Dr Alexis Litvine

College Lecturer, Pembroke College, Cambridge
Researcher, The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure (CAMPOP)

I am a European born in Paris from a Belgian father of Russian descent and a French mother born in Warsaw but raised in Japan, and I have now become British (yet probably not English, as was once predicted by Prof Tim Blanning). Before moving to Cambridge, I have lived in France, Italy, and Argentina. I got my first degrees in sociology and philosophy before specialising in history as a graduate student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure LSH and Sciences-Po in Paris. I was incredibly lucky to come next to Cambridge to do an MPhil (with Prof Peter Mandler) and, later, a PhD (with Prof Martin Daunton). I was subsequently awarded a four-year research fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge. I have since then held several teaching positions at Cambridge and Birkbeck, as University lecturer and College lecturer, first at Gonville and Caius College and now Pembroke College. 

More importantly, I have two fantastic little boys who teach me about Lego dragons, William Tell, and "tectonic plaques" (sic.) over dinner.


        My research has several distinctive strands.

        I am, first, a cultural economic historian interested in:

        • The cultural history of the economy, especially popular understandings of the economy
        • The social construction and diffusion of economic norms in Europe during the 19th century
        • The history of temporality and spatiality, especially in the context of industrialisation
        • The social construction of technologies, the usage of technology and deviance, and the history of failed technologies mostly, so far, in the case of spinning and reeling, milling, and mechanical labour control and surveillance.

        I also work on the comparative economic history of France and Europe since 1700:

        • European commercial and economic integration during the second half of the nineteenth century
        • Occupational structure and economic performance of France in the long run
        • Living standards during the Industrial Revolution
        • Economic geography of industrialisation

        Finally, I have recently developped a strong interest in Digital Humanities, and specifically:

        • Geospatial analysis
        • Corpus linguistics
        • Handwritten Text Recognition for complex historical documents, combining advances in the fields of Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing to extract and process very large amount (several millions and in some cases billions of images) of historical data.

        I supervise students on all areas of French/European economic and social history, the history of temporality and spatiality, and the history and political economy of industrialisation in Europe.

        Anyone interested in using occupational data for French economic history, studying historical market integration, or living standards in the long run would be particularly welcome to contact me.

        I also have a wealth of individual-level census data for the nineteenth century available and only waiting to be processed. This could be done by undergraduates looking for dissertation material, or MPhil/PhD student with quant. skills. This can lead to very significant revisions of the historiography and give anyone interested a real feel of the most advanced techniques for data treatment.

        More generally, I welcome new students applying innovative DH methods to the study of economic history.

        Undergraduate dissertation topics: I strongly encourage any undergraduate interested in French economic history and considering doing a dissertation to contact me. I have TONS of ready-to-use material to work on, and they would lead to very interesting new research projects. With current restriction in place for archival collection this could be an ideal starting point. Current sources waiting for keen undergraduates include: nineteenth-century French censuses (individual listings - social, economic and demographic), collected volumes on inland navigation (geospatial and economic), military conscription data (history of literacy, living standards, and occupational structure), pre-revolutionary French parish maps (cultural administrative history, geography).

        • Paper 17, Modern European History, 1715-1890
        • Paper 10, Modern British Social and Economic History, 1700-1880
        • MPhils in British History and Modern European History
        • I am the co-PI, with Dr Isabelle Séguy (INED, PARIS) for the research project COMMUNES-HISDBD (€490k) funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) (www.anrcommunes.fr). This project is building the first historical-GIS capturing all changes in the boundaries of French communes since the Revolution and create a multi-modal dataset of transport networks from 1750 to the present. We are also creating homogeneous and comparable data on population and accessibility since 1750.
        • I am one of the leading CIs, with Dr Amy Erickson (Cambridge), and Dr Maria Abreu (Calbridge, Land Economy) on a (very) large ESRC Research Centre grant application (£10M) led by Dr Shaw-Taylor (Cambridge) called ReGrow. If funded, it will provide new high spatial resolution data infrastructure (HDI) to analyse regional growth, divergence, convergence, resilience and decline since 1700. By collaborating with leading economists such as: Gilles Duranton (U.Penn), Vernon Henderson (LSE), Thomas Piketty (PSE), Steve Redding (Princeton), and Tony Venables (Oxford) ReGrow will both provide theoretical development in urban economics and draw relevant policy insights form historical data.
        • I am a founder and co-director of InCAM, an interdisciplinary research hub jointly held at INED (Paris, France) and CAMPOP (Cambridge). It combines the strength of the two institutions and their researchers to break new ground in the creation of a methodology for spatial quantitative economic and demographic history. We are now seeking funding to support the development of this network. If you are interested in joining this hub, or would like to benefit from a research stay at INED/Cambridge, please contact me directly to discuss it.
        • ExPLOT (www.explot.org); I am the co-convenor of the ExPLOT network, which is an interdisciplinary group of scholars who are exploring past landscapes using a range of digital and computational tools to research the geographies and histories of times past. In Cambridge, innovative geo-spatial work is being carried out in geography, history, archaeology, anthropology, architecture and urban studies. ExPLOT is a forum to exchange and present results and methodologies across all these disciplines. If you are interested in these topics you can attend our events by joining our mailing list.
        • I am one of the founders of THOTH, and I work as a consultant for data extraction/transformation on several research projects (www.thothtranscription.org). THOTH allows researchers and institutions holding large collections of handwritten records to obtain a transcription of their data in a directly usable dataset format. If you have lots of data to transcribe, check it out it might transform the way you think about your material and what is possible to do with it.
        • I have currently completed the first translation into English of an unpublished series of short stories by Franco-Swiss modernist writer Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) with Dr Luke Warde and Miss Ruth Murphy.



