Embodying History for Social Change in Jules Michelet’s Le Peuple
In his 1846 history-from-below, Le Peuple, Michelet presents himself as the embodiment of the history of France in order to reach beyond the discursive and effect social change. Unlike many of his other histories, in which an allegory of the body is used in the service of an overarching national or political narrative, the body in Le Peuple is quite literally the historian’s own body. I argue that Michelet is not “sourd à son temps” as Barthes claimed in 1954, but rather deeply engaged in the development of a pre-Marxian working-class identity. In this paper, I demonstrate that the popular history, Le Peuple, posits the historian’s organic body as a place where physical and intellectual labor can be united, and that this embodiment, far from being a mere rhetorical technique, was intended to solve the complicated “social problem” of the 1840s.