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Economic History Association

Achievements of the Annales School

Author(s): Robert Forster
Source: The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 38, No. 1, The Tasks of Economic History (Mar.,
1978), pp. 58-76
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Economic History Association
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of the AnnalesSchool

his presidential address last year Robert Gallman quoted a letter written by Lucien Febvre to Marc Bloch.1 Febvre and Bloch
were the first editors of the journal Annales, and Febvre's exhortation
on this occasion to break down the barriers among the social sciences
was only one among many. Gallman's "Notes on the New Social
History" would have pleased both French scholars, especially the
allusion to verve and "trumpet call."2 Today we are concerned with
the role of economics in the galaxy of disciplines the Annales claim to
unify in their "grand alliance."
The subject of our session is the "Achievements of Economic
History," with the Annales School placed beside cliometrics and
Marxist history. The Annales group would not find this arrangement
comfortable. It represents a reversal of roles; Annales history in the
service of economic history? The Annales group-today even more
than in the past-is not primarily oriented toward economics. While
the word Economies appears on the masthead of the journal, it is
closely associated with Societes and Civilisations; the various changes
in the title of the Annales since 1929 reflect this concern for a close
alliance between economic and social history-which is not, I might
add, an alliance between equals.3 Ostensibly, to highlight any one of
Clio's suitors-sociology, anthropology, linguistics, geography, demography, or economics-is to compartmentalize and betray the
main object of the "School":total history, the integration, even on the
level of the micro-village study, of many levels of analysis incorporating the skills and tools of an array of ancillary disciplines.4 I say
Journal of Economic History, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 1 (March 1978). Copyright ? The Economic History Association. All rights reserved.
The author wishes to thank Elborg Forster, Orest Ranum, and Charles Wood for their helpful
comments on the first draft of this article.
1 Robert E. Gallman, "Some Notes on the New Social History," this JOURNAL,
37 (March
1977), 3-12.
2 See Lucien Febvre, Combats pour l'histoire (Paris, 1953, 1965) and Marc Bloch, Apologie
pour l'histoire ou metier d'historien (Paris, 1949). These are good examples of the "style" and
elan of the first editors of the Annales.
3 The journal has had a number of titles since 1929: Annales d'histoire 6conomique et sociale
(1929-38), Annales d'histoire sociale (1939-41), M6langes d'histoire sociale (1942-45), Annales:
Economies, Socigt6s, Civilisations (1946- ).
4 Two excellent reviews of the work of the "Annales School" are Maurice Aymard, "The
Annales and French Historiography (1929-72)," The Journal of European Economic History, 1
(1972), 491-511; and J. H. Hexter, "Fernand Braudel and the Monde Braudellien ...,"
Journal of Modern History, 44 (1972), 480-539.

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The AnnalesSchool


"ostensibly"becauseI thinkthat with respectto economicsthere is a

special problemfor the Annales. Economichistory as it was developed by the "Anglo-Saxonworld"since the 1950s representsboth a
lure and a disappointmentfor Clio, Annales-style.Econometricsis
appealingby its heavy relianceon quantificationand by its claimsto
rigorousmethod in the testing of hypotheses. Even the notion of
counterfactualhistory has reached the pages of Le Monde, though
not, as faras I know, the pages of the Annales, except in the formof
reviews of Americanresearch.5But there is also an air of amused
skepticismaboutsuch levels of abstraction.Moreimportant,there is
a convictionthat nationalincomeaccounting-valid as faras it goesis not appropriatefor France, and surely not for the Annales.
Firstandforemost,the Frenchdataare not adequate,especiallyfor
the periodbefore 1800.6 AndformanyFrenchscholars-and even for
the public at large "history"is pre-1789. It is not from a lack of
lucidity that the French label post-1789as "contemporaryhistory"
and that histoire moderne covers about three centuries from 1500.
When a nationhas two thousandyearsof history,the last centuryor
so does seem "contemporary"
andnot quite as respectableor interesting as earlierepochs. Remember,too, that each nationalhistoryhas
its momentsof pride, even grandeur,which attractresearchersand
even determinethe collectionandorganizationof historicalmaterials.
The French Revolutionhas perhapshad a greaterinfluence on the
arrangementand accessibilityof historicaldatathan it has had on the
social structureof France!Only recentlyhas it been feasibleto work
in the archiveson nineteenth-centurymaterials;the whole archival
organizationis built on an overridinginterestin the historyof France
fromCharlemagneto the First Republic.The datafor this millennium
are rich and varied, sufficientto occupy researchersfor centuries to
come. But they are not appropriatefor the imperativesof macroeconomicsor nationalincome accounting.
Less palpable,but surely importantas determinantsof "research
strategy"are certain values and attitudes that all French children
imbibe early. The world of Asterix, Babar, the Little Prince, and
5 Maurice LUvy-Leboyer, "La croissance economique en France au XIXe siecle," Annales:
E.S.C., 23 (1968), 788-807; id., "La New Economic History," Annales: E.S.C., 24 (1969),
6 David Landes, "Statistics as a Source for the History of Economic Development in Western
Europe: The Protostatistical Era," in Val R. Lorwin and Jacob M. Price, eds., The Dimensions
of the Past: Materials, Problems, and Opportunities for Quantificative Work in History (New
Haven, 1972), pp. 61-75. Landes says that French data are much more appropriate for microanalysis. Ibid., p. 74.