        Tags & Themes


        Room 3.2
        Faculty of History
        West Road
        Cambridge CB3 9EF

        or a nearby coffee shop - but now, mostly at home.


        Selected Representative Publications


        2020 A. Litvine, Like Clockwork, Social Norms and the Industrialisation of European Societies, 1850s-1910s (forthcoming 2020)

        My first monograph is a bottom-up cultural economic history of mechanisation. It covers Belgium, England, France and Italy in the second of the C19. It shows that the way people experienced changes linked to industrialisation (factory production, steam age mobility, market integration) resulted from a series of small-scale processes of social negotiation. Mechanisation was made possible when and where it could be perceived as legitimate. The book explores how the social legitimacy of technology was engineered in C19 Europe. Through cases studies focusing on spinners, clockmakers, railway workers and commercial travellers, and technologies such as spinning reels, time clock, counters and meters, it describes changing regional, national and European popular understandings of mechanisation through the emergence of a set of norms that constitute the new moral economy of machinery in the nineteenth century.

        2020 Litvine, A. ‘Genealogy of a bad concept: the annihilation of space’, (forthcoming 2020).

        This article is a theoretical contribution to cultural and economic geography looking at the impact of the railways on popular representations of space. It argues against a tradition in critical geography that use the concept of ‘annihilation of space’. This article concludes by arguing that modern GIS techniques allow us to combine insights on the multi-scalar experience of spatiality suggested by radical geographers, especially Doreen Massey, with the rigorous quantitative analysis of social, economic, and technological phenomena. I suggest that this analysis of technological change is made possible by creating HSR data.

        2019 Litvine, A. ‘Buckwheat milling’ in Avery V. and Melissa Calaresu (eds.), Feast & Fast: The art of food in Europe, 1500-1800 (Philip Wilson: London, 2019), pp. 32-33 ISBN: 978 1 78130 102 9

        A history of technology through material culture (series of Dutch tiles from 1790) showing the relationship between political economy of taxation and popular representations of technology in the late C18.

        2018 Litvine, A. ‘French occupational structure, industrialisation and economic growth in France, 1695 to the present’, in Shaw-Taylor, L. and O. Saito, Comparative history of occupational structure (expected CUP, 2021), available as pre-print (35) here.

        This is a  contribution to the economic history of France. It compiles a large number of data from eighteenth-century capitation (tax) records, military records, agricultural and industrial surveys, and modern censuses to establish series of French occupational structure covering more than two centuries. It gives a much improved answer to the long-standing debate on British and French economic performances during the long nineteenth century. My revision of the relative sizes of the industrial and agricultural labour forces in the pre-industrial era confirms Crafts’ intuition and shows that French productivity increased much more slowly and gradually than revisionist historians (O’Brien and Keyder, Cameron) had thought. The chapter also assesses the macro-economic effects of labour transfer between sectors caused by patterns of by-employment (individual having a secondary occupation in another sector). It confirms the received wisdom that the aggregated effects of by-employment were almost negligible as national transfers of labour from agriculture to industry and from industry to agriculture almost compensated each other until the 1880s. 

        2014 Litvine, A., ‘The industrious revolution, the industriousness discourse, and the development of modern economies’, Historical Journal (2014), pp.531-70, doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X13000526

        This article considers the emergence and evolutions of discursive categories on industriousness’, thrift and luxury in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. It was the first piece of research to apply quantitative methods from corpus linguistics to measure cultural change as a causal factor for the Industrial Revolution. It rejects the chronology of the ‘industrious revolution’. The article demonstrates that ‘industriousness’ cannot have been the consequence of changing patterns of consumption among the labouring classes but that it mostly resulted from a critical re-evaluation of welfare policies and especially poor relief during the Interregnum, therefore ruling out the “Industrious Revolution” as a direct cause of the British Industrial Revolution. This article is a final nail in the coffin of de Vries’ (cultural) theory of the industrious revolution as an explanatory factor of the Industrial Revolution. The article was among the three most consulted for this journal over the period 2014-2016 (HJ metrics)


        2019-2022: French Historical GIS, 1700-2020. Administrative units, Populations, Transports, Economy. (forthcoming 2022), doi. 10.5281/zenodo.3727274. This electronic GIS dataset produced for the project ANR-COMMUNES, contains annualised boundary data for all French communes since the Revolution. It also contains rails, road and navigable waterways GIS data  for the same dates and population and occupational data at the commune level for 1700, 1750, 1831, 1861, and 1881.

        2018 Litvine, A. French occupational structure 1695-2010, electronic dataset.

        This electronic dataset tracks occupational structure at the sub-sectoral level (e.g. food and drink sellers, textile workers, boot-makers, transport workers). Once available online (2021 – to coincide with the publication of the book by CUP) it will become a key resource for economic historians of France. This work also allowed me to hone in skills directly relevant to his project: i) to deal with a very large amount of data extracted from multiple historical records collected from the Archives Départementales across France, and, based on these data, ii) to create homogeneous and comparable series of occupational structure over several centuries, and iii) to manage the research effort of a significant number of research assistants employed to input and transcribe data.

        2016 – 2018 Litvine A. and I Séguy, Municipal boundary reconstruction for two French Départements (Alpes-Maritimes and Nord) since the Revolution.

        This electronic GIS dataset was the proof of concept for the project COMMUNES, which will produce boundary data for all other French Départements in the next three years. It provides annualised (time-dynamic) GIS boundary data for all communes in these départements. Since it was created our data has already been requested for re-use multiple times and is already cited in 2 publications: Dehdari and Gehring (2018), Heblich, Redding and Sturm (2019).