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Anarchism, geohistory, and the Annales: rethinking Elisee Reclus's influence on Lucien Febvre.

Abstract. It has been hypothesized that the celebrated geographer and anarchist Elisee Reclus was a decisive influence on several concepts that are characteristic of the Annales School, the historical French school of the Annales d'histoire economique et sociale, such as longue duree, material history, space-movement, and geohistory. Yet no systematic research exists on the topic. In this paper, on the basis of textual analysis and new archival materials recently published in France, I argue that Reclus's influence particularly affected the Annales's founder Lucien Febvre, and that it springs from not only Febvre's scholarly interest in Reclus, but also his early engagement in socialist milieus and sympathies for both anarchism and figures like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Finally, I show how these topics could be useful for present debates on critical social theory and radical geographies.

Keywords: Elisee Reclus, Lucien Febvre, anarchism, socialism, geohistory, critical theory


Elisee Reclus (1830-1905), the well-known French geographer and anarchist, was concerned with a historical perspective for which he has sometimes been defined as the forerunner of several historiographical schools of the 20th century, particularly the Annales School, the French school of thought that took shape around the Annales d'histoire economique et sociale, a journal founded in 1929 by Marc Bloch (1882-1944) and Lucien Febvre (1878-1957). It was the journal's 'Great Man', Fernand Braudel (1902-85), who in 1949 launched the concept of 'geohistory' in his masterpiece La Mediterranee et le monde mediterraneen a l'epoque de Philippe II.

Several historians of geography have noticed a correspondence between some of Reclus's ideas and the concepts developed later by the Annales School, namely, material history, world system, social history, longue duree, persistence, space-movement, and rural landscape (Deprest, 2002; Errani, 1984; Lacoste, 1990; Pelletier, 2013), but we have no systematic research either comparing Reclus's corpus with that of the Annales, or exploring the scholarly and political networks that could have allowed the transfer of knowledge between the cited authors.

The present paper is a first attempt to fill this lacuna. My hypothesis is that Reclus's ideas did indeed have both a direct and indirect influence on the thinking that went into the Annales, mainly as a result of the admiration that Febvre felt for Reclus as both a geographer and an anarchist, which in turn was probably the result of Febvre's little-known but well-documented sympathies for Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, revolutionary syndicalism, and left-libertarian thinking. I try to elucidate this problem by analyzing the texts and archives of both authors.

The importance of this work lies in the recent rediscovery of both Febvre and Reclus in different fields of international research, involving central points in current debates on geography, history, and critical social theory. Recent research on Reclus has stressed the links between geographical thinking and anarchism. Here, 1 quote as examples the special issues dedicated to anarchism by Antipode and ACME in 2012, and the session "Demanding the impossible", which took place during the RGS-IBG International Conference in London in 2013. The authors involved in these experiences draw explicitly on a 'genealogy' (Springer, 2013) beginning with Reclus and another early anarchist geographer, Pyotr Kropotkin. According to Marcelo Lopes de Souza (2012), there is also a historical tradition in urban geography, starting from these two authors and leading directly to present debates on autonomy and federalism, inspired by Murray Bookchin and Cornelius Castoriadis (Lopes de Souza, 2012).

At the 3rd International Conference of the Anarchist Studies Network, held in Loughborough in September 2014 and including sessions on geography, (1) several presenters advocated the need for interdisciplinary studies on the transnational and transcultural nature of the concrete anarchist movement, drawing on its anticolonial and postcolonial networks (Anderson, 2007; Hirsch and Van der Walt, 2010), its present cosmopolitanism (Gordon, 2008), and Reclus's legacy (Ferretti, 2013).

I should stress the importance of anarchism, and anarchist geographies, for critical social theory, which has been widely concerned with space in the last few decades (Soja, 1989). One of the first attempts to trace the link between space and critical social theory and, accordingly, to build a critical geography, was the experience of Reclus, Kropotkin, and colleagues, which deserves to be better studied and better known, to better understand the strategic role that geography played, and should play again, in inspiring critical thinking.

Because of recent publication of previously unpublished work in France, Febvre has been rediscovered (Crouzet and Febvre, 2012; Febvre, 2012; Lecuir, 2012) not only as a historian, but also as a socialist concerned with revolutionary syndicalism and with a cosmopolitan construction of French identity, all of which is relevant for the debates on present postcolonial social and cultural problems in France and in its banlieues (Mbembe, 2011).

Aware of the fact that the concept of 'influence' is a very complex and problematic one, I draw on Bruno Latour's idea of 'social influence' (1987; 2005) to put forward the hypothesis that the contribution of Reclus, and of the wider intellectual milieu of anarchist geographers, affected Febvre not only through his direct reading and quotation of Reclus's and Kropotkin's writings, but also through the common cultural background of these authors and their role within the French workers' movement during the 19th and 20th centuries.

I also respond to recent arguments for regarding knowledge as a situated phenomenon, as shown by recent research (Livingstone, 2003; Ogborn and Withers, 2010), to understand the different kinds of socialism which were practiced in Paris and Besancon, where Febvre was based when he wrote the articles that I examine in the second part of the paper.

Moreover, Michel Foucault's (1980) concept of'discursive formation' can be invoked to explain the circulation of the ideas which inspired Febvre, not only in his geographical and political writings, but also in his history of mentality, which I argue has been influenced by anarchism, citing the example of Febvre's works on Francis Rabelais.

