Henri Guillemin

Toute l'histoire est à refaire.


Henri Guillemin (1903—1992) was a French historian, renowned for his conferences broadcast on TV where he excelled as an orator of great conviction.

He is remarkable for his original historical research, based on a comprehensive and detailed analysis of documents rather than on a repeat of the official version, therefore often coming to opposite conclusions with those commonly accepted (particularly regarding Napoléon, Robespierre, ...), though not always (Dreyfus, Pétain, ...)

He was also a dedicated andc committed researcher. For instance, he took over latin to study the five volumes of Jules Quicherat (!?) for his study on Jeanne d'Arc~[1].

He was a prolific author with some 63 books published.

Thanks to what we would now call his "videos", some of this material, including his original research, survived the oblivion it would have fallen into despite the considerable literary production. This is something to keep in mind for whoever is publishing nonfiction.

In an introduction of one his talk ("la Commune de Paris"), interpreting a citation from Victor Hugo, he makes this analysis that characterises quite well his approach to the duty of the historian:

L'objectivité dont on parle toujours en histoire, ça n'est pas possible. Pourquoi? Objectivité, ça veut dire considérer les faits comme des objets. Ben comment voulez vous que l'on considère comme des objets une histoire humaine, une aventure humaine, quelque chose qui nous concerne tous. Alors je dirais que l'impassibilité est impossible, [...] mais si l'impassibilité est impossible, la loyauté est le premier devoir. Alors c'est ce que je vais essayer de faire, hein, une histoire véridique, de vous dire la vérité, de ne pas vous cacher ce qui peut me géner dans cette histoire là, qui n'est certes pas toujours belle, mais enfin en m'appliquant à être avant tout honnête. (en)

You can listen the original in context, including the said quotation from Victor Hugo and two others equally interesting from Chateaubriand and Simone Weil. This will also give you an idea of the voluptuous tone of his narration:

He is also an avid pursuer of truth, with honest interest. You can see this in this debate on the Pétain affair, where four experts refute vehemently his thesis. At one point, one raises a source of original information, a personal interaction with de Gaulle. You can see the transformation, the transfiguration of Guillemin who becomes engrossed by a new revelation, clearly more absorbed by the fact itself than by its impact on how adverse it will be for his side of the argument.

Guillemin's videos

They are in French. The partial list below are some of my favourites:


  • Épisodes 1-5
    • Le faux départ
    • Le début de l'escalade
    • Le militaire abusif
    • Les sphinx
    • Brumaire
  • Épisodes 6-10
    • Un caïd respectueux
    • L'Église annexée
    • Le prénom suffira
    • Le repos du monde
    • La grande parade
  • Épisodes 11-15
    • Napoléon
    • La chanson de geste
    • La débâcle
    • Le récidiviste
    • Le bilan

Dramatically, three clips of 30~minutes each have been lost (leaving the 15 above).

Victor Hugo

De Gaulle

Marie Antoinette

  • Audio, an old and tired Guillemin.

Jeanne d'Arc


Other videos of particular interest: