Colonization within France

Weber, Eugen. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 1870-1914. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press. 1976.

The nineteenth century witnessed a massive amount of change on almost all levels. The birth of liberal democracy during the French Revolution continued to expand as the growing middle classes demanded more political power to be equal with the economic clout. Nationalism began to play a significant role in the way people and countries viewed themselves. The flourishing Industrial Revolution is what gave rise to the middle class as they were about to use the technological advances in transportation, communications, and the production of energy to enhance their position in society. While a growing number of people flocked to the cities in search of a better life, a substantial portion of the population remained in the countryside and isolated to the changes of the century.

Eugen Weber states in his introduction how he had always been fascinated with how there existed two cultures within France during the last part of the nineteenth century, and the works which piqued this interest. In 1944 Roger Thabault wrote about the changes in culture and politics which occurred in several French villages from 1848 until 1914. Four years later André Varagnac, a folklorist, shifted the emphasis from the villages to the countryside when he wrote about how the traditions of the peasants died and were not replaced during this same period. Eugen Weber attempts to combine the methodology of these two studies to illustrate how disconnected France was and through the modernization which occurred during the first forty-five years of the Third Republic that France truly became a unified nation.

In the first section of the book Weber describes "the way things were" prior to 1870. Within these first eleven chapters Weber illustrates how these peasants did not speak French, were not aware of the metric system, still maintained their local currencies, and had little access to the world outside their village due to poor roads. Without such a commonality of language or systems Weber believes that it would be impossible to think that France, particularly the country side, had a national consciousness. For those city-dwellers who did venture into the hinterlands they looked at themselves as an explorer or missionary trying to tame a "country of savages". They were dismayed to find that there were still large parts of the country where French was not understood. It was widely believed that the peasants needed to become French.

The next nine chapters contains the most important section of the book; Weber aims to show how the peasants were made into Frenchmen through modernization. Weber focuses on the triumvirate of expansion and improvement of roads, military service, and compulsory education as the primary "agencies of change". An extensive system had been in existence in France for quite some time, but in the period under study Weber explains that many of these roads did not reach the hinterlands. The new by-roads allowed for formally isolated areas, e.g. Brittany, to become physically connected with France. The humiliating defeat to the Prussians compelled the stricter enforcement of conscription into military service forced young men to learn French and come into contact with people from outside his region. As peasant children\'s attendance at school started to improve after the improvement of roads and the educational reforms of Jules Ferry were implemented during the 1880\'s they began to!
learn the French language of Paris and what it was to be French. While their parents would speak their patois, these regional languages would eventually diminish with them. In the final section of the book states that these regional languages and several other elements of peasant popular culture would become "changed and assimilated" into a greater French culture. The old traditions had changed. No longer was there an inherent fear of outsiders as the peasants began to see in the utility of them in aiding them with trade and industry. The old oral tradition of the veilée--the time spent with the community between supper and bedtime working and keeping warm--died as the peasants moved into warmer homes and began to enjoy the privacy of the family.

In his conclusion, Weber attempts to use his thesis for broader implications. Weber rejects, so far as France is concerned, the