Although the case study on which I draw is a rather specialist one, it still serves to better understand both Febvre and the epistemological links between anarchism and geography. As is noted by authors like Alan Baker (2003), the Annales School was influential in the formation of anglophone historical geographies, and the most famous of Febvre's disciples, Braudel, played a pivotal role not only in the elaboration of a wide geohistoriography (Mayhew, 2010), but also in the formation of several intellectuals then involved in 'French Theory'. Febvre was also a direct reference for Brian Harley, one of the critics of imperial cartography, who argued: "in accepting that maps can be regarded as an agent of change in history we can draw on the ideas of Lucien Febvre and Henri Martin" (2001, page 233). (1)

In the first part of this paper, I present Reclus's ideas on history according to his final work, L'Homme et la Terre. In the second part, I analyze Febvre's political experience, as well as the quotations and tributes he devoted to Reclus in his works. And in the third part, I advance some hypotheses concerning the direct and indirect influences of Reclus and the anarchist geographers on the Annales, in relation to the school's strong interest in human geography, taking as my main critical framework Marie-Vic Ozouf-Marignier and Nicolas Verdier's concept of croisements et fertilisations (crossbreeding and fertilization) between geography and history (Ozouf-Marignier and Verdier, 2000; 2013; Verdier, 2009; 2012). Finally, I explain why Febvre is so important for contemporary geographers, showing the relevance of the concepts that he mobilized for contemporary debates on geography.

Reclus, anarchism, and world history

In his last work, L'Homme et la Terre, Reclus tried to build a new field of knowledge called social geography, the definition of which at that time (1905) could be taken as synonymous with 'socialist geography' (Pelletier, 2013). Nevertheless, his six-volume work was not limited to geography, since it was organized chronologically in the form of a world history, from prehistoric times to the contemporary globalizing world.

Such an interdisciplinary approach was clearly announced from the outset in a memorable phrase stating that "Geography is History in space, just as History is Geography in time" (Reclus, 1905a, page 1). This type of statement was not new in the history of geography, but Reclus was the first to try to systematize and apply this principle generally.

The cover image (figure 1) also suggested a symmetrical use of the two disciplines, or specialties, to use the contemporary terminology identified by Claude Blankaert (2006): a man gazing at the earth is surrounded by the two muses of history and geography, Clio and Eugea.

This bringing together of two disciplines also summoned up several noble forebears, like Herodotus, who was defined as follows:

"The father of both geography and history, incomparably superior to all the specialists of today who, in order to conform to who knows what official programs, have made geography an object of disgust and ridicule; he was able to render it more attractive than poetry even, because he did not separate man from nature, or mores and institutions from the milieu in which they developed" (Reclus, 1872, page 1).

By 'disgust', Reclus meant his own critique of the traditional teaching of geography, which was based on mnemonic learning of names and numbers, whereas anarchist geographers proposed methods of teaching based on excursions and fieldwork (Kropotkin, 1885).

Reclus was not especially concerned with the boundaries between disciplines, which in France became important only after the institutionalization of geography and its disputes with other fields over professorships and funding (Mucchielli and Robic, 1995). The anarchist geographer included his own discipline within a general "science of milieus, which Hippocrates laid out to his disciples in Athens over two thousand years ago" (Reclus, 1905a, pages 39-40).

Reclus dealt with the concept of the 'rhythms of history', structured by the continuous relationship between humankind and nature, introducing both the concept of environmental history and the future Annales idea of the longue periode. According to Peter Burke (1990), the idea of three rhythms of Mediterranean history (slow, medium, and fast) established by Braudel was one of the decisive innovations of what he called the 'French historical revolution'.

Reclus also tried to build a general periodization of world history, drawing his inspiration from the works of his collaborator and comrade Leon Metchnikoff (1838-88), who in his book La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques ('Civilization and the great historical rivers') analyzed four cases of civilizations that had sprung from fluvial milieus: Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China. In his periodization, Metchnikoff first considered an ancient 'fluvial period', which ran approximately until the Bronze Age, when the different civilizations were not in regular communication with each other; he then imagined a 'Mediterranean period', when the two 'Western' civilizations were structurally connected via the Mediterranean Sea, whereas the Indian and Chinese civilizations remained relatively unconnected, as travel and exchanges were more difficult through Central Asia, where a central and unifying sea did not exist. The last period, the 'oceanic phase', corresponds to a modern phase of globalization characterized by European expansion towards the Americas, which reached its peak in the 19th century, according to Metchnikoff, thanks to the Pacific's rising presence; in this last phase, the peoples of the entire world were increasingly connected and extra-European ones were playing an ever-greater role. Nevertheless, in laying out his environmental history, Metchnikoff claimed that he did not believe in "some kind of potamic fatalism", as civilizations "were a living synthesis of multiple geographic conditions" (Metchnikoff, 1889, page 364).


Reclus gave a rather different personal version of this periodization; in particular, he identified a break between 'ancient history' and 'modern history' at the moment of the Roman Empire's collapse, basing his judgment on the change in the connections between humankind and the environment. In fact, the work the Romans did in this domain was considered the highest level of human domination of nature. According to Reclus, one of the main results of this process was the political unification of the Mediterranean basin as the gravitational center of the entire Western part of the Old World (including regions like Arabia, Persia, and Northern Africa, according to Reclus). Nevertheless,

"the movement in favor of a synthesis was to be followed by one of analysis, a terrifying analysis wherein all nations would be tested as in a crucible before tending once again to a new unity. The different geographic milieus where once more exercising their shaping influence on their inhabitants when barbarous peoples ... with no awareness of a common culture, were subjected to their action" (Reclus, 1905b, page 338).

Finally, the highest 'geohistorical' ideal, as Reclus saw it, was universal human unity: this 'postancient' break in the process of human integration would exist only until the 18th century, for between that century and the following, three phenomena occurred that definitively modified human societies, together with their relationship to their environment. These phenomena were the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789, and globalization. The last of these processes brought peoples increasingly closer together and was described by geographers in Reclus's day as a mobilization and extension of the 'Mediterranean metaphor' (Arrault, 2006); according to these geographers, oceans were assuming a role in global communications akin to the one played by the Mediterranean Sea in antiquity.

