i istoriograficheskie voprosy istoricheskoi nauki, fasc. 4. Tomsk, 1966.
Bloch, M. “Henri Pirenne.” Revue historique, 1935, vol. 176, no. 359.
Ganshot, F. L. “Pirenne (Henri).” In Biographie nationale, vol. 30; supplement, vol. 2, fasc. 2. Brussels, 1959.


References in periodicals archive ?
e] siecle et la periode de l'entre-deux-guerres, que Boone examine les rapports reels et ecrits entre deux geants de l'histoire de ces pays, Henri Pirenne et Johan Huizinga.
Hodges' readily acknowledged debts to the legacy of Henri Pirenne are obvious here, and he consistently aims to show the influence of Byzantium and the Caliphate on the development of medieval European culture.
We all honor the work of Henri Pirenne, though few today accept his thesis.
Those born before 1900 are almost all founders of the Annales movement (Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre), Annales precursors or fellow travelers (Georges Lefebvre, Henri Pirenne, Gaston Roupnel, and Francois Simiand), historians of the Revolution (Albert Mathiez and Lefebvre), or historians significantly connected with the Anglo-Saxon world (Elie Halevy, Paul Hazard, Etienne Gilson, and Bernard Fay)--an unstated criteria for inclusion in the volume.
The topics include urban typologies of Henri Pirenne and Max Weber, historians' views of violence and urban revolts in Medieval Flanders, constitutional discourse in illuminated English law books, the crossbow bolt as a case of military industrial production in 13th-century England, the case of the disappearing mintmaster, and whether coinage debasement in Burgundian Flanders 1384-1482 was monetary or fiscal policy.
Shortly before his death, writes David Ohana, Talmon was elected to sit on a European committee of eminent scholars, joining the ranks of such leading 20th-century historians as Arnold Toynbee, Fernand Braudel, Henri Pirenne, Karl Popper, Arthur Schlesinger, and Charles Beard.
It is particularly good to see many scholars from the early years of this century, such as Lawrence Henry Gipson, who made such an enduring contribution to Anglo-American colonial history, the Belgian medievalist Henri Pirenne and Ulrich Phillips, whose histories of American slavery are now out of fashion.
The Commercialization Model itself contains a vast plurality of views, including the bourgeois political economists, Henri Pirenne and Max Weber.
As the noted historian Henri Pirenne observes, the northern peoples thought to settle themselves "in those happy regions where the mildness of the climate and the fertility of the soil were matched by the charms and the wealth of civilization.
14) The most popular definition was that of historian Henri Pirenne, who around the turn of the century defined a Belgian identity located not in racial origins, languages, or national borders, but in the civilisation commune of the Belgian people.
Early Medieval studies for 50 years evaded the Belgian historian, Henri Pirenne, and his celebrated thesis linking Mohammed and Charlemagne through an apparent discontinuity caused by the interruption of contact between north-west Europe and the Mediterranean.
Since Henri Pirenne, historians using this model have studied the merchants involved in long-distance trade.