Lucien Febvre Biography, French Historian Life and Works


Lucien Febvre (1878-1956) was a French historian who received important recognition for his performance in organizing intellectual projects of great importance for the 20th century.

Lucien Febvre

Source :

His participation in the establishment of the Annales School and his contribution as one of the main editors of the French Encyclopedia , were part of the actions that made him a reference in the history of France. This encyclopedia was designed by both Febvre and the encyclopedist Anatole de Monzie.

During his life he devoted himself to developing a series of documents, among which are the Annales of economic and social history and the texts of The Earth and Human Evolution: A Geographical Introduction to History.

In addition, he wrote The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: Rabelais’s Religion, essential to the study of the collective psychology stemming from the Problem of Unbelief, and Martin Luther, A Fate .

Biography of Lucien Febvre

Early years

Lucien Febvre was born on July 22, 1878, in Nancy, northwestern France. He was the son of a professor named Franche-Comté, who encouraged him at an early age to study ancient texts and languages. Some consider that his father was a philologist, although there is little information about him and his mother.


Febvre was educated at the Lyceum Louis the Great, located in Paris. Later, in 1899, he enrolled in the Escuela Normal Superior, at about age 20, to study history and geography.


Some time after finishing his university studies, Febvre taught at a high school in a French province where he developed a thesis entitled Philip II and Franche-Comté: study of political, religious and social history , published in 1911.

A year later, in 1912, he made a second publication entitled History of Franche-Comté . His work earned him that same year he was sent to the University of Dijon.

With the arrival of the First World War in 1914, Febvre temporarily set aside his profession as a teacher to actively participate in the battle. His performance in the conflict earned him a promotion from sergeant to captain; In addition, he was decorated about four times for his work.

In 1919, when his duties in the army ended, Lucien Febvre was called to work at the University of Strasbourg. Febvre managed to make important contacts with people who shared his philosophical and political principles, such as the French historian Marc Bloch; he remained at the institution until approximately 1933.

During this period he made some personal publications. Febvre and Bloch created a journal of great importance for the history of France, commonly known as the Annales de Historia .

Annals of economic and social history

In 1929, Febvre founded with Marc Bloch the publication entitled Annales de historia economic y social, also known as the Annales. It was an academic journal initially released in Strasbourg and later distributed in Paris.


Experts say that the text defended the dissemination of history in a more humane way. During its circulation, the name of the journal was changed many times, until it was renamed the Annales of economic and social history years later.

It is presumed that the publication gave way to a new approach to history that was materialized in the Annales School. The magazine was focused on the study of the present in order to understand the past in a deeper way.

Four years after the launch of the magazine, in 1933, Febvre went to the College de France, considered one of the most prestigious institutions in the country’s educational system. During his stay in the place, he did not abandon the edition of the magazine.

Some consider that this magazine had a very good acceptance during the first years in which it was published.

French Encyclopedia

In 1935 Lucien Febvre founded the French Encyclopedia together with Anatole de Monzie , a publication that had an original format that distinguished it from other publications of the time.

There are some theories that suggest that the publication was sponsored by the French government and that its purpose was to compete with other encyclopedias of German, Italian or Soviet origin.

Other authors point out that the text circulated for approximately 31 years, until 1966, and was made up of at least 20 volumes: The mental tool, Physics, Heaven and earth, Life, Living beings, The human being, The species. Human Life, Mental Life, The Economic and Social Universe, and The Modern State were the top ten.

International Life, Chemistry, Industry, Everyday Civilization, Education and Instruction, Arts and Literatures in Contemporary Society (materials and techniques), Arts and Literatures in Contemporary Society (works and performances), Written Civilization, Philosophy and The World budding (history, evolution, prospective) , were the rest.

Annals School

The influence of previously written texts, especially Philip II and Franche-Comte: study of political, religious and social history , turned the historian’s work into an example for the Annales School to follow.

The theory is that the Annales School, founded by Febvre and Bloch, was a current of historiography that had its roots in the journal Annales of economic and social history , which was also an important source of information for the organization.

Led by the French historian Fernand Braudel, who later succeeded Febvre in editing the magazine, this school of history promoted a new way of narrating the events of the past through the replacement of the study of leaders with stories of ordinary people.


In addition, some say that the historians of the Annales School had a great interest in social processes and structures and that the exams replaced traditional topics such as politics, diplomacy and wars.

To substitute such classical themes, questions on climate , demographics, agriculture, trade, technology, transportation, communication, or social groups were used.

The Annales School exerted a strong influence on both French and other countries’ historiography. His main focus was on issues related to social science.


Lucien Febvre died on September 26, 1956 at the age of 78, in Saint-Amour, a French town located in Franche-Comté.

Outstanding works

The Earth and Human Evolution: A Geographical Introduction to History
This work, written in 1922 while he was at the University of Strasbourg, allows an analysis of the interaction between logic and human need.

This was a text that represented an analysis of the relationship between human societies and their natural environment, rejecting geographic determinism and claiming the active role of human beings in the environment.

Martin Luther, a destiny
Written in 1928, Martin Luther, A Destiny was one of Lucien Febvre’s most important texts.

Some consider that in it, the author captured the way in which the German theologian Martin Luther faced doubts regarding faith; especially those related to the possibility of distinguishing good from evil.

An ill-posed question
Considered by some to be a work of great influence on history, A Wrong Question was written in 1929. Some point out that in the text, the historian tried to study popular religion through the observation and quantification of human behavior .

They add that Febvre carried out numerous investigations to collect information on monasteries and chapels in order to study the influence of philosophy on religion.

The problem of unbelief in the sixteenth century: Rabelais’s religion
In 1942 he wrote The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais , a text considered to be a work of historical psychology, where he exposed the spirit of the French writer François Rabelais.


Some handle the theory that the work had as its main objective the study of collective psychology as a result of disbelief.

Fights for history
This text, written in 1953, shows the conviction of Lucien Febvre, who maintains that history is a need of the human being to find facts of the past that allow us to understand the time in which he lives.

Leave A Reply