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Tintin is still alive in French schoolrooms and playrooms. Until the

recent past, the hero of French children has rarely been the
businessman or technician; Jacques Prevert's robots still threaten the
artisanal lives of the little chimneysweep and his companion. What
has the history of industrialism and urban growth, of giantism and
technocracy to say to historians brought up on such "petty-bourgeois
sentimentality"? Marx and Ford would shake their heads together.
One cannot miss a certain nostalgia for the "world we have lost" in the
work of many members of the Annales School, reflected in Bloch's
love of field and vine, Braudel's attachment to sailor and shopkeeper,
and Le Roy's last line in his Civilisation rurale: "and perhaps the
countryside has not had its last word-even today."7 The prestatistical world is not only more suitable to the material at hand; it is
a more congenial world to French historians brought up on the
artisanal-ruralutopia of Babar's Celesteville. And even present company would concede that the pre- or proto-statistical centuries have
an economic history that is worth studying and analyzing.8
What is the Annales School? If the founders of the journal, Bloch
and Febvre, had their way, the Annales would never have become a
"school." Their successor as editor, Fernand Braudel, continues to
insist that success and institutionalization are bound to lead to complacency, conformism, and stagnation.9 Nevertheless, Richard Cobb,
for all of his obvious bias against what he sees as the new French
historical establishment, is not wide of the mark when he evokes a
collectivity-"nous des Annales."10 There is no doubt, in short, that
an Annales school of historians exists, if by "school"we mean a group
of research scholars who communicate with each other, share a few
general assumptions about the subject matter and goals of history,
and doggedly insist on searching for different approaches to the
subject by a wide exposure to neighboring disciplines.1. But let me
7 Marc Bloch, Les caracteres originaux de l'histoire rurale fraWaise (Paris, 1951), 2 vols.;
Fernand Braudel, La M6diterrange et le monde mediterranhen a rNpoque de Philippe II (Paris,
1949, 1966), English trans. Sian Reynolds (New York, 1973), 2 vols.; Emmanuel Le Roy
Ladurie, Le territoire de l'historien (Paris, 1973), p. 168.
8 Even in the hard-nosed USA, "Economic Man" is losing some of his proclivity for profit
maximization. See Leonard Silk, "Economic Man Acquires a Soul," New York Times: Business
Section (July 17, 1977), p. 1.
9 F. Braudel, Icrits sur l'histoire (Paris, 1969), Pt. II; Foreword to Traian Stoianovich,
French Historical Method: The Annales Paradigm (Ithaca, 1976).
10 Richard Cobb, A Second Identity: Essays on France and French History (London, 1969),
pp. 76-83.
11 Although the "school" is usually associated with the review, it also publishes monographs
and collections of articles in the series Cahiers des Annales and the books of many of its
members. "Membership," however, must be understood as extending beyond direct affiliation

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The AnnalesSchool


say immediatelythatfor all its sustainedvitalityover a half-century,I

am not convinced that the Annales group practices, much less formally espouses, anything as precise as a "historicalmethod" or a
to use TraianStoianovich'sterm fromhis recent bookon
the Annales. Braudel'sintroductionto that book indicatesthat he is
not happy with the term either.12 In fact, the Annales editors have
alwaysinsisted on their eclecticismand their openness, not only to
new materials,but to new approaches;they seem adverse to such
termsas "paradigm,"
"idealtype,"and even "model"in any rigorous,
methodologicalsense. Programmaticstatementsare also rare, partly
becausethey would seem to hindera literarystyle that relies heavily
on imageryand evocative description,nuance and indirection.The
French have a horrorof being heavy-handed,despite some "blockbusters"in the pages of the review. Sense of languagethus adds to a
conscious policy of backing away from any single methodologyof
historicalexplanation.Indeed, there are times when one wonders
whether Annales historianscare about "explanation"at all, in the
sense of weighingfactorsor variables.13As we shallsee presently,the
Annales does have special views about explanation,but they will
surely leave many Anglo-Saxon-styleeconomic historians "still
thirsty,"as the French say.
Lest one suspect the Annales of avoiding the issue of historical
explanationunderthe guise of a generouseclecticism,let us turn first
to whatit claimsto oppose in historicalwriting.It is significantthat a
declarationaboutmethodfirstpublishedby FranvoisSimiandin 1903
was republishedin the Annales in 1960 with the note:
We publish this especially for younger historians in order to allow them to take stock
of the road we have traveled in a half-century, and to gain a better understanding of
the dialogue between History and the Social Sciences, which remains the goal and
raison d'etre of our review.14
with the cole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, known for years as the "Sixth Section." The Ecole is
a government-supported institute which organizes "research teams" on specific projects. Many,
though not all, of the articles published in the Annales constitute progress reports on long-term
research in the "historical sciences." The institutional history of the Annales would be a long
paper in itself. See Comit6 Franpais des Sciences Historiques, La Recherche historique en
France de 1940 a 1965 (Paris, 1965).
12 Traian Stoianovich, French
Historial Method: The Annales Paradigm (Ithaca, 1976).
13 The problem of "historical explanation" can carry us far. For "explanation" relating to
social theory, I have found these books especially helpful: Jerome Dumoulin and Dominque
Moisi, eds., The Historian Between the Ethnologist and the Futurologist (Paris, 1973); Gordon
Leff, History and Social Theory (U. of Alabama Press, 1969); Elias H. Tuma, Economic History
and the Social Sciences (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1971).
14 Frangois Simiand, "Methode historique et science sociale," Annales: E.S.C., 15 (1960),

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In the article Simiand launched the attack upon the Sorbonne, an

attack that is still part of the litany of the Annales. Down with the
triple "idols" of political history, biography, and narrative history;
they amount to no more than surface history, Whig history, "voluntarism," and chronicle. Join the historical data to sociology, geography, anthropology, psychology, and economics to construct a "new
social science." But despite a long epistemological discussion,
Simiand was not very precise about how these various social sciences
could be made methodologically compatible.15 Indeed, it does not
appear that this issue has ever been resolved.
On the other hand, Simiand presented a classification scheme for
"the essential phenomena of an entire society" from "material conditions" to "material"and "intellectual" customs, and finally to social
and political institutions, a taxonomy that was to prevail in its essentials in the organization of French doctoral theses well into the 1960s.
As Eric Hobsbawm has put it, "The practice is thus to work outwards
and upwards from the process of social production in its specific
setting."''6 Simiand also emphasized the interlocking nature of all
history, its Zusammenhang, which makes the historian's main task
one of identifying "certain relations of correspondence or reciprocal
influence," more in the manner of a biologist examining a process
than of a physicist searching for the elegant parsimonious cause
expressed in abstract symbols.'7 The same plea for a rejection of the
"norm of outmoded physics" in favor of those of biology was published
in the Annales in 1959 over the name of Walt Rostow.'8 A recent
review of a major work in biology by a specialist in comparative
anatomy puts the issue this way:
Biologists cannot use abstract symbolism and mathematics in the way that physicists
do for the very reason that most living processes are influenced by many forces and
by their long past history. This is why biology seems to mathematicians and other
clever people to be an "inexact"science. But actually it involves knowing more, not
less. . . . living processes do not have single "causes," but depend on many factors
and a long, long history.19

Simiand, Febvre, or Braudel might have written this about their


Ibid., pp. 83-119.

16 E. J. Hobsbawm, "From Social History to the History of Society," in Felix Gilbert and

Stephen R. Graubard, eds., Historical Studies Today (New York, 1972), p. 12.
17 Simiand, "Methode historique," p. 104.
18 Walt Rostow, "Histoire et sciences sociales: La longue duree," Annales: E.S.C., 14 (1959),
19 James Z. Young reviewing P. B. and J. S. Medawar, The Life Science: Current Ideas of
Biology (New York, 1977), in The New York Review of Books (June 14, 1977), p. 26.

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The AnnalesSchool


disciplinewhich, for them, is akinto a biologicalscience. It would be

presumptuousto ascribea single style of expositionto the hundredsof
contributorsto the Annales, yet the biologicaland physicalmetaphor
is too frequentnot to notice. There are mutations,glissements,fields
of force, immobilisms,fissures,and fusions, and, as JackHexterhas
saidso well, even geographicfeatureshave attractionsand repulsions,
paths and obstacles,desires and destinies.20But especiallythere are
ties (liens)and relationships(rapports).
A specialnotion of time the tongueduree-is FernandBraudel's
contributionto the Annales. And if the Annales has a paradigm,it is
his Mediterraneanand the MediterraneanWorldin the Age of Philip
Braudel likens his three conceptions of historical timestructure,conjoncture,and event-to the sea depths, the -tides, and
the surfacewaves. The "structure"is the glacier-likemacrocosmof an
entire societyconditionedby impersonalforces(geographic,climatic