Peasants into Frenchmen
The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914
Interpretations of Eugen Weber’s Work
Weber’s Thesis
 During the Belle Epoch/Fin de Siecle –so
during the 3rd Republic- …
Pre-Modernization France-Mentalite
 “Most of France was isolated & impoverished
peasant communities where urban-based
French culture, French language, and
national consciousness had made few
inroads- despite 1789 and 1848”
 Underdeveloped France 
“1789 & 1848 were not trivial, just
incomplete.” Politics remained local
and personal until those interests
became linked to national ones and
understood as such.
Traditional Culture of France
 Oral Culture


Illiterate Majority of rural France was; oral tradition KEY
Veillees Village goes to one person’s house at night to
tell stories AND save fuel; creates a sense of community
 Subsistence farming NOT part of the market econ
 Markets & fairs Local events that create a sense of
community
 Peddlers Itinerate travelers who carried songs & stories
 No concept of being part of the nation 
Pre-Modernization Statistics
 1810- Agriculture accounted for 66% of the
national product; ¾ of citizens were rural
 1812- 121 French bell ringers killed during
storms to ward away evil hail-bringing spirits
 1860- 1 in 5 citizens of France didn’t speak
French- French was a foreign language!

Basque, Breton, Flemish, German, Gascon, Italian, Corsican, Catalan, & Bearnais
 1906- only 1 in 4 draftees could explain why
July 14th was a national holiday
NOT just mindless
devotion to the old
ways….
Peasants resistant to Change
 Tradition 
 Plot size too small to modernize
 Pervasive insecurity can’t take risks on new techniques
 Prayer over fertilizer
 Resistant to education 
 Distrust of the government 
 France ONLY administratively unified 
1 government, 1 tax code, 1 army, but many nations
Agencies of Change
 Transportation
 Educational Reforms
 Universal Military Conscription
Transportation
 Rail Road
1850
1860
“Greatly undermined the
isolation of separate communities”
 Bikes & roads
Centralization Results

Culture connected
1890
1870

Trade GREATLY increased
Kilometers of RR in…
31
1830
496
1840
9,167 23,089 38,109
1860
1880
1900
Education Reforms
 Jules Ferry led reforms (1881-1886)




 Free & compulsory education
 Centralized curriculum
 New buildings & books
 Trained teachers
Centralization Results of Education Reform
 Taught French language 
 Taught urban values 
 Created shared experience 
 Taught nationalism 
 Progress = good 
Teaching Nationalism & Lying with Maps
Map French texts
books are using
The magic
“moving” border
between France
& Germany!
ACTUAL map of Europenote the Rhine River
Universal Military Conscription
Continued the process schools began
 Orders and signs…
 Patriotism & nationalism
 shared experience
  Made the gov’t more acceptable
 agent of emigration
  Illiterate soldiers had to serve one more year 
Results
 Modernity brought “unexpected hope and comfort to the
peasants”
 “Many grieved over the loss of yesterday, but few who grieved were
peasants… Thatched cottages…are picturesque on the outside, [but] living
in them is another matter.”
 When modern farming techniques proved useful…
 Attitudes toward education changed Parents WANTED
their kids to go to school 


 Civil Servant jobs Jobs in gov’t & military 

 More good feelings about the gov’t
More Results
 Technology changed customs  RR- no more peddlers, so
songs & stories die out; better heat, so veillees die out
Printing killed oral culture 
 Development of a national consciousness 
 French unity now more than just administrative unity-->
 Altered mentalite 
 France “becomes” L’hexagone
 nickname- ONE nation (state?)
Analysis
 Shows how small communities are absorbed
into a nation and a nation-state
 Reminds us how recent present levels of
integration really are
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Peasants into Frenchmen The Modernization of Rural …