Memories of Jean-François Bergier
[ita.] [eng.] [fra.]
On October 29th Professor Jean-François Bergier prematurely passed away.
Jean-François Bergier was born in Lausanne on December 5th 1931. He studied in Lausanne, Munich, Oxford and Paris. He graduated with a degree in Humanities from the University of Lausanne in 1954 and obtained a diploma as a palaeographical archivist from the Ecole nationale des Chartes in 1957, with a thesis entitled Recherches sur les foires et le commerce international à Genève, principalement de 1480 à 1540. In 1963 he published his masterly thèse on Genève et l'économie européenne de la Renaissance. In the same year, he became professor of Economic History and Social Economics at the University of Geneva, and remained in this teaching post until 1969, when he was called to the History of Civilisations chair at the Zurich Federal Polytechnic, where he remained until the end of his academic career in 1999. He was also an associate professor of Mediaeval Economic History at the Sorbonne University in Paris from 1976 until 1978. He held important and prestigious positions. For many years he was editor of the Revue Suisse d' Histoire (1964-1979), general secretary (1965-1974), vice-president (1974-1982) and president of the International Association of Economic History (1982-1986); president of the Swiss Economic History Society (1974-1982); president of the Academic Committee of the "F. Datini" Institute of Economic History, in Prato (1993-1999); president of the International Association for the History of the Alps from 1995; president of the commission of experts appointed to reconstruct the role of Switzerland and Swiss banks during World War II (1996-2001). From 1997 he was a member of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques in Paris and the Académie Royale in Belgium.
I had the good fortune to first meet Jean-François Bergier in 1972, during one of his stays in Prato. As our friendship gradually grew and became deeper, I came to appreciate his exceptional qualities as a person and as a scholar. His politeness, refinement, elegance, savoir faire and verve were certainly a fundamental aspect of his personality, and immediately created a relaxed and friendly mood. With me, naturally, there were also common academic and field research interests: Geneva, its fairs, its operators and their affairs were an important part of our research and field of study in those years. Our exchange of news, frequent conversations, dialogue and comparison of ideas in our regular written correspondence greatly, and I believe reciprocally, enriched our view of history and interpretation of the facts we were examining. There was nothing written, whether briefly or at length, that we did not exchange. As well as the elegant style of his works, I appreciated the variety of their content, which ranged from one field of history to another, from economic and social history to cultural history, and from that of ideas and mentalities to that of methodological and interpretative questions. He was a true historien à part entière, as was clearly shown by his intellectual and methodological closeness to the Braudelian School, of which he quite rightly considered himself part.
Aside from memories and personal feelings, Jean-François Bergier leaves the academic world with a great sense of loss of someone who was a careful, original and keen scholar. He was naturally gifted with that esprit de finesse that permeated his major works, his many interpretive and methodological essays, his lessons and conferences and his participation in numerous conventions, with reflections containing a wealth of points that were at the same time both profound and perceptive.
His wider studies, as well as advancing the analysis of Geneva and its fairs as part of the European economy, and the general characteristics of Swiss economic history, also shed further light on the history of banking and international finance, the production and distribution of salt, and the person and significance of William Tell in myth and reality, in Swiss history, and that of the world and Alpine society. In 1996, precisely in recognition of his great scholarly contribution to Alpine history, and to that of the mountains more generally, a collection of studies in his honour, whose subject matter covered an entire series of analyses on mountain societies and economies, was dedicated to him. He had always had a particular interest for the cultural, economic and social aspects of the history of the Alps, and for quite some time had been the animator and constant reference point for a series of conventions and study meetings on these subjects.
Jean-François Bergier was very close to the "Francesco Datini" International Institute of Economic History since its first beginnings. He always played an active role as a member of its scientific committee and executive council, and he continued his intense collaboration with the Institute and the organisation of its study weeks until 2002, the year in which he was admitted, in accordance with tradition, to the honorary committee, while continuing to be present and active until the most recent study week, last April.
In short, the most productive and mature period of his scholarly life was lived side by side with the birth and now forty-year history of the Institute, of which he was one of the leading figures. And so his premature departure is all the more sadly felt by Prato and the Datini Institute.
© Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F. Datini"