Albert Soboul

Albert Marius Soboul (April 27, 1914 – September 11, 1982) was a historian of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. A professor at the Sorbonne, he was Chair of the History of the French Revolution and author of numerous influential works of history and historical interpretation. In his lifetime he was internationally recognized as the foremost French authority on the Revolutionary era.

Albert Soboul
BornApril 27, 1914
Ammi Moussa, French Algeria
DiedSeptember 11, 1982 (aged 68)
Nîmes, France
Resting placePère Lachaise Cemetery
Alma materLa Sorbonne
SubjectFrench Revolution, Napoleon

Early life

Albert Marius Soboul was born in Ammi Moussa, French Algeria, in the spring of 1914.[1] His father, a textile worker, died later that same year at the front in World War I. He and his older sister Gisèle grew up first in a rural community in Ardèche in southern France before moving with their mother back to Algeria. When she too died in 1922, the children were sent to be raised by their aunt Marie in Nîmes.[2][3]


The children's aunt was a primary school teacher, and under her care Soboul blossomed in his education at the lycée of Nîmes (1924–1931). He was uniquely inspired by the educator Jean Morini-Comby, who was himself a published historian of the Revolution.[4] Soboul excelled in his studies and developed a lifelong passion for history and philosophy.[2]

After Nîmes, Soboul studied for a year at the university of Montpellier, then transferred to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He published his first work of history, an examination of the ideas of the revolutionary leader Saint-Just,[2] originally attributed to a pseudonym, "Pierre Derocles".[5][6] Soboul completed his agrégation in history and geography in 1938.[1]


Called up for military service that same year, he served in the horse-drawn artillery before being demobilized in 1940. He had already become a member of the French Communist Party and remained committed to them even under the German occupation.[3] He received a teaching position at the lycée of Montpellier, but was dismissed by the Vichy regime in 1942 for supporting resistance activities.[3] Soboul spent the rest of the war years doing historical research under the direction of Georges Henri Rivière for the Musée national des Arts et Traditions Populaires in Paris.[3]

After the war's end, Soboul returned again to Montpellier to teach, then moved to the Lycée Marcelin Berthelot, and finally the Lycée Henri-IV. He became a close friend of the eminent historian Georges Lefebvre and under his direction Soboul wrote his 1,100-page doctoral dissertation on the revolutionary sans-culottes, The Parisian Sans-culottes in the Year II.[3] Soboul was later promoted to the University of Clermont-Ferrand.[3] After a decade as a combative academic presence and prolific author, he was made Chair of the History of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne in 1967.[3][7] He served also as editor of the Annales historiques de la Rèvolution française and lectured frequently throughout the world, acquiring a reputation as "the leading French authority on the Revolution."[3]

In his writings, Soboul promulgated the concept of overarching class struggle as the basis of the Revolution.[3] He carried forward many of the central viewpoints of earlier historians like Aulard and Mathiez,[1] and his extensive body of work is characterized by a clear, unfettered writing style and deeply detailed research.[2] He always rejected labels of his work as Marxist or Communist, describing himself as "part of the 'classical' and 'scientific' school of historiography represented by Tocqueville, Jaurès and Lefebvre."[3] Nonetheless, Soboul remains considered a principal architect of the Marxist school of historical analysis.[8][9]

Soboul propounded the Marxist interpretation arguing the Terror was a necessary response to outside threats (in terms of other countries going to war with France) and internal threats (of traitors inside France threatening to frustrate the Revolution.) In this interpretation, Robespierre and the sans-culottes were justified for defending the revolution from its enemies. Soboul's position and the entire Marxist model of the French Revolution have come under intense criticism since the 1990s. François Furet and his followers have rejected Soboul and argued that foreign threats had little to do with the terror.[10] Instead, the extreme violence was an inherent part of the intense ideological commitment of the revolutionaries – it was inevitable and necessary for them to achieve their utopian goals to kill off their opponents. Still others, like Paul Hanson, take a middle position, recognizing the importance of the foreign enemies and viewing the terror as a contingency that was caused by it the interaction of a series of complex events and the foreign threat. Hanson says the terror was not inherent in the ideology of the Revolution, but that circumstances made it necessary.[11]

Soboul emphasized the importance of the sans-culottes as a social class, a sort of proto-proletariat that played a central role. That view has been sharply attacked as well by scholars who say the "sans-culottes" were not a class at all. Indeed, as one historian points out, Soboul's concept of sans-culottes has not been used by scholars in any other period of French history.[12]


Soboul died in Nîmes, on the estate of his late aunt Marie. The Communist Party gave him a lavish burial ceremony at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, near the graves of prominent Communist Party leaders and the Communards' Wall, where the last Communards were shot in May, 1871.[13] A biography, Un historien en son temps: Albert Soboul (1914–1982) by Claude Mazauric, was published in France in 2004.[14] Toward the end of his life, Soboul's interpretations faced increasing opposition by new historians of the revisionist school, but his work is still regarded as a major contribution to the study of "history from below."[3]

His collection of books on the Revolution was bequeathed to the Musée de la Révolution française.

