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Stéphane Gerson

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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Stéphane Gerson

Parti « sur les traces d’un inconnu » au dix-neuvième siècle, Le Monde retrouvé de Louis-François Pinagot marque, non pas un tournant, mais une étape significative dans l’oeuvre d’Alain Corbin. Ce livre détonne dans l’historiographie contemporaine, interpellant ses lecteurs dans sa conception et dans sa rhétorique. Il le fait dès ses premières pages, surtout dans ses premières pages: un « prélude » singulier, mélange de voix, de genres, de caractères typographiques qui appréhende Louis-François Pinagot, l’énigmatique sabotier percheron, dans sa présence et dans son absence. « Louis-François Pinagot a existé », lance Corbin en ouverture, avant de présenter l’ouvrage, un peu plus loin, comme une « méditation sur la disparition1 ».

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"A World of Their Own"

Searching for Popular Culture in the French Countryside

Stéphane Gerson

This article revisits the role that the concept of popular culture has played in Eugen Weber's Peasants Into Frenchmen and in the historiography of France. It delineates the contours of this field of study in the 1970s then traces its evolution, focusing on the nineteenth century. It also assesses Weber's contribution to this body of scholarship and considers future directions of research—and how his book may still prove helpful. The article proposes that, in terms of conceptualization, epistemological stance, and rhetorical voice, Peasants Into Frenchmen adopts two perspectives on popular culture, perspectives that are sometimes compatible but typically at odds. The first revolves around the confident discovery of a fixed traditional civilization in the French countryside; the second is a more conjectural search for fluctuating cultural processes. While commentators have focused on the first, the second foreshadowed later developments in the field and has more to offer us today.