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Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, the founders of the influential journal, Annales d’h istorie economique et sociale

, rebelled against the prevailing forms of academic history as of the late 1920s especially in France. According to a prominent soc iologist, Francois Simiand, French history at that time was dominated by what he called three major idols that had to be toppled in order to advance history in France to the levels in other countries or beyond. The first was the political idol – the perpetual preoccupation with political facts and wars, which gave these events an exaggerated importance. The second was the individual idol where ther e was the over emphasis on the so-called ‘great men’ in history. The third was the c hronological idol, which was the habit of losing oneself in the studies of origi ns. This paper looks at what Bloch and Febvre were against and what they were fo r regarding the nature of historical research and historical writing especially in France. Bloch and Febvre were against the predominant emphasis on the state, politics, d iplomacy, war, biographies of great men and narratives. They were convinced that these did not lend themselves to scientific study. In France, these were champ ioned by the Paris based Sorbonne school historians, who Febvre called "Les Sorb onnistes." Bloch and Febvre were equally opposed to history that concentrated on the analys is of short periods often on narrow topics. Both were also opposed to the Rankea n era belief in division of the subject matter of history into a number of speci alities like art, politics, economics, law, geography and many others. Bintiff writes that Bloch and Febvre coined the term ‘nouvelle histoire’ or ‘new history’ focuse d on replacing the Sorbonne based political history predominantly a narrative hi story, which was concentrated mainly on French political events. The two used the Annales journal as the major mouthpiece to push forward what th ey opposed and what they wanted to see among historians in France. Even their hi storical works before and after the founding of the Annales journal were a testi mony to what they opposed and wanted. Yilmaz rightly points out that Bloch and Febvre were against the narrow emphasis on politics, war, diplomacy or event-oriented history and the conventional divi sion of history into a number of specialities. They wanted historians to grasp m ore totally and fully the whole dimensions of human reality. They sought to enco mpass the whole, the totality of life in the region, focusing upon the uniformit ies in the political, social, economic, intellectual, and geographic realms. Kr uger adds that through their pronouncements of the importance of the event-orien ted spectrum, Bloch and Febvre wanted historians to seek to synthesise all mater ial, mental and physical forces that shaped the present and the past human behav iours. In this way, they promulgated an ideal of total history arguing that all aspects of society were part of historical reality. According to Iggers, Febvre in his 1911 Doctoral thesis, ‘Philippe II et la Franch e-Comte,’ signalled the transition to ‘ a new kind of history’ of totality. In this wo rk, the entities that up to that point had played such an important role like th e state, economics, religion, law and literature lost their autonomy and were to be integrated into an all-embracing culture. Febvre wanted culture to no longer be understood as the domain of the elite but rather as a way which a whole popu lation experienced and lived life. Bloch and Febvre also opposed the lack of interdisciplinary interaction in the r esearch and writing of history up to that time. This lack of disciplinary intera ction was so pronounced in France that when Febvre wrote ‘L’evolution bumaine,’ in 192 2, it annoyed some professors in geography because it borrowed so much from geog raphy and written by an outsider. Bloch and Febvre called for a more interdisciplinary approach to researching and

regardless of disciplinary boundaries. They wanted historians to employ the concept of co llective consciousness to analyse the past by turning their critical eyes to the mental and psychological characteristics of groups of people at specified times . are more conce rned with viewing a culture or an age apart from the stream of history than with relating a progress of change through the ages. Bloch and Febvre opposed the nineteenth and early twentieth century historiograp hy that viewed history in terms of a movement across a one-dimension time from t he past to the future. Burke writes that in his ‘Royal Touch’. However. ‘La Med . geographers and sociologists among others. the histori an must examine the collective consciousness. not only among different civilisations but also within e ach civilisation. was concerned with religious psychology and although he did not use the term. iconology and anthropology. They suggested that man should be studied within his particular conte xt. in the book. assumptions and perceptio ns of the people. with his torians incorporating as many other disciplines in their work. in his 1949 book. Green also adds that the tw o scholars wanted to breakdown the boundaries among the human sciences. they believed historians would be moved from the constrictive and sometimes myopic concerns with the individual. He further write s that they wanted historians to pay attention to the aspects of feelings and ex periences that were embedded in the collective mentalities that form the subject of historical anthropology. psyc hology. they wanted historians to see historical time in terms of plural s of co-existing times. Burguiere points out that they wanted to remove historical arguments from its disciplinary and academic isolation. sociologists. Febvre also attempted to capture this concept of collective c onsciousness in ‘Franch-Comte’ in which he concerned himself with the conflict of id eas and feelings of the people in the struggle that erupted between the two riva l classes during the revolt of the Netherlands. Kruger points out that Bloch and Febvre opposed the dominant narratives on indiv iduals and the traditional historians’ obsession with the ‘great men’.writing of history. tha t in order to discover how rumours and misconceptions gain credence. Iggers explains that the founders also accepted Emile Durkheim’s concept of collec tive consciousness and advocated for its employment in history. a later Annales leader. Such interdisciplinary views of history underpin Febvre’s study of Franche-Comte a lready mentioned above. this concept was clear ly developed by Fernand Braudel. Iggers notes that instead of this linear development of h istorical time. economists a nd philologists. Equally. They therefore called for a flex ible yet analytical rigorous history that required the historian to identify a p roblem for analysis and then to draw on whatever intellectual perspectives were appropriate. including Bloch’s ‘Feudal Society’. to specialists in disciplines with which historians had to enter into dialogue. and Febvre’s ‘The Problem of Unbelief i n the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais’ and ‘Franche-Comte’. Bloch is. What they wante d was a focus shift from the individual to the collective where analysis and int erpretation played a more important role than the narrative description of men a nd events. By doing so. Bloch’s 1924 ‘Royal Touch’ drew insights from medicine. It had a wide view of history informed by the ideas of s ocial theorists such as geographers. They appealed broadly to economists. They wanted the creation of an open forum for interdisciplinary research and the promotion of c oncrete collaborative work. Yilmaz adds that Bloch and Febvre’s quest for a total history with a wider scope and complex content required a new methodology. anthropologists. among other things. the book was a p ioneer contributor to the study of mentalities. that is. that is. Their studies. Bloch suggests.

