Ariès, Philippe (1914–1984)

views updated

Ariès, Philippe (1914–1984)

Ariès, Philippe (1914–1984), French historian. Though an agronomic researcher by profession, Philippe Ariès avocationally studied the evolution of social attitudes, a hobby that brought him international renown. For his research on social attitudes, Aries developed a system of demographic study based on emotions and reactions to birth and death. His first major work, published in translation as Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, explores attitudes toward children. The book, stated a Newsweek writer, "has never been surpassed," having held its appeal not only for historians and history buffs, but also for militant feminists in the United States. The latter are attracted to the book, Newsweek said, as "an ideological weapon against the idea of cohesive family." Ariès's own comment was, "each generation asks something new of history."

Ariès is best known, however, for his historical studies of death in the West, including Western Attitudes Toward Death, The Hour of Our Death, and the award-winning Man Facing Death. With the publication of Western Attitudes Toward Death, he "has enriched history with a supply of hypotheses that will reorient research," Robert Darnton pointed out, "even if many of them prove to be false."

Ariès's writings also include History of French People and his autobiography Sunday Historian. Newsweek described Philippe Ariès as "a maverick social historian whose pioneering studies of nonevents . . . have helped to create a new kind of history." He has explored "those elusive dimensions of social consciousness that once were considered static and too inaccessible for historical investigation." Ariès was completing a history of private life at the time of his death.