Francois Crouzet, 1922-2010

June 24, 2010

A French historian who devoted much of his career to the story of European industrialisation, the rise of Britain and the parallel decline of France has died.

Francois Crouzet was born in the Vienne departement on 20 October 1922, was a student in Paris during the Second World War and then became a researcher at the London School of Economics. Although his stint at the LSE lasted only from 1945 to 1949, it was there that he acquired the methodological approaches and began the archival work that fed into much of his subsequent writing.

After a period in Paris, Professor Crouzet worked in Bordeaux, Lille and Nanterre before being appointed professor of the history of Northern Europe at the Sorbonne, a post he held from 1969 to 1992. A prolific scholar well past retirement age, his work ranged widely across time and space, from L'Economie du Commonwealth (1950) to A History of the European Economy, 1000-2000 (2001), alongside books about India and Cyprus. Yet his two-volume account of the economic impact of Napoleon's continental blockade, L'Economie Britannique et le Blocus Continental, 1806-1813 (1958), proved central to much of his most important work.

Perhaps the most considered statement of his views appears in the articles collected in Britain Ascendant: Comparative Studies in Franco-British Economic History (1990), originally published under the startling title De la Superiorite de l'Angleterre sur la France (1985). It was here that Professor Crouzet explored the longer-term impact of what he called the "second Hundred Years War" between Britain and France (1689-1815), why Britain was the first country to industrialise and how it came to dominate the world economy in the 19th century.

Similar themes are explored in another translated volume, The Victorian Economy (1982), which has proved exceptionally influential for a French book on English history. The First Industrialists: The Problem of Origins (1985), based on the scholar's Ellen McArthur Lectures at the University of Cambridge, considers the new breed of men, eventually singled out as "industrialists", who acted as "the pioneers and leaders of the new industrial system, who made Britain 'the first industrial nation', who opened the way for the industrialised system in which - for better or for worse - we now live".

Widely acclaimed as one of the leading authorities in his field, Professor Crouzet held visiting positions at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as in continental Europe and the US.

He died on 19 March and is survived by his wife Francoise and three children, two of whom have followed in their father's footsteps and become historians.

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