chapter  3
20 Pages

Cours, Leçons, Manuels, Précis and Traités: teaching political economy in nineteenth- century France


Political economy was no longer a new science in early nineteenth-century France, but it remained ‘political’ in character through its association with the political turmoil that characterised French social and political life throughout the century. Nevertheless, in time a number of books did appear that sought to disseminate political economy. These either presented the key conceptual apparatus of the science to social and political elites, notably those young people entering a career in law; or outlined some basic principles regarding the functioning of industrial society for a younger generation of schoolboys newly exposed to public instruction. This chapter examines how the publication of textbooks in political economy was prompted by the progressive creation of chairs of political economy, or by the growing number of public lectures, if and when the government of the Second Empire tolerated such lecturing. These textbooks cannot be sorted into any one single category: some are the direct result of highly sophisticated intellectual work, whereas others are no more than pamphlets aiming to disseminate the most elementary principles of the science; some were limited in scope and idiosyncratic in their organisation, whereas others are massive multi-volume works conveying to students the received scientific canon of the time. One task of this chapter is to explain how French economists moved from the first category to the latter. Three periods are relevant in this respect. From 1803 to 1850 there was an initial period during which there were only a very small number of chairs and public lectures and, accordingly, very few textbooks. This changed in the 1860s, when the government took a more liberal view of lecturing on political economy. Finally, the reforms introduced during the Third Republic succeeded in introducing political economy into law schools, and then extended this curriculum into lycées and collèges and, accordingly, into the training of teachers for these institutions. The first part of this chapter explains why political economy was considered to be a political issue, and how this perspective came to influence teaching and the production of textbooks during the first period. The second section offers a quantitative approach to the growth of textbooks throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, with a special emphasis on the link between forms of lecturing and textbooks. The last section of the chapter focuses on the close

connection between university textbooks and those written for elementary or secondary schools.