Some intellectuals deserve scholarly attention as emblems or models. They
represent something larger than themselves—a trend, an ideology, a school,
an institution. Others, in contrast, stand out in their singularity of thought or
method. They warrant equal consideration, but not necessarily for the broader
developments they exemplify. Acclaimed as he is, Alain Corbin belongs in
this second category. A scholar whose oeuvre springs from an intensely personal
curiosity, Corbin is arguably the most idiosyncratic historian in France
today. Over four decades, he has charted a course that is entirely his own.
While awarding him the 2000 Grand prix Gobert, the Académie française
aptly extolled a work that “boldly extends the limits of historical method.”
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