The PUF editions offers a new collection, in a format close to their famous "Que sais-je", devoted to the history of France: a personal history of France. While the Belin editions have launched in recent years a monumental thirteen-volume sum on the history of France, directed by Joël Cornette, celebrated as much by the critics as by the public, the PUF editions have had the good idea to offer a whole another approach, more simple and concise, accessible, but which nonetheless remains of a very high level of erudition (the whole is managed by Claude Gauvard) and of remarkable quality. The first volume is devoted to the period from from the Gauls to the Carolingianss, and was entrusted to Bruno Dumézil, specialist in the Western High Middle Ages.
Why start with the Gauls?
Unlike the volume published by Belin, which began in 481 ("La France avant la France", G. Bührer-Thierry and C. Mériaux), the first number of this "personal history of France" begins with the Gauls. The historian Bruno Dumézil, to whom we owe a real revival of the study and the general public approach of the High Middle Ages (notably with his "Les Barbares explained à mon fils", Seuil 2010; or "Les Royaumes Barbares en Occident ”, to the PUF already), explains it by the fact that, according to him,“ the French space ”is marked by a“ continuity of the elites ”, the importance of“ the Roman heritage ”, and what he calls "the curious transformation operated by the late Roman world", with a society where values would have changed, especially with regard to the influence of Christianity.
The work is divided into four main chronological parts (the entire collection follows the chronology).
The first deals with the Gallic and Gallo-Roman period up to and including the "triumph of Christianity"; the second of that of the Franks, and in particular Clovis, revisiting the received ideas of "lazy kings" or "dark ages". The third obviously addresses Charlemagne and "the Carolingian triumph", "founding moment", before the last part evokes "the disappearance of the Frankish empire", logically concluding with Charles the Fat and 888, joining here the volume of the edition Belin.
This last chapter serves as a conclusion, but we would have liked a broader conclusion, which puts the whole book into perspective, ideally by opening it on the next volume.
Bruno Dumézil's approach will certainly be challenged. We know how much to see a continuity between Gauls and the history of France in general has been debated since the 19th century. This in no way detracts from the interest of the book, which is supplemented by maps, a simple chronology and a clear bibliography to the point. This first volume opens in a remarkable way a promising collection, which seems to be situated as perfectly complementary, and not in competition, with that of Belin.
B. Dumézil, A personal history of France: T1 Des Gaulois aux Carolingiens, PUF, 2013, 230 p.