Published works

Major publications in English

French publications

Soboul authored scores of books and articles in his native French; he also updated and revised numerous earlier works, and often collaborated with other historians in compilations and other projects.[15] After his death, his extant writings formed the basis of several further publications:

Posthumous publications
  • 1983: Problèmes paysans de la Révolution (1789-1848), Paris, Maspero, 442 p.
  • 1984: La Révolution française, Gallimard, 2005, 121 p.
  • 1986: Portraits de révolutionnaires, Messidor, 312 p.
  • 1989: Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française, PUF, 1132 p.
  • 1990: La France napoléonienne, Arthaud, 419 p.
  • 1995: La Maison rurale française, Paris, Cths, 171 p.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Kelly Boyd (1999). Encyclopedia of historians and historical writing. Chicago: Taylor & Francis. p. 1,110. ISBN 978-1-884964-33-6. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d McPhee, Peter (2010). Philip Daileader; Philip Whalen, ed. French historians 1900–2000. Chichester, UK; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 589–598. ISBN 978-1-4051-9867-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Friguglietti, James (1988). Cannon, John, ed. The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians. Oxford; New York: Basil Blackwell Ltd. pp. 383–385. ISBN 063114708X.
  4. ^ For a list of Morini-Comby's works, see
  5. ^ "Author: Pierre Derocles". OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  6. ^ "Notice d'autorité personne". (in French). BnF Catalogue Général. 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  7. ^ University of California Press (2010). "Albert Soboul: 'A Short History of the French Revolution'". Regents of the University of California. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  8. ^ Haydon, Colin; Doyle, William (1999). Robespierre. Cambridge University Press. pp. 272–274. ISBN 0-521-59116-3.
  9. ^ McGarr, Paul (September 1998). "The French Revolution: Marxism versus revisionism". International Socialism. Socialist Workers Party [Britain] (80). Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  10. ^ François Furet, "A Deep-rooted Ideology as Well as Circumstance," in The French Revolution: Conflicting Interpretations, ed. by Frank Kafker et al. (2002). p. 222.
  11. ^ Paul R. Hanson, Contesting the French Revolution (1999)
  12. ^ Paul R. Hanson (2009). Contesting the French Revolution. John Wiley. pp. 95–96.
  13. ^ Cobb, Richard (1985). People and places. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0192158813.
  14. ^ Mazauric, Claude; Huard, Raymond; Naudin, Marie-Josèphe (2004). Un historien en son temps, Albert Soboul (1914-1982) (in French). Narrosse: d'Albret. ISBN 2913055079.
  15. ^ "Author: Albert Soboul (French language)". OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
1914 in France

Events from the year 1914 in France. Why? Because

1982 in France

Events from the year 1982 in France.

Albert Mathiez

Albert Mathiez (10 January 1874, La Bruyère, Haute-Saône – 25 February 1932) was a French historian, known for his Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution. Mathiez emphasized class conflict. He argued that 1789 pitted the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy, and then the Revolution pitted the bourgeoisie against the sans-culottes, who were a proletariat-in-the-making. Mathiez greatly influenced Georges Lefebvre and Albert Soboul in forming what came to be known as the "orthodox" Marxist interpretation of the Revolution. Mathiez admired Robespierre, praised the Terror, and did not extend complete sympathy to the struggle of the proletariat.

Charles-Philippe Ronsin

Charles-Philippe Ronsin (1 December 1751 – 24 March 1794) was a French general of the Revolutionary Army of the First French Republic, commanding the large Parisian division of l'Armée Révolutionnaire. He was an extreme radical leader of the French Revolution, and one of the many followers of Jacques-René Hébert, known as the Hébertists.


