Lucien Febvre: Biography And Works

Lucien Febvre (1878 – 1956) was a French historian who obtained important recognition for his performance in the organization of intellectual projects of great importance for the 19th century.

His participation in the establishment of the School of the Annales 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 magazine of economic and social history and the texts of The Earth and Human Evolution: Geographical Introduction to History.

In addition, he wrote the work The problem of incredulity in the sixteenth century: the religion of Rabelais, essential for the study of collective psychology from the problem of incredulity and the work of Martin Luther, a destination .


Early years

Lucien Febvre was born on July 22, 1878 in Nancy, a city that belongs to northwestern France and which, in addition, was the place where the historian spent his first years of life.

He was the son of a teacher from the old French region called Franche-Comté, who encouraged him at an early age to study ancient texts and languages. Some consider that his father was a philologist; however, there is little information about him and about Febvre’s mother.

The historian was educated at the Liceo Luis El Grande, located in Paris, France. Later, in 1899, he enrolled in the Escuela Normal Superior at approximately 20 years of age to study history and geography.


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

A year later, in 1912, he made a second publication that was titled History of Franche-Comté . His works earned him so that that same year he was sent to a university in Dijon, a city located in eastern France.

With the advent of World War I in 1914, Febvre momentarily put aside his teaching profession to actively participate in battle. His performance in the battalion 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 up 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 magazine of great importance to the history of France, commonly known as Annales de Historia .

Annals of Economic and Social History

In 1929, Febvre together with Marc Bloch founded the publication Annales de historia Económica y Social, also known as Annales. It was an academic journal of French origin initially disseminated in Strasbourg which was 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 magazine was changed on numerous occasions, until it was renamed Annales de historia Económica y Social years later.

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

Four years after the magazine’s launch, 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 that he founded with Bloch.

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 with Anatole de Monzie the French Encyclopedia , 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 against other encyclopedias of German, Italian or Soviet origin.

Other authors point out that the text circulated for approximately 31 years, until 1966, and consisted of at least 20 volumes: The mental tool, The physical, The sky and the earth, The life, The living beings, The human being, The Species human, mental life, the economic and social universe and the modern state; they were the first 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 Interpretations), Written civilization, Philosophy and The world budding (history, evolution, prospective); they were the rest.

School of the Annales

The influence of previously written texts, especially Philippe II and Franche-Comté: study of political, religious and social history , made the work of the historian an example to follow for the School of the Annales.

The theory is that the Annales School, founded by Febvre and Bloch, was a stream of historiography that had its roots in the Annales magazine 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 by replacing the study of leaders with stories of ordinary people.

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

To replace these classic themes, questions about climate, demographics, agriculture, commerce, technology , transportation, communication or social groups were used.

The School of the Annales exerted a strong influence on the historiography of both France and other countries. His main focus was on topics 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. However, there is little information related to his death, nor is the exact cause of his death known.


Earth and Human Evolution: Geographical Introduction to History

This work, which was written in 1922 by Lucien Febvre while he was at the University of Strasbourg, allows an analysis of the interaction between logic and human need

Despite them, some consider that The Earth and Human Evolution: Geographical Introduction to History was a text that represented a way to discuss the relationship between man and geography

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 how the German theologian Martin Luther faced doubts regarding the faith; especially those related to the possibility of distinguishing good from evil.

A poorly posed question

Considered by some as a work of great influence for history, A Badly Posed 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.

Others feel that A Badly Asked Question was strongly influenced by Lucien Febvre’s views on his surroundings during the period in which he wrote the paper.

The problem of unbelief in the 16th century: the religion of Rabelais

In 1942 Lucien Febvre wrote The problem of unbelief in the 16th century: the religion of Rabelais , a text that has been considered 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 product of disbelief.

Struggles for history

This text, written in 1953, shows the conviction of Lucien Febvre, who maintains that history is a human need to find facts from the past that allow us to understand the time they live.

Despite the importance of the Febvre documents, there is no further information on the content of the texts. Despite this, the historian’s legacy remains today as one of the most important men in the history of France and the world.


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  10. Martin Luther, a destiny of Lucien Febvre, Portal La Tribuna, (2017). Taken from

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