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The focus of Fernand Braudel's great work is the Mediterranean world in the second half of the sixteenth century but Braudel ranges back in history to the world of Odysseus and forward to our time moving out from the Mediterranean area to the New World and other destinations of Mediterranean traders Braudel's scope embraces the natural world and material life economics demography politics and diplomacy


10 thoughts on “La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II tome 1 La part du milieu

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    We’re all familiar with Isaiah Berlin’s ‘the Fox and the Hedgehog’ and with ‘lumpers and splitters’ – a phrase as Wiki tell us that was first used by Charles Darwin Yet a very brilliant young teacher I had in college and one who like me was not much for ‘lumpers’ used to say ‘there are really two types of people in the world Those who divide things into twos and those who divide things into threes” Fernand Braudel was certainly one of the latter He divides things into threes This is true of his monumental Civilization and Capitalism and it is true of his masterpiece The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II a large dense two volume work that he labored on despite a hiatus of some 15 years from 1927 when it began life as a standard sort of historical dissertation on the diplomatic history of the second half of the 16th century the decline of Spain under Philip II under the direction of a certain long forgotten Georges Pagés but which then came increasingly under the spell and influence of the great Lucien Febvre co founder with Marc Bloch of the Annales School whereupon it grew and grew and grew both in size and in complexity and scope until its first publication marking its submission for the doctoral thesis in 1949 the first draft was famously written largely from memory while imprisoned by the Germans at Lübeck – and then was taken up again and thoroughly revised from 1964 1966 It is this second revised edition that was so brilliantly translated by Siân Reynolds who now translates Fred Vargas the French crime writer and that most of us knowThe Mediterranean can most justly be called a portrait of a ‘civilization’ – the ‘civilization’ being that of the Mediterranean which runs from the Middle Ages and the revival of life after the fall of Rome up until our own times or at least until the 20th century and which Braudel conceives of as being something of a ‘civilizational’ unity It cannot be called a ‘biography’ of that ‘civilization’ – like the “Biography” of Africa by John Reader which covers the whole of that continent from its geological formation till post Independence – since Braudel’s concern is only to talk about the events of the second half of the 16th century the reign of Philip II a mere fifty years itself only a fragment of the so called “long 16th century” a phrase that some historians have used to describe the period from 1450 the quickening after the long recession of the century of plague to c 1650 when the Dutch Empire still in many ways a continuance of this period originally relying on Genoese bankers and ‘Mediterranean’ methods and itself indeed still at least formally a part of the Habsburg Empire until 1648 when its independence was formalized by the Peace of Westphalia can be said to have peaked Well a somewhat Braudelian sentence The Ravages of Time the youthful and brilliant Burgundian Charles I in youthBernard Van Orley 1516To give some context – the first half of the 16th cen the reign of the brilliant and cosmopolitan Charles V see above is the period that sees the fateful irruption of the large territorial states Spain and France into the Italy of the Quattrocento and which thus foreshadows the closing of the Renaissance it is the age of Selim I and of Suleiman the Magnificent and of the rise of the Ottoman Empire the Turkish takings from the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria 1517 and the Caliphate the Siege of Vienna 1529 it is the age of Machiavelli who died just six weeks after the Sack of Rome 1527 of Erasmus and of Rabelais And of course it is the Age of Exploration The Age of Philip II d 1598 by contrast Charles’ son coincides with the reign of Elizabeth of England d 1603 Lepanto 1571 the Armada 1588 and with the maturation of Shakespeare and Cervantes both of whom died in 1616 and of the birth be it said of Rembrandt b 1606 A brilliant age – and one that was followed by the “long” 17th century years of of crisis and recession not just in Europe The Thirty Years War but in China and Japan the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the coming of the Tokugawa Bakufu and even climatically with what is known as the Little Ice Age and the aged Charles V of Spain suffering from gout and on the eve of his abdicationTitian 1548At any rate like the portraits of Rembrandt Braudel’s Mediterranean is but a snapshot of a larger whole a laboratory “slice” of a civilization which like the sea itself had its many swells and ebbsBut to understand that ‘moment’ the age of Philip one requires context and it is here – in his deep and remarkable contextualizations that Braudel found the genius that will long be associated with his nameSo as to the division into threes Braudel divides his subject into three planes l'histoire presque immobile « le temps géographique » dont les fluctuations sont quasi imperceptibles qui a trait aux rapports de l'homme et du milieu a movement of thought largely inspired by a French geographical school that flourished briefly around the turn of the 20th century – and which is commonly referred to as the longue durée This is Part I vol 1 pp 23 352 l'histoire lentement agitée « le temps social » une histoire sociale ayant trait aux groupes humains This is Part II vol 1 pp 353 fin642 and vol 2 init657 900 l'histoire évènementielle « le temps individuel » celle de l'agitation de surface – and dealing specifically with the events surrounding the reign of Philip II This is Part III vol 2 pp 901 fin1244But in fact – and this is important – the book really breaks into FOUR parts not three since the two halves of Part II Chs 1 2 3 in vol 1 dealing with “Economies” – distances demographics economic models gold silver the inflation the trade in pepper in grain and Atlantic shipping in the Mediterranean both before and after 1550 and chs 4 5 6 7 in vol 2 dealing with the human elements that is with empires the state societies classes ‘civilizations’ Jews and war – both formal and informal piracy these two halves of Part II are utterly distinct in tone and interestAs such the book could have been and should have been issued not in two drooping volumes but in four relatively short fascicles of approximately 300 350 pages each Had it been published in this way I believe that the book would have had a greater readership and been less intimidatingSo volume 1 is really two books – and can be reviewed and in some measure even read as suchThe first half of volume 1 Part I pp 23 352 covers the longue durée – that quintessentially Braudelian synthesis of geography and man – and is a work this fascicle of sheer genius Everyone interested in the shape and destiny of man should read this It can be read by itself the rest of the book the next 900 pages can be ignored – and it would serve as part of the fundamental furniture of your mind ever I cannot recommend it highly enough I know of nothing in the subject of history that repays study Read itThe second half of volume 1 the section on “economies” introduces the middle plane of Braudel’s universe It is dense difficult and not terribly rewarding Rather than presenting a coherent narrative of early modern economies or of the inflation prices rose 6 fold during the 16th century it consists of a series of case studies chosen at random or on the basis of whatever the available sources and studies over approached haphazardly It is as if Braudel were a man reviewing with a wave of his hand a deck of cards scattered face upwards across a table The evidence is incomplete the data is already dated and the topic is dryI had feared that the rest of the book – that is volume 2 – would be of the same sort But it appears as I enter into it to be completely different and far rewarding both in tone and in methodSo the upshot is – everyone should read at the very least the first half of this It is a masterpiece in every sense of the wordThe tughra of Suleiman the Great