The Chouannerie (from the Chouan brothers, two of its leaders) was a royalist uprising or counter-revolution in 12 of the western départements of France, particularly in the provinces of Brittany and Maine, against the French First Republic during the French Revolution. It played out in three phases and lasted from the spring of 1794 until 1800.The uprising was mostly caused by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) and the levée en masse (1793) decided by the National Convention. A first uprising attempt was carried out by the Association bretonne to defend the French monarchy and reinstate the specific laws and customs of Brittany that had been repealed in 1789. The first confrontations broke out in 1792 and evolved to a peasant revolt, then to guerrilla warfare and eventually to full-scale battles until the Republican victory in 1800.Shorter peasant uprisings in other départements such as in Aveyron and Lozère were also qualified as "chouanneries". The petite chouannerie broke out in 1815 during the Hundred Days and a final uprising ultimately took place during the Vendean War and Chouannerie of 1832.

Claude-Jean-François Despréaux

Claude-Jean-François Despréaux was a French musician and revolutionary, born in the 1740s and died in Paris on 11 August 1794.

Committee of General Security

The Committee of General Security (French: Comité de sûreté générale) was a French parliamentary committee which acted as police agency during the French Revolution that, along with the Committee of Public Safety, oversaw the Reign of Terror.

The Committee supervised the local police committees in charge of investigating reports of treason, and was one of the agencies with authority to refer suspects to the Revolutionary Tribunal for trial and possible execution by guillotine.The Committee of General Security was established as a committee of the National Convention in October 1792. It was designed to protect the Revolutionary Republic from its internal enemies.

By 1794 the Committee became part of the opposition to Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety and members were involved in the 9 Thermidor coup d'état. On 4 November 1795, along with the end of the National Convention, the Committee of General Security dissolved.

François Furet

François Furet (French: [fʁɑ̃swa fyʁɛ]; 27 March 1927, Paris – 12 July 1997, Figeac) was a French historian, and president of the Saint-Simon Foundation, well known for his books on the French Revolution.

He was elected to the Académie française in March 1997, just three months before he died in July.

Historiography of the French Revolution

The historiography of the French Revolution stretches back over two hundred years, as commentators and historians have sought to answer questions regarding the origins of the Revolution, and its meaning and effects. By the year 2000, many historians were saying that the field of the French Revolution was in intellectual disarray. The old model or paradigm focusing on class conflict has been challenged but no new explanatory model had gained widespread support. Nevertheless, there persists a very widespread agreement to the effect that the French Revolution was the watershed between the premodern and modern eras of Western history.

Jean-Baptiste Coffinhal

Pierre-André Coffinhal-Dubail, known as Jean-Baptiste Coffinhal, (7 November 1762 in Vic-sur-Cère – 6 August 1794 in Paris (18 Thermidor Year II)) was a lawyer, French revolutionary, member of the General Council of the Paris commune and a judge of the Revolutionary Tribunal.

Jean-Pierre-André Amar

Jean-Pierre-André Amar or Jean-Baptiste-André Amar (May 11, 1755 – December 21, 1816) was a French political figure of the Revolution and Freemason.

Law of Suspects

Note: This decree should not be confused with the Law of General Security (French: Loi de sûreté générale), also known as the "Law of Suspects," adopted by Napoleon III in 1858 that allowed punishment for any prison action, and permitted the arrest and deportation, without judgment, of anyone convicted of political offenses after 1848.The Law of Suspects (French: Loi des suspects) was a decree passed by the French National Convention on 17 September 1793, during the French Revolution. Some historians consider this decree the start of 'the (Reign of) Terror' over France;

they argue that the decree marked a significant weakening of individual freedoms that led to "revolutionary paranoia" that swept the nation.The law ordered the arrest of all avowed enemies and suspected enemies of the Revolution, and specifically aimed at unsubmissive former nobles, émigrés, officials removed or suspended from office, officers suspected of treason, and hoarders of goods.

The following year, the decree was expanded and became more strict. Implementation of the law and arrests were entrusted to oversight committees, and not to the legal authorities. The decree also introduced the maxim that subjects had to prove their innocence, which was later extended by the Law of 22 Prairial (10 June 1794). The decree, with its effect of "Terror", lasted until July 1794, when the decree fell into disuse.

List of French scientists

This is a list of notable French scientists.

Morris Slavin

Morris Slavin (1913–2006) was a scholar of the French Revolution, a Marxist historian, and an early American Trotskyist activist between the 1930s and 1950s. Slavin was born in Kiev but lived primarily in Youngstown, Ohio. Slavin taught for many years at Youngstown State University and his books made a significant contribution to the understanding of the French Revolution in the "history from below" style established by Albert Soboul.

Musée de la Révolution française

The Musée de la Révolution française (Museum of the French Revolution) is a departmental museum in the French town of Vizille, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) south of Grenoble on the Route Napoléon. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to the French Revolution.

Its exhibits include Jean-Baptiste Wicar's The French Republic (the first known representation of the French Republic) and William James Grant's La cocarde (The Cockade), representing Josephine de Beauharnais with her daughter Hortense. The museum was opened on 13 July 1984 (the bicentennial of the Revolution) in the presence of Louis Mermaz, president of the National Assembly of France.It is housed in the Château de Vizille, which has a long history of artistic conservation, and is home to a documentation centre on the French revolutionary period. The museum also organizes international symposiums about the French Revolution.

Pierre Henri Hélène Marie Lebrun-Tondu

Pierre-Henri-Hélène-Marie Lebrun-Tondu (27 August 1754, Noyon – 27 December 1793, Paris) was a journalist and a French minister, during the French Revolution.

Revolt of Lyon against the National Convention

The revolt of Lyon against the National Convention was a counter-revolutionary movement in the city of Lyon during the time of the French Revolution. It was a revolt of moderates against the more radical National Convention, the third government during the French Revolution. It broke out in June 1793 and was put down in December of the same year, after government forces had besieged the city.


The sans-culottes (French: [sɑ̃kylɔt], literally "without breeches") were the common people of the lower classes in late 18th century France, a great many of whom became radical and militant partisans of the French Revolution in response to their poor quality of life under the Ancien Régime. The name sans-culottes refers to their clothing, and through that to their lower-class status: culottes were the fashionable silk knee-breeches of the 18th-century nobility and bourgeoisie, and the working class sans-culottes wore pantaloons, or trousers, instead. The sans-culottes, most of them urban labourers, served as the driving popular force behind the revolution. Though ill-clad and ill-equipped, they made up the bulk of the Revolutionary army during the early years of the French Revolutionary Wars.The most fundamental political ideals of the sans-culottes were social equality, economic equality, and popular democracy. They supported the abolition of all the authority and privileges of the monarchy, nobility, and Roman Catholic clergy, the establishment of fixed wages, the implementation of price controls to ensure affordable food and other essentials, and vigilance against counter-revolutionaries. The height of their influence spanned roughly from the original overthrow of the monarchy in 1792 to the Thermidorian Reaction in 1794. Throughout the revolution, the sans-culottes provided the principal support behind the more radical and anti-bourgeoisie factions of the Paris Commune, such as the Enragés and the Hébertists, and were led by populist revolutionaries such as Jacques Roux and Jacques Hébert. The sans-culottes also populated the ranks of paramilitary forces charged with physically enforcing the policies and legislation of the revolutionary government, a task that commonly included violence and the carrying out of executions against perceived enemies of the revolution.

During the peak of their influence, the sans-culottes were seen as the truest and most authentic sons of the French Revolution, held up as living representations of the revolutionary spirit. During the height of revolutionary fervor, such as during the Reign of Terror when it was dangerous to be associated with anything counter-revolutionary, even public functionaries and officials actually from middle or upper-class backgrounds adopted the clothing and label of the sans-culottes as a demonstration of solidarity with the working class and patriotism for the new French Republic.But by early 1794, as the bourgeois and middle class elements of the revolution began to gain more political influence, the fervent working class radicalism of the sans-culottes rapidly began falling out of favor within the National Convention. It wasn't long before Maximilien de Robespierre and his now dominant Jacobin Club turned against the radical factions of the National Convention, including the sans-culottes, despite their having previously been the strongest supporters of the revolution and its government. Several important leaders of the Enragés and Hébertists were imprisoned and executed by the very revolutionary tribunals they had supported. The execution of radical leader Jacques Hébert spelled the decline of the sans-culottes, and with the successive rise of even more conservative governments, the Thermidorian Convention and the French Directory, they were definitively silenced as a political force. After the defeat of the 1795 popular revolt in Paris, the sans-culottes ceased to play any effective political role in France until the July Revolution of 1830.

Society of the Friends of Truth

The Society of the Friends of Truth (Amis de la Verité), also known as the Social Club (French:

Cercle social), was a French revolutionary organization founded in 1790. It was "a mixture of revolutionary political club, the Masonic Lodge, and a literary salon". It also published an influential revolutionary newspaper, the Mouth of Iron.

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