Philippe Ariès

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Philippe Ariès
Philippe Ariès.jpg
Born (1914-07-21)21 July 1914
Blois, France
Died 8 February 1984(1984-02-08) (aged 69)
Paris, France
Known for Centuries of Childhood

Philippe Ariès (French: [aʁjɛs]; 21 July 1914 – 8 February 1984) was a French medievalist and historian of the family and childhood, in the style of Georges Duby. Ariès has written many books on the common daily life. His most prominent works regarded the change in the western attitudes towards death.

Ariès regarded himself as an "anarchist of the right".[1] He was initially close to the Action française, but with time distanced himself from it, viewing it as excessively authoritarian—hence his self-description as an "anarchist". Ariès likewise contributed to La Nation française, a royalist review. However, he also cooperated with many left-wing French historians and did so especially closely with Michel Foucault, who wrote his obituary.

During Ariès' life, his work was often better known in the English-speaking world than it was in France itself. He is known above all for his book L’Enfant et la Vie Familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (1960), which was translated into English as Centuries of Childhood (1962). This book stands pre-eminent in the history of childhood, as it was essentially the first book on the subject (although some antiquarian texts were in existence prior to this). Even today, Ariès remains the standard reference to the topic. Ariès is most famous for his statement that "in medieval society, the idea of childhood did not exist".[2] The central thesis of Centuries of Childhood is that attitudes towards children were progressive, and evolved over time with economic change and social advancement, until childhood, as a concept and an accepted part of family life, came into being in the seventeenth century. It was thought that children were too weak to be counted and that they could disappear at any time. But these children were considered as an adult as soon as they could live without the help of their mothers, nanny, or someone else. Centuries of Childhood has had mixed fortunes. Ariès’ contribution was profoundly significant both in that it recognised childhood as a social construction rather than as a biological given, and in that it founded the history of childhood as a serious field of study. At the same time, his account of childhood has by now been widely criticised.

Ariès is likewise remembered for his invention of another field of study: the history of attitudes to death and dying. Ariès saw death, like childhood, as a social construction. His seminal work in this ambit is L'Homme devant la mort (1977), his last major book, published in the same year when his status as a historian was finally recognised by his induction into the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) as a directeur d'études.

Criticism of Centuries of Childhood[edit]

There has been widespread criticism of the methods that Ariès used to draw his conclusions about the role of childhood in early modern Europe. One of his most noted critics was the historian Geoffrey Elton. Elton's main criticism of Ariès is paraphrased in Richard J. Evans's book on historiography, In Defence of History: "in everyday life children were indeed dressed differently to adults; they were just put in adult clothes to have their portraits painted" (1997, 63).

That is to say that Ariès took early modern portraits as an accurate representation of the look of early modern families whereas a lot of the clients would use them to improve their status.

The assertion that the medieval world was ignorant of childhood has undergone considerable attack from other writers (for example, Kroll 1977, Shahar 1990).

Further criticism of Ariès is found in an article, available online, from 1992 by Harry Hendrick for the Journal of the Economic History Society. Within the article, entitled Children and Childhood, Hendrick lists four criticisms of Ariès's work.

"Firstly that his data are either unrepresentative or unreliable. Secondly that he takes evidence out of context, confuses prescription with practice, and uses atypical examples. Thirdly, that he implicitly denies the immutability of the special needs of children, for food, clothing, shelter, affection and conversation. Fourthly, that he puts undue emphasis on the work of moralists and educationalists while saying little of economic and political factors" Archived 22 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine..


  • 1943. Les Traditions sociales dans les pays de France, Éditions de la Nouvelle France.
  • 1948. Histoire des populations françaises et de leurs attitudes devant la vie depuis le XVIIIe, Self.
  • 1949. Attitudes devant la vie et devant la mort du XVIIe au XIXe, quelques aspects de leurs variations, INED.
  • 1953. Sur les origines de la contraception en France, from Population 3 (July–September): pp. 465–72.
  • 1954. Le Temps de l'histoire, Éditions du Rocher.
  • 1954. Deux contributions à l'histoire des pratiques contraceptives, from Population 4 (October–December): pp. 683–98.
  • 1960. L'Enfant et la vie familiale sous l'Ancien Régime, Plon. English translation: Centuries of Childhood. A Social History of Family Life. Robert Baldick (translation). Alfred A. Knopf. 1962. OCLC 265109. 
  • 1975. Essais sur l'histoire de la mort en Occident: du Moyen Âge à nos jours, Seuil. English translation: Western Attitudes Toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present. Patricia M. Ranum (translation). Johns Hopkins University Press. 1974. ISBN 9780801815669. OCLC 805001. 
  • 1977. L'Homme devant la mort, Seuil. English translation: The Hour of Our Death. Helen Weaver (translation). Knopf. 1981. ISBN 9780394410746. OCLC 6278130. 
  • 1980. Un historien du dimanche (with Michel Winock), Seuil.
  • 1983. Images de l'homme devant la mort, Seuil.
  • 1985-1986-1987. Histoire de la vie privée, (with Georges Duby), 5 volumes: I. De l'Empire romain à l'an mil; II. De l'Europe féodale à la Renaissance; III. De la Renaissance aux Lumières; IV. De la Révolution à la Grande guerre; V. De la Première Guerre mondiale à nos jours, Seuil.
  • 1993. Essais de mémoire: 1943-1983, Seuil.
  • 1997. Le présent quotidien, 1955-1966, Seuil. Collection of articles published in La Nation française between 1955 and 1966.
  • 2001. Histoire de la vie privée, (with Georges Duby), le Grand livre du mois.


  1. ^ Hutton 2004, p. 73.
  2. ^ Ariès, Centuries of Childhood (1962): 125.

Further reading[edit]

  • Boyd, Kelly, ed. Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writers (Rutledge, 1999) 1:50-51
  • Hutton, Patrick H. (2004). Philippe Ariès and the Politics of French Cultural History. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-1-55849-463-3. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  • Evans, Richard J., In Defence of History, Granta Books 1997
  • Gros, Guillaume, "Philippe Ariès. Un traditionaliste non-conformiste, de l'Action française à l'Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales", Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2008.

External links[edit]