June 13, 2021

The PUFs celebrate their 100 years

At the beginning of 1922, French academics launched a call for subscriptions to their colleagues, but also to industrialists, traders and financiers, in which it was a question of nothing less than saving “The dissemination of French thought”, that the signatories judge “Seriously compromised by the inability to publish”.

The letter comes from a company that was founded a few weeks earlier, on December 17, 1921: the Presses Universitaires de France (PUF). And since a century later this name continues to shine in publishing in the human sciences, there is no suspense to maintain on the success of the operation: it was complete, hundreds of subscribers having responded to the ‘appeal – among which Marc Bloch, Etienne Gilson, Geneviève Bianquis, Marcel Mauss, Marie Curie… -, soon joined by a strong guarantor, the Bank of Cooperatives.

For this new society is not of an ordinary type. It is even the first, in publishing, to take the form of a “Cooperative consumer society”, like the entity created in 1883 by the forerunners of French cooperativism: l’Abeille nîmoise, not only a place of commerce – managed by both consumers and producers – but the intellectual center of this movement which, under the impetus of the economist Charles Gide (1847-1932) and the School of Nîmes, then tried to lay the foundations for a new mode of economic organization, neither liberal nor socialist – self-management before the letter.

The survival of scientific publishing

“There was among the founders of the PUF the idea that academics should organize themselves”, explains to the “World of Books” Valérie Tesnière, director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, who told this story in The Quadriga. A century of university publishing (1860-1968) (PUF, 2001). “This is what the cooperative model offered. Producers, here authors, who take charge: this idea was in tune with the times. “

The cooperative trend in the academic world, however, is not enough to explain the decision taken by the six founders, Maurice Caullery, Xavier Léon, Pierre Marcel, Edmond Schneider, Charles Marie and Ferdinand Gros. There was more urgency than defending a political doctrine, as the tone of the call for subscriptions shows: the survival of scientific publishing in all fields was at stake.

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