A great part of Reclus's arguments dealt with the historical 'movement' of peoples and civilizations, which seems rather close to what we now call 'connected history' or 'world history'. He also tried to discern some general principles in how this movement functioned, citing the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico:

"Do these differences in the general movement of humanity and the particular advance of human groups develop randomly, without laws, or on the contrary with a certain regularity? It does seem that the succession of guiding ideas and the succession of facts springing from them occur with a sort of rhythm, as if a pendulum were governing their alternating shift.... Thus Vico, in his Scienza Nuova, showed us human societies evolving through his series of Ages by corsi e ricorsi, that is, by a regular ebb and flow, creating circles in time and forever bringing back the same state of affairs following the end of the cycle. The concept is rather childish in its simplicity, and none of Vico's disciples managed to accept it without making some changes to it.... One prefers to use the term 'spiral of civilization', whose endlessly expanding cycles have developed indefinitely over the Ages. However, it must be said that the shape of this spiral is hardly a geometrical one, and each event comes to change the direction of its curve" (Reclus, 1905a, pages 344-346).

Thus, Reclus envisioned an equilibrium between the long term and general rhythms on the one hand, and events and single occurrences on the other. The concept also influenced his idea of anarchism, which he advanced in Evolution, Revolution and the Anarchist Ideal (1885) (L'evolution, la revolution et l'ideal anarchique), stating that revolutions and historical traumas are just steps in the lower process of evolution, leading progressively to higher levels of freedom and equality thanks to the spread of education, propaganda, and a heightened consciousness (Clark and Martin, 2013; Reclus, 1885). What is significant to us today is that Reclus's political principles, in his words, were inspired by the study of history 'in the strict sense of the word', namely, the history of social relations, rather than history of battles or "royal crimes" (Reclus, 1879, page 520); that is, what the historians of the Annales were to call histoire evenementielle, the history of events. Reclus's ideas came close, in this sense, to what we now call 'subaltern histories' (Guha, 1993).

The global scale to which Reclus applied his historical concepts led him to criticize the nationalist, and hence ideological, teaching of history that was being promoted in public schools. He believed that what was needed first for his work in favor of universal brotherhood was the teaching not of national histories but of the history of the whole of humanity, represented by the metaphor of the river basin carrying its waters from opposite shores to the same common sea.

"The first fact that strikes the sincere man in his studies of the contrasting developments of Man and Earth is the definitive unity taking place in the infinite variety of the habitable world's regions. History was once made up of distinct, local and partial histories, which converged on no common point. For the peoples of the West, they gravitated around Babylonia or Jerusalem, Athens or Alexandria, Rome or Byzantium; for Asians, they had the distinct centers of Cambaluc, Nanking, Ujjain, Benares or Delhi.... Nowadays, history is indeed the history of the whole world.... All the sources of the river, once distinct and flowing underground in caves, have united in one bed, and the waters flow in broad daylight. Only in our time can history be said to be 'universal' and applied to the whole family of men. Little local homelands are losing their relative importance in inverse proportion to the growing value of the great world homeland" (Reclus, 1894, page 489).

Thus, world history is instead a geographical history since it also depends on the shifting of its geographical centers, which do not exist in a global situation. That is, according to Reclus, within globalization, "the center is everywhere, the periphery nowhere" (1876, page iv).

One of the results of the globalizing process was the growing melting pot and cultural integration, which Reclus hoped would prove a transition precipitating the end of racism and chauvinism. In terms of history, he insisted on the mixed origins of the ancient Mediterranean civilization, claiming the existence of an original African civilization and stating that "the pride of race, which historians can never be too skeptical of, spawned a widespread prejudice, that African peoples have had no part, as it were, in the general work of civilization.... On the contrary, doesn't the history of our progress inevitably bring us back to the Nile basin, on African lands?" (1885, page 32). Reclus also argued that the clash of the Greeks and the Persians opened the way to "an ecumenical world ... united in its movements" (Reclus, 1905a, page 458), whereas at the time the presumption of the 'purity' of Hellenic civilization still justified several prejudices about the supposed superiority of Europe (Bernal, 1987).

One of Reclus's efforts was to also include in history what we now call 'people without history' (Wolf, 1982) and incorporate all continents and all ways of life in his universal narrative, which he thought should culminate in the "complete union of the civilized with both the savage and nature" (Reclus, 1908, page 508). Similarly, Reclus seemed to anticipate some themes that prefigure the 'theft of history' articulated by Jack Goody (2006); for instance, he did not consider capitalism a specificity of modern Europe, but expanded the notion in space and time. Specifically, he stated that

"modern people are rather tempted to believe that wars of commercial rivalry are of recent vintage, and that only yesterday the great powers began to dispute distant markets. The Sesostrises, Assurbanipal and the Cambyses were the crowned representatives of the bank and monopolies of the time, as were Dupleix and Clive in India in the last century, and as are, in our century, the powers divvying up Africa" (Reclus, 1905a, page 488).

We are dealing here with some aspects of the movement imagined by Marie-Claire Robic, who stated that French geography "also composes a critical historical knowledge. So it goes with its proposed re-evaluation of the origins of the nation, working on a world the archives overlook, that of peasants and provinces or petty peripheral countries, whereas the history, the official history, of the nation deals with the Court alone" (Robic, 1996, page 363). According to French historians of geography, this led the way for the historical school of the Annales, founded in 1929 by Bloch and Febvre.

Febvre: history, geography, and socialism

The militant dimension of Febvre's historical proposal is well known and reflected, for example, in the title of one of his main theoretical works, Combats pour l'Histoire (Struggles for History). The introduction to this text includes a tribute to several 'true masters', and notably mentions "Reclus and the deep humanity of his New Universal Geography" (Febvre, 1953, page iv).

