Europe. Genesis of a civilization

Docente: Romain Bonnet – European University Institute, History and Civilization  Department

Lingua: Italiano, Inglese o Francese

Helping familiarize young students with the history of European integration/Union by only limiting this history to said integration (broadly speaking 1950′-2000′) would be as absurdly useless as pretending to make understand a word by only using the latter for its own definition. European integration, our Union and its complex meanings in a global world can only be historically thought in a longue durée perspective. This implies to deal with the one or the two last Millenniums of history. Yet, it is obviously impossible to summarize this entire historical panorama, even less in just one talk/lesson.

However, it is possible to summarize it in a pedagogical way, by just dealing with one particular case. For instance, we propose presenting the outstanding book of one outstanding historian, which encompasses this entire longue durée historical panorama of Europe: Febvre, Lucien, L’Europe. Genèse d’une civilisation (Paris: Perrin, 1999). This book is based on the course taught in 1944-1945 occupied Paris by Lucien Febvre, the founding father of the Annales (one of the, if not the, most relevant XXth century intellectual revolution for the historical discipline). To some extent, this course was an intellectual act of resistance against the violent, antiparliamentary and nationalist movements, which had succeeded taking political power almost all around Europe until the end of WWII. It was only few years before the beginning of the European integration process, to some extent provoked by this troubled and crucial interwar context.

Thus, it is both feasible and extremely relevant to talk about this book nowadays, especially by presenting it in relation with the history of European integration/Union and by stressing its current political and economic difficulties: first, because Febvre’s book thinks historically Europe and, thus, necessarily embraces a longue durée perspective; second, because the content of this book was conceived immediately before the European integration process, in a context of crisis especially characterized by the success of national populism, as our own current context, in some way, is. The current crisis of the Union is a historical crisis. Consequently, it has to be fully, largely and urgently thought historically. Those who deny it contribute, like it or not and whatever the reasons they want to give (by which they may well have convinced themselves), to worsen the current crisis of the European Union.