Fernand Braudel, 83, a French scholar and one of the great historians of the 20th century whose works on the Mediterranean world during the reign of Spain's Philip II and history of capitalism in the 15th to 18th centuries pioneered new approaches to his discipline, died Nov. 28 in Paris. The cause of death was not reported.
Dr. Braudel was a founder of the "New History" school. His work combined examination of such items as geography, meteorology, birth, marriage, disease, and food sources with the more traditional focus on famous personages and events. The result was a new view of the very world from which western man sprang.
He was an original and brilliant, though quite independent follower of Lucien Febvre. Many critics regard Dr. Braudel's work as the best of the "Annales" school of scholarly writing, deriving its title from the extraordinary, interdisciplinary French periodical that revolutionized basic thinking on methodology in the social sciences. Dr. Braudel had been an editor of that publication.
His two-volume history of the Mediterranean, published in 1949, has been hailed as the most important historical study published since World War II. Following the publication of Dr. Braudel's three-volume "Civilization & Capitalism: the 15th to 18th Century," Cambridge University historian J.H. Plumb wrote that Dr. Braudel "truly deserves a Nobel Prize" for literature.
If Dr. Braudel's work did not make him famous in this country outside of historical and literary circles, it was probably because his books could be dense. They were packed with data, rich in thought, but not breezily written. However, his works influenced nearly every historian of our time. Questions he raised and points he made touched, almost without exception, all "popular" historians. This changed the way they viewed both the world and their examination of it.
His first major work, "The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II," caused a sensation. It was not the traditional tale of a complicated colossus bestriding the Mediterranean and the New World and threatening Protestant Europe. The personality of "His Most Catholic Majesty," as well as political and military events, were swept aside.
Instead, the work focused on the slowly changing relationship between people and their environment, social and economic trends. Men, even the great Philip, had to bow to these forces.
The great work of Dr. Braudel's life was "Civilization & Capitalism: the 15th to 18th Century." His interest in the material progress of man and belief in the importance of economic development to man's history was illustrated in this work. He also showed that our popular view of the time was not entirely correct.
In his first volume, "The Structures of Everyday Life," he told of man's life as one that was hungry, disease-ridden, brutish and short. At Versailles, noblemen used corners of corridors as urinals while wine froze in the glass of Louis XIV. The common man drank himself into insensibility when at all possible, to enable him to choke down moldy bread and rancid meat -- his daily fare. Even the "good news" was hardly that. The peasant achieved a higher standard of living than he was to gain until the 20th century. This was the result of labor shortages caused by the Black Death.
His second volume, "The Wheels of Commerce," spoke of the rise of real capitalism, which Dr. Braudel came to believe was the motivating and unifying force in the development and spread of European civilization. It told of the rapid expansion and immense early sophistication of capitalism. In 1614, as a support to its many money exchanges, some 400 different currencies circulated widely in the Netherlands. Merchants made money and achieved degrees of prestige and influence they never before had.
Dr. Braudel wrote of one example: "In 1723 the widow of an Indian merchant in Moscow asked permission to be burned alive alongside her husband on his funeral pyre. Her request was refused. At once all the Indian factors, disgusted by this act, decided to leave Russia, taking their wealth with them! Faced with this threat, the authorities gave in!"
He also wrote of the national minorities that became identified with this new capitalism. They included Jews and Armenians, the Italians in France, the Raskolniki of Russia, the Christian Copts of Muslim Egypt, as well as the Banyans and Parsees elsewhere. His third volume, "The Perspective of the World," summarized his thesis, examined the rise of the city, glanced at the industrial revolution, and surveyed the rest of the world and how and why it differed from Europe.
Dr. Braudel was born in Luneville, Lorraine, in what is now France, on Aug. 24, 1902. He was educated at the Lycee Voltaire and the University of Paris. From 1923 to 1933, he taught in Algerian schools, and from 1935 to 1938, served on the faculty of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. He spent most of World War II in a prison camp near Lubeck, where the idea for his masterwork on the Mediterranean germinated.
From 1956 to 1972, he was president of the VIth Section of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes. Dr. Braudel had been identified with the College de France since 1949. A commander of the Legion of Honor, he was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1983.
He was married and had two children.