Although their works had implicit theoretical and method ological implications for historical studies. He wanted historians not to restrict the ir research on national borders. they were forced to depend on sources li ke archival information. chronological lists of prices or demographic material. Moreover. Burguiere notes that the method was disconcerting as Bloch himself acknowled ged. the first being the search for universal phenomenon in cultures widely separated in time and space. This wa s evident in the works of the Annalists. In conclusion it can be said Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre opposed research and w riting of history that was dominated by matters revolving around political and m ilitary affairs like wars. Bloch in his 1913 regional study on the ‘Ile de France’ raises questions on the very notion of a region. As both Bloch and Febvre were specialists in pre-industria l societies notably poor in statistics. He advocated for the regressive method of historiography. there would no longer exist a concept on which grand narratives of histories of men could be based. which is that of archaeologists. and the biographies of great men. each with its own speed. Iggers notes that most of the Annalists scholars’ works are opposed to the concept of the nation which provided the sense of identity for broad segments of the po pulation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Bloch in his ‘A Contribution Towards a Comparative History of European S ocieties’ paper suggested the use of comparisons in historiography. was used by Bloch in his ‘Rural History’ to give historical depth to the geographical concept to the agrarian land scape. the state and diplomacy. ‘should one expe ct the jurist who is interested in feudalism. They wanted historiography devoted to the analysis of long-term tren ds in demography. Iggers adds that the Annales called for the use of the quantitative method in wh ich historians used mass demographic data to present a total history of a region . They wanted history to be r esearched and written over wide areas. Burguiere observes that Bloch was also for the idea of moving from the known to the unknown. They advocated for the concept Harsgor refers to as serialism in historiography. The early Annalists were also opposed to the traditional way of writing short-te rm periods. Burke adds that in the same paper. either regional or supranational. Bloch continued and argued the case for an improved and more general use of the comparative met hod.iterranee et le Mediterraneen a pepoque de Philippe II’ which distinguishes three different times. He suggested t wo ways. ‘Why’ he wrote. distinguishing the study of similarities between societies from that of the ir differences. Iggers further points out that with the abandonment of the concept of linear tim e. This was the critical examination of very long trends of demographic or economic processes. Examples of this data were statistics reconstructed from parish records on re generative behaviour. ethnology and impersonal processes. The second was the parallel study of neighbouring o r contemporaneous societies. Iggers points out that both Bloch and Febvre shied away from implicit sc hools of historiography. they hardly attempted to make thei r methodological framework explicit through the formulation of an explicit theor y of history. Lastly. They wanted especially a French historiography full of analysis and wider . The method. He argues that it depended on the problem that one was concerned with. which beg ins with the present and moves backwards through time in a gradual reconstructio n. economics. the economist who is studying the evolution of property and the philologist who is working on popular dialects all stop precisely at identical frontiers. They did not consider their approach as a reflection of a new school of historiography but as a spirit characterised by openness of sub ject matter and method.

rich in multidisciplinary information. The two Annalists greatly contributed to positive changes that later emerged and what can rightly be called a revolution in French historiograp hy. Regardless of some criticism. ENDNOTES .in scope. and generally embracing all of man’s way of life. most of what these early Annalists wanted can be seen in today’s research and writing of history.