The Annales's form of history appears as a militant challenge to the 'old history' dealing with events, kings, and battles and is indebted

to Febvre and Bloch's sharp intelligence in constructing the enemy. That is, according to Christophe Prochasson, histoire evenementielle was an "invented enemy, pure and simple" (1997, page 69).

It is not my task here to delve into this question further. I am interested, however, in analyzing the way Febvre built on Reclus to construct his theoretical representation of geography and its disciplinary limits in his masterly La Terre et Involution humaine (published in English translation as A Geographical Introduction to History). This book has been a lasting influence on geographers because of its invention of the categories of possibilism and determinism. These concepts had not been employed in the same way before the publication of La Terre et involution humaine, which, as Febvre saw it, set the French school of Geographie humaine, inspired by Paul Vidal de la Blache, apart from the German anthropogeography founded by Friedrich Ratzel.

According to Franco Farinelli, the difference between possibilism and determinism was a false problem, because "what distinguished Ratzel from Vidal de la Blache was not the contrasting concept of the relationship between environment and human societies. Determinism and possibilism never existed in geography in a pure state" (Farinelli, 1980, page xxiii). According to the Italian geographer, geography has always considered a mix of natural influences and human actions. Accordingly, Febvre's real problem was to establish disciplinary boundaries between geography, history, and sociology, and to do that he invented another enemy, German geography, which was simultaneously environmentalist and characterized by right-wing geopolitics--a very useful target for the future Annales discourse, with its emphasis on 'soil and not State'.

What warrants consideration is the use of Reclus's legacy in this book. It is worth noting, for instance, that the title La Terre et l'evolution humaine recalls the duality of humankind and earth (and of history and geography) that we find in Reclus's major titles, such as L'Homme et la terre, his last work, and La Terre et les homines, subtitle of the New Universal Geography. Another tribute to Reclus appears in the first pages of the book, where we are invited to read "a few good historical dictionaries, two or three trusted manuals, and Elisee Reclus's New Universal Geography, that oft-repudiated Providence [celle Providence si souvent reniee]" (Febvre, 1922, page 19).

In the text we find twelve quotations by the anarchist geographer, and while there are certainly not many in such an extensive work (fewer than there are quotations by Ratzel or Vidal de la Blache, for instance), they are surely significant in a period when almost nobody in France was citing Reclus, who had been quickly classicized and was used only in a very limited way, through allusions and implicit quotations (Arrault, 2005). Febvre, on the contrary, not only quoted Reclus, he engaged with all his major works, demonstrating that he was one of the best connoisseurs of Reclus in French academia at the time. In fact, in his book we find references to all Reclus's major works, and even to a little-known paper by Reclus on the Phoenicians, which had been published in the peripheral journal Bulletin de la Societe Neuchateloise de Geographie (Reclus, 1900). The interesting thing here is that Febvre invoked Reclus against what he considered to be 'German geography' and 'determinism', using quotes to base his arguments on Reclus's own.

Febvre regarded some of Reclus's studies on 'climatic-botanic frameworks' like the Asian steppe as classics, "a description that one does not forget" (Febvre, 1922, page 157), and invoked his authority to justify his claims against environmental determinism.

"Speak not of necessity. Nothing strict, nothing rigid, and nothing mechanical: once more, it is proved that the harmony that is established between the globe and its inhabitants is made up of both analogies and contrasts. 'Like all the harmonies of organized bodies', as Reclus has excellently put it, 'it arises from struggle as much as union, and endlessly wavers around a changeable center of gravity'" (1922, page 209).

This statement recalls both Reclus's reference to Vico and his idea of a dynamic dialectical balance of nature and humankind, which he borrowed from German Naturphilosophie, drawing on the philosophical writings of Lorenz Oken and Friedrich Schelling, writings which interested several geographers and socialists at that time (Tang, 2008). Likewise, Febvre devotes two pages of his chapter on plateaus to quotations from Reclus, stating that Reclus managed to work out a coherent 'geographical type' without lending it a decisive role in human history:

"One quickly realizes that, in his eyes, the importance of plateaus is quite variable according to places and times--and that the role he attributes to them is at certain times purely negative, and at others largely positive .... In other words, everywhere, particular cases that have to be treated as such, and individualities that have to be carefully studied in their distinctive characteristics; but general rules, not a one; a necessary and unique concept of plateau, even less so" (Febvre, 1922, page 231).

What is more problematic is that Febvre uses Reclus to deny Carl Ritter's principle of 'coastal articulation', when we know that Reclus was clearly inspired by Ritter in employing and adapting this concept, and argued that the indentation of the Mediterranean shores favored the circulation of people, goods, and knowledge in the ancient world, and thus influenced the 'path of civilization' (Brun, 2012). Febvre deemed this concept a 'deterministic' one, and cited various passages from Reclus's works on island milieus (Febvre, 1922, pages 250, 265, 267) without considering the whole of the anarchist geographer's output, which nonetheless he showed he knew very well. I suggest that Febvre chose to utilize Reclus because he was a classic authority in his field, though after 1905 little read and little known outside of certain limited circles.

I should note that Febvre, in the same work, invoked as another ally a long-time scholarly and political collaborator with Reclus (Ferretti, 2011b), Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (1842-1921). The Russian anarchist, already quoted by Febvre in his writings on revolutionary syndicalism, was known for his works on the theory of mutual aid (Kropotkin, 1902). According to this theory, in the framework of Darwinian evolutionism, cooperation was no less important than competition as an evolutionary factor (Gould, 1997); it is claimed on scientific (and geographical) grounds that a society organized according to the principles of mutual aid and cooperation--that is, an anarchist society--would be not only just but also feasible.

Febvre quotes Kropotkin's work on the relationship between natural conditions and the population density of a region. Having observed animals in Siberia, the Russian geographer argued that the size of a population inhabiting a region is not determined by the addition of territorial resources, but by the resources available during the harshest periods. Moreover, empirical observation demonstrated that sometimes populations were smaller than the number that a specific territory could support. Thus, Febvre endorsed the analysis Kropotkin gave

"of the very specific reasons for such a fact; it is then clear, once more, how quantitative thinking, backed by statistics and with schematic maps or graphic representations, is fallacious and weak in a vast number of cases. This lesson in prudence then is valid not only for zoogeography; anthropogeography must take advantage of it; moreover, Kropotkin clearly indicates that when he shows us those villages of southeastern Russia, whose inhabitants enjoy a real abundance of food, yet see their populations remain static" (Febvre, 1922, page 173).

The movement from biology to sociology was typical of the human sciences of the time, including Ratzel's anthropogeography (the main target of Febvre's argument) but it also incorporated the idea of mutual aid, which was founded on observing cooperation among plants, animals, and humans, including forms of mutual assistance between different species. What is intriguing here, from the standpoint of the cross-pollination of scientific and political concepts, is that the theory of mutual aid is a classic argument of anarchist propaganda, and Febvre seemed to be perfectly comfortable using it for his own scientific propaganda.

Thus, I suggest that Febvre's interest in Reclus and the anarchist geographers, which was rather exceptional in the French academic community of his day, was linked to his political interests. In fact, a little-known aspect of Febvre's life is his admiration for one of the fathers of international anarchism and one of Reclus's influences, namely, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65). In the early years of the 20th century, the young Febvre was a socialist militant, very interested in the movement of revolutionary syndicalism; in a 1909 paper for the Revue de Synthese (Febvre, 1909a) he analyzed the supposed Proudhonian origins of revolutionary syndicalism, arguing that the movement, which was developing around structures called Bourses du Travail and strongly influenced by anarchism, owed more to the material conditions of class struggle and to the spirit of proletarian autonomy than to the readings of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, or James Guillaume: revolutionary syndicalist workers were "disciples of Proudhon, but also of their life and times" (Febvre, 1962, page 779).

In his paper Febvre demonstrated his profound knowledge of the founding fathers of the anarchist movement and their works, including Guillaume (1845-1917). Guillaume was one of the founders of the Federation jurassietme (1871-82), the first anarchist organization in history. It was the Federation that organized the 1872 Saint-Imier Congress, where the anarchists split off from the Marxists, founding the 'Antiauthoritarian International', whose history can be read in Guillaume's memoirs (1905-10). According to contemporary historians like Marc Vuilleumier (2012), Guillaume's role in this organization was even more important than Bakunin's. Febvre, in his 1909 paper, joined a debate that directly involved Guillaume, who in those years was living in Paris and supported the movement of revolutionary syndicalism in collaboration with Pierre Monatte (1881-1960).

In Febvre's paper we find a profound knowledge of the anarchist literature of the final decades of the 19th century. For example, he quotes a list of pamphlets published by Jean Grave (1858-1932) and pleads for a systematic study of them (Febvre, 2009, page 935). Grave, a typographer, was one of the most authoritative French anarchists of his day, in constant touch with Reclus and Kropotkin, and editor of the journal Le Revolte (which later became La Revolte and, after 1895, Les Temps Nouveaux). The fact that a brilliant intellectual like Febvre had such a deep knowledge of these publications, which circulated only in militant and proletarian circles, made me suspect that he had some sympathy for the anarchist movement, at least for a while. Several of Febvre's writings indeed confirm this.

First, one can point to the corpus of papers he wrote between 1907 and 1909 in the socialist journal Le Socialiste comtois and which are the subject of dissertations by Jose Antonio Ereno Altuna (1994) in Spain and Joseph Pinard (2011) in France. Febvre participated in the socialist section of Besanqon, Proudhon's place of birth, where the memory of Proudhon and the geographical proximity of the Jura, the cradle of the organized anarchist movement, influenced debates in this pluralist and heterogeneous socialist group (Ereno Altuna, 1994, page 83). The two mottos of the Federation du Doubs were "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" and "Land to the peasants, machines to the workers" (Ereno Altuna, 1994, page 84). According to Ereno Altuna, such slogans were still influenced by the anarcho-communist program of the Federation jurassienne, which insisted on the same points in its propaganda, including anticlericalism and free thinking. The Doubs federation, in fact, was part of the 'extreme left' wing of the French Socialist Party (1994, page 124).

Febvre was part of a discourse that focused on rural workers, as opposed to the majority of orthodox Marxists, who placed the industrial proletariat front and center. In a paper on the agrarian question, the future founder of the Annales borrowed terminology and concepts from the anarchist literature, such as direct action, internationalism, and free federation.

"We call it land to peasants not for property, but for collectivity. We call it universal expropriation of rural capitalists, from Brie or Beauce, from Lombardy or Parma, from Pomerania or Ireland. We call it the exploitation of freed lands, for the benefit of all, by free federations of associated peasants. We call it, and will continue to call it, the suppression of landlordism and salaried work" (Febvre, 1908, page 1).

This source is very important, I would argue, because Febvre speaks here not as a historian, intellectual, or academic, but as a militant of a peripheral group, writing short and very aggressive propagandist papers; thus, these papers help us to better understand his thinking on political topics, which is less evident in his academic publications. This does not mean that a militant is less interesting than a 'great intellectual', but it is illuminating to compare such papers with the established image of Febvre as an esteemed and powerful academic, who keeps away from 'subversive' topics (Braudel, 1957).

Ereno Altuna stresses Febvre's link with the figure of Proudhon, "the son of the Petit Battant cooper, who fascinated him by his plebeian, egalitarian and proletarian spirit, by his anarchism and his intransigent concern with never sacrificing Man to the State" (Ereno Altuna, 1994, page 130). Febvre also quoted Proudhon in his dissertation on the FrancheComte region, defining him as "the great Proudhon, whose ideas are experiencing nowadays a resurrection that is both curious and well deserved" (1912, page 257). This period of Febvre's experience might be summed up by the title of one of his last articles for Le Socialiste comtois: "Vive la vie, a bas Tautorite" ("Hurrah for life, down with authority") (Febvre, 1909b).

This chapter of Febvre's biography was neglected for a long time, and only in recent years have a number of his contributions on political and social topics been dusted off and published, for example, Febvre's (2012) "Quatre legons sur le syndicalisme franqais" ("Four lessons on French syndicalism"), and his essay on the melting pot (Crouzet and Febvre, 2012).

The "Quatre lecons", written between 1919 and 1920, stressed the originality of French syndicalism, which, according to Febvre, was characterized by its libertarianism, due in part to Proudhon's legacy. As Jean Lecuir sees it, he remained "faithful to the political convictions of his youth and his roots in Franche-Comte, by quoting Kropotkin, Proudhon and Jaures" (Lecuir, 2012, page 6).

In one of the four lessons, Febvre insists on the factual continuity between the First International and revolutionary syndicalism. "Flow did the concept of revolutionary syndicalism take shape, from one experience to the next, laboriously rediscovering one by one the essential ideas of the [First] International?", asks Febvre, basing his view on recollections by Braupacher, Guillaume, and Kropotkin. He goes on to state:

"In 186-, as in 1904, the realities of workers' lives, the necessities of workers' [collective] action generated the same ideas, as the workers of 1904 could have realized by reading the history of the International that James Guillaume now offered them, between 1905 and 1910. But it is from these necessities and these realities that workers' consciousness drew, both times, ideas that are those of the Jurassians of 186-.... To claim that Yvetot, Griffuelhes, Pouget, even Monatte were taught by Bakunin or James Guillaume is the height of absurdity. They rediscovered their ideas in him, that's all" (Lecuir, 2012, page 11).

Here the distinction between Febvre's and Guillaume's thinking is that the latter claimed there was a direct connection between the Antiauthoritarian International and revolutionary syndicalism, whereas the former argued there had been a simultaneous adoption of the same ideas. But they agreed on the coincidence of ideas between the two movements.

In another manuscript note, Febvre clearly expressed his sympathy for libertarian syndicalism as an alternative to Marxism and reformist socialism.

"Syndicalism is based on living organisms. It is inspired by the old anarchist spirit of autonomy, decentralization, federative freedom. Whereas the socialist movement, on the contrary, by its very essence is statist, rule-based, the enemy of freedom on principle, full of the Marxist and collectivist spirit. Moreover, syndicalism exercises a strong attraction on the socialist movement. But a distinction persists [mainly because the leaders are recruited from different social groups]. The leaders and theorists of syndicalism are workers: Jouhaux, Merrheim, Pouget, Griffuelhes, Yvetot. The socialist leaders and theorists are bourgeois and intellectuals: Jaures, Sembat, Renaudel, Guesde, Longuet, Cachin" (Lecuir, 2012, page 12).

It is significant that Febvre relies on a classic anarchist idea, namely, the proletarian origins of anarchist and syndicalist militants, who rejected the creation of a new bourgeois class of politicians and bureaucrats, and called for the interaction of intellectual and manual work; their essentially proletarian class composition was confirmed by important publications such as the biographical dictionaries of French and Italian anarchists (Antonioli et al, 2003-2004; Maitron, 1964). His sympathy for the genuine proletarian nature of revolutionary syndicalism and anarchosyndicalism, as also stressed by Bertrand Russell (1918), clearly recalls Febvre's admiration for that 'son of the people', Proudhon.

As late as 1937 Febvre had to justify his interest in Proudhon after the attacks leveled at him for his critique of a collective work published by French Marxists, Karl Marx et la pensee moderne (Febvre, 1937). The fact that he defended himself saying he "was not a Proudhonist" (Febvre, 2009, page 941) demonstrates that Marxists had accused him of being an anarchist. In his paper Febvre once more expressed his admiration for Proudhon, who was "born and educated, as he declared, in the working class" (page 942), and defended him from the attacks of a certain Armand Cuvillier, who Febvre invited to demonstrate more "historic serenity" (page 943). Febvre's arguments were academic, namely that professional historians should not use history to attack political adversaries, but his sympathy for Proudhon was once more clear.

Reclus argued against teaching national histories, explaining his idea of the universal melting pot, which he considered a part of his strategy for changing society. Febvre advocated the same idea of the melting pot in a work from his final years, written in 1951 with Francois Crouzet but published only in 2012, Nous sommes des sang-meles ("We are all half-bloods"); I imagine the fate of this publication is due to its annoying focus on the melting pot as against French Republican ethics and the discourse of national identity, which still raises many problems in French debates on racism, postcolonialism, and colonial memory (Bancel, 2011).

Febvre's inscription at the head of this book is "Our first name: Frenchman; our surname: Man" (Crouzet and Febvre, 2012, page 18). The work, ideally addressed to a French child starting his or her schooling, vehemently denies the idea of 'purity'. While Reclus is not explicitly quoted, the idea of the mixed nature of the French people was a rare one among French authors and is more characteristic of the studies of anarchist geographers. As Febvre states, addressing his imaginary young student:

"Now recapitulate the great events of your story, the history of France. You shall see that not one of them ... could have occurred without having been, from the outside, prepared, at times provoked, in any case oriented and facilitated by the joint effort of other countries, peoples, and nations" (page 21).

