Bread and Politics
  • Interview with Steven Kaplan — Professeur — Université de Cornell
Philippe Minard — Directeur d'études — EHESS (CRH)
“All politics starts with a grain of wheat” assessed Mirabeau: Steven Kaplan’s work brilliantly demonstrates this aphorism. As a historian of food, bread and corporations, he has underlined the social, cultural and political dimensions of these objects, refusing to stick to a purely economical analysis. Kaplan’s epistemological approach and his fields of expertise are due to his allegiance to the École des Annales. While studying at Princeton, he decided to travel to Paris where he met Marc Bloch’s and Lucien Febvre’s disciples and he started to haunt both the Archives’ rooms and the French bakeries. Recurrent criticisms about the liberal model echo the French eighteenth century’s debates: was it necessary to intervene or to decontrol trade and prices as the laissez-faire partisans claimed? Was it better to protect the corporative ideology or to stimulate exchanges by deregulating the economy?  
One life, one research itinerary.
Interview published on 01-10-2018
Last modified on 10-24-2022
Original language: English Lire la version French
  • Biography
  • Bibliography of Steven Kaplan
  • Interview’s bibliography

Living between United States, where he is a professor at Cornell University, and France where he conducts his researches, Steven Kaplan is one of the most estimated and popular American historians in France. His professional vocation emerged during an improvised journey in Paris at the beginning of the 1960’s: he discovered there the European working-class, a divided France after the decolonization’s process and the intellectual elite of the Quartier Latin still inspired by Sartre’s existentialism. A follower of the École des Annales’ second generation, he started working on early modern economic history, receiving advices from Jean Meuvret. His doctoral dissertation dealt with bread and the first attempts to liberalize its trade during Louis XV’s reign. Because the question of subsistence was central during the eighteenth century, bread had a significant political dimension: one of the king’s missions, as a father of his nation, was to feed his subjects and to regulate the economy. This tension between State regulation fixed by moral economy, and claims for liberalization, is the connecting thread of Steven Kaplans’s works on food supply, corporations and political economy during the Age of Enlightenment.      

Raisonner sur les blés. Essais sur les lumières économiques, Paris, Fayard, 2017.

La Fin des corporations, Paris, Fayard, 2001.

Adieu 89, Paris, Fayard, 1993.

Les Ventres de Paris. Pouvoir et approvisionnement dans la France d’Ancien Régime, Paris, Fayard, 1988.

Le Complot de famine, histoire d’une rumeur au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Armand Colin, Cahiers des Annales, 1983.

Bread, Politics and Political Economy in the Reign of Louis XV, Martinus Nijhoff, La Haye, 1976.

Fernand Braudel, Ernest Labrousse, Histoire économique et sociale de la France, Paris, PUF, 1979.

Robert Boyer, Yves Saillard (dir.), Théorie de la régulation: l'état des savoirs, Paris, La Découverte, 2002.

Robert Boyer, La Théorie de la régulation. Les fondamentaux, Paris, La Découverte, 2004.

François Furet, La Révolution en débat, Paris, Gallimard, 1999.

Pierre Goubert, Beauvais et la Beauvaisis de 1600 à 1730, Paris, SEVPEN, 1960.

Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: Europe: 1789–1848, Londres, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1962.

Ernest Labrousse, Esquisse du mouvement des prix et des revenus au XVIIIe siècle [1933], Paris, Vrin, 1984.

Jean Meuvret, Le Problème des subsistances à l’époque de Louis XIV, Vol. 1: La production des céréales dans la France du XVIIe et du XVIIIe siècle (Civilisations et sociétés. 50.), Paris, EHESS, 1977.

Edward Palmer Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class London, Londres, Victor Gollancz LTD, 1963.