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Born Aug. 21, 1798, in Paris; died Feb. 9, 1874, in Hyères. French historian of the romantic school and ideologist of the petite bourgeoisie. Member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (1838).
Michelet was appointed a professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in 1827 and at the Collège de France in 1838. During the July Monarchy, he was idolized by radical students as an ardent opponent of the Catholic Church. His hostility to the church is expressed in his sociological studies The Jesuits, Priest, Woman, and the Family, and The People (Russian translation, Moscow, 1965). As a young man Michelet believed in a “liberal monarchy,” but he later became a republican. Although he accepted the French Revolution, he disapproved of the Jacobins and communist ideas, regarding economic inequality as a divine law. In 1852, after refusing to take an oath of allegiance to Napoleon III, he was dismissed from the Collège de France and lost his position as head of the historical section in the National Archives, a post he had held since 1831. His textbooks on modern and world history, which exerted a great influence on French historiography, reveal his talent for broad historical generalization and an eclectic approach to philosophical and historical thought, combining G. Vice’s cyclical view of history with G. Hegel’s theory of progress. For Michelet the people, undivided into social classes, are the hero of social progress. Great men are merely symbols, expressing the social ideas of civilizations; essentially they are pygmies who have climbed “on the obedient shoulders of the good giant, the People.”
His most important works are the multivolume History of France, covering events to 1789, and its sequel, the History of the French Revolution. These works are based on primary sources, both published and archival, and on geographic and numismatic data. Michelet set out to reveal the psychology of the French nation, the “national spirit,” as expressed in language, folklore, literature, and art. He strove to resurrect the past with the aid of the arts. Michelet’s subjective evaluations rest on intuition, imagination, and sympathy for the persons and phenomena described.
WORKSOeuvres complètes, vols. 1–40. Paris, 1893–98.
In Russian translation:
Obozrenie noveishei istorii. St. Petersburg, 1838.
Reforma (Iz istorii Frantsii v XVI v). St. Petersburg, 1861.
Zhenshchina. Odessa, 1863.
Istoriia XIX v., vols. 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1882–84.
Zhanna d’Ark. Petrograd, 1920.
Ved’ma. Moscow, 1929.
REFERENCESVainshtein, O. L. Istoriografiia srednikh vekov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940. Pages 191–93.
Reizov, B. G. Frantsuzskaia romanticheskaia istoriografiia. Leningrad, 1956. Chapter 9.
Kosminskii, E. A. Istoriografiia srednikh vekov. Moscow, 1963. Pages 401–10.
Monod, G. La Vie et la pensee de J. Michelet, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1923.
Alff, W. Michelet’s ideen. Geneva-Paris, 1966.
O. L. VAINSHTEIN