Crossbreeding and cross-fertilization

In France research on the mutual influence of history and geography has been growing in recent years. Marie-Vic Ozouf-Marignier and Nicolas Verdier have tried to deal systematically with different kinds of collaboration between the two disciplines: "Historical Geography, Geohistory, Geographical History: there are several versions of the joining of the two disciplines and the two notions associated with them" (2013, no page number). Accordingly, some French geographers have called for their discipline to be labeled 'Geohistory', which is more often used by historians post-Braudel (Grataloup, 1996; 2007). The same debate was recently revived in the anglophone world by what Robert Mayhew calls an intense 'border traffic' (Mayhew, 2012) between the fields of historical geography and intellectual history; by this he means the flourishing of works that straddle these disciplines, in the broader context of the relationships between geography and other social sciences (Powell, 2014).

Such interdisciplinary cross-pollination is an old story, considering that the most famous French historian of the 19th century, Jules Michelet, was also traditionally considered the first French geographer, because he stressed the strong geographical basis of his concept of France (Corcelle, 1899). The most famous work in national geography, the Tableau de la Geographie de la France by Vidal de la Blache (1903), was inspired by Michelet's (1861) Tableau de la France and explicitly dedicated to the historian. Moreover, Reclus's training in history owed much to Michelet: the two men were friends and correspondents in the early 1860s, sharing not only scientific methods, but also their common political opposition to the Second Empire. Eventually family issues led to the end of their friendship, following the marriage of Alfred Dumesnil, the widower of Michelet's daughter, to Louise Reclus, Reclus's sister and the tutor of Dumesnil's daughters. Nevertheless, they continued to read and quote each other (Ferretti, 2011a, pages 35-38).

In the 20th century, disciplines such as geography, history, and the modern field of sociology inspired by Emile Durkheim (which shared some of the same publishers, for example, Henri Berr's Revue de Synthese and the Armand Colin publishing house) began to compete for academic posts and started to diverge over the question of their respective limits and disciplinary borders. Nevertheless, history and human geography, the latter represented by the School of Vidal de la Blache, shared many objectives and methods, as well as common institutional features such as the agregation (the French national diploma in preparation for secondary school teaching) in history and geography. According to Ozouf-Marignier, "the estrangement of the two disciplines is hard to explain. More than there having been any real disputes, it seems to have been based on a misunderstanding" (1992, page 102).

Nevertheless, several authors stress that during this time, history maintained a "continuous dialogue with geography" (Muller, 2003, page 248); the extensive literature on these topics generally recognizes the profound debt the Annales School owed to geography, as well as the geographical inspiration of the most famous works of Bloch, Braudel, and Febvre. Publications like Febvre and Bloch's correspondence, edited by Bertrand Muller (Bloch and Febvre, 1994), show the networks of personal contacts that linked the Annales d'histoire economique et sociale with the Annales de Geographie, particularly through Bloch and Febvre's friendship with geographers like Albert Demangeon and Jules Sion.

Demangeon was undoubtedly the official representative of geographical science in the Annales group (Clout, 2003a; Wolff, 2005). While research on Reclus's influence on the Annales is just starting and will come into its own only when Braudel and Febvre's archives are opened to researchers, I would argue that some elements of Reclus's legacy can be inferred from the relationship between Febvre and Demangeon, which was close, considering that Febvre's career started partly thanks to Demangeon's suggestion to Henri Berr to accept him as a collaborator on the Revue de synthese (2) Demangeon had some direct contact with Reclus (3) (which was rare in the Vidal School), and his son-in-law Aime Perpillou edited, with Paul Reclus, a revised edition of L'Homme et la Terre in 1931 (Reclus, 1931).

Demangeon and Febvre wrote a book that remains a curious, little-studied work, Le Rhin, a monograph on the Rhine fluvial region; the historical part was Febvre's work while Demangeon took care of the geographical portion. Until now, commentators have generally regarded these two parts as separate, and indeed Febvre's chapters were reprinted independently (Febvre, 1997). Peter Schottler (1997) has already argued that this work 'demystified' the nationalist myths about the Rhine boundary by considering the common cultural features of the people living on both sides of the river, which was an original approach in comparison with the historical and geographical representations of Alsace-Lorraine at that time, which were inspired by French nationalism (Heffeman, 2001). From this I infer that the concept is surely indebted to Reclus's understanding of the river basin as a means of unifying peoples rather than as a frontier (Reclus, 1869).

It is worth comparing the only part of Demangeon and Febvre's work that they wrote together, the Introduction, with some of Reclus's own statements on the Rhine basin. In 1934 Demangeon and Febvre wrote:

"The geographer observes, and for him the notion stands out, clear and strong, of all that the great Rhine way creates in terms of solidarity and union between countries, between men as well ... the value of its territory as an area of contact and civilization" (page vii).

In 1878 Reclus wrote:

"Despite the jumbled lines of political borders, each of its regions, Baden, Hesse, the valleys of the Nahe, Lahn, Moselle, Sieg, and Ruhr, would deserve to be studied separately, if the Rhine, flowing south to north, had not given this group of lands a special character in Germany and Europe" (pages 545-546).

At that time, of course, both shores of the Rhine, as well as the regions of Alsace and Lorraine, were under German sovereignty.

Even if the papers Febvre wrote as a militant were not his most famous, one of the major works he wrote as a historian of mentality, Le probleme de I'incroyance an XVIe siecle: la religion de Rabelais ("The problem of unbelief in the 16th century: the religion of Rabelais") revealed his cultural background as a socialist and a free thinker. In this context Latour's concept of 'cultural influence', which I mentioned in the introduction, comes to mind. Franpois Rabelais (1483-1553), the irreverent and antiauthoritarian writer who dreamt up the Abbey of Thelema, whose rule was "do what you want", was quoted by Kropotkin as a forerunner of anarchism, arguing that his ideas "could not be developed, owing to the rigorous censorship of the Roman Catholic Church" (Kropotkin, 1910, no page number). Reclus proposed the same interpretation, arguing that Rabelais was "compelled to hide the substance of his thinking so as not to be persecuted as a heretic" (1877, page 532). The persistence of Rabelais's story in the socialist and anarchist milieus of that time is demonstrated by the correspondence of Reclus's brother-in-law Dumesnil, describing the free commune established by Reclus and his friends in Vascoeuil: "Our daily life is organized as if we were in the Abbey of Thelema." (4)

In his essay Febvre criticized authors (not Reclus and Kropotkin, however) who anachronistically called Rabelais 'an atheist', a concept which did not exist at that time. Nevertheless, Febvre presented Rabelais as a heterodox and a 'free thinker'. It is clear that Febvre was responding to the leftist and libertarian intellectual environment, as demonstrated by his comparison of different definitions of a 'heretic' between the 16th and 20th centuries: "In 1936, a petit bourgeois would call him 'a communist, a dangerous man', exactly as in 1900 he said 'an anarchist'" (Febvre, 1947, page 150).

I quote the most famous exponent of this school and Febvre's disciple, Braudel, observing that, in Reclus's works, the Mediterranean metaphor was similarly used to define river and sea basins as historical ways of communication and exchange; this notion of the 'Mediterranean' as a geographical and historical quality that was applicable to different seas and hydrographical basins was seen by scholars as anticipating some features of the idea of geohistory, first advanced by Braudel (1949). In an interview with Braudel, Yves Lacoste questioned him on the importance of Reclus's legacy. Braudel answered that he had not read Reclus at the time he wrote La Mediterranee, but avoided some similarities with its concepts (Lacoste, 1990).

Geographers like Florence Deprest have put forward the hypothesis that Reclus's influence stretches to the last of the great Annalisles, though indirectly, through Febvre, as well as through French exponents of Geographie humaine, by whom Braudel was strongly influenced, such as Demangeon and Sion, who were part of a generation which had direct knowledge of Reclus's works. The 'Geographical invention of the Mediterranean Sea', according to Deprest, was a gradual enterprise that began to take shape in the early Universal Geographies of Malte-Brun and Reclus, and was continued between 1927 and 1948 by the Geographie universelle of Gallois, Demangeon, and the other disciples of Vidal de la Blache (Clout, 2003b).

"In certain phases of history, the Mediterranean Sea played a key role. Reclus thus states that a place can be an actor in history.... It was thought that the Mediterranean, a 'historical character,' was an essentially Braudelian idea. And indeed it has a scientific precedent.... One can assume that Reclus's idea came down to Braudel thanks to its having inspired other authors he refers to" (Deprest, 2002, page 88).

Conclusion: geography, geohistory, and anarchism

According to the editors of Antipode's 2012 special issue dealing with anarchism, anarchist ideas deserve full consideration for the building of a social and plural geography, producing nondogmatic knowledge engaged with social struggles (Springer et al, 2012). As my analysis of his work has shown Febvre had similar aims for his own discipline, history, at least in his youth.

One of the links between Reclus, Febvre, and present anarchism is undoubtedly a shared interest in universal history. According to Springer, "while the universalism of his thought has become unfashionable as a result of poststructuralism's influence on the academy, one cannot ignore the profound influence that [Reclus's] social and ecological ethics have played in the development of radical thought, which stretches far beyond what many would consider 'anarchism'" (2013, pages 49-50).

Mutual aid, a central point for Reclus and Kropotkin which strongly interested Febvre, is now stressed as a factor in 'informal economies' by economic geographers like Richard White (2009), who argues that it could serve as an example for the generalization of nonmoney economies. Scholarly interest in the daily life of the popular classes was largely inspired by the work of the Annales historians who argued, drawing on geographical tradition, that history was not only that of kings, palaces, and battles.

Other works (Friedman, 1996) analyzed the debt the other founder of the Annales School, Bloch, owed to geography. Murdered by the Nazis in 1944 for his involvement in partisan resistance, Bloch was very influential in antifascist and leftist French circles.

While this paper demonstrates that Febvre's interest both in anarchism and in Reclus's geography was important in shaping his scholarly and political ideas, research on these topics, particularly the influence of the 'anarchist geographers' on the Annales's school of history, is in its infancy.

In fact, in the absence of more explicit references and quotations, only sources like correspondence, working notes, and personal libraries can shed new light on what Muller calls the "antechamber of knowledge" (Bloch and Febvre, 1994, page vi), in other words, la fabrique du savoir, the knowledge mill. These sources will allow us to retrace the intellectual influence of authors who worked at a time when bibliometrics and systematic quotation were unheard of, which meant that some of their references were not explicitly quoted.

For that reason, I think it is important to consider the idea of an archeology of knowledge in Foucault's sense of the term; that is, tracking the circulation of concepts and ideas beyond the limits of disciplines, tendencies, or national schools. As Foucault wrote, "the margins of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network" (1969, page 34).

What is certain, then, is that among Febvre's 'intellectual references' (Candar and Pluet-Despatin, 1997) one can find--alongside Proudhon rather than being in any sense secondary--two anarchist geographers, Kropotkin and Reclus.

doi: 10.1068/d14054p

Federico Ferretti

Department of Geography and Environment, University of Geneva, 40 Bd. Pont d'Arve, CH-1211 Geneve 4, Switzerland; e-mail:

Received 28 February 2014; in revised form 28 September 2014

Acknowledgements. This research was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation as part of the project Ecrire le monde autrementlWriting the World Differently (FNS div. 1, 2012-15).

Unpublished sources

Paris, Bibliotheque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Papiers Dumesnil, MS 1597

Paris, Bibliotheque Mazarine, Fonds Perpillou-Demangeon, 1905-1917


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(1) See the conference's site :

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Author:Ferretti, Federico
Publication:Environment and Planning D: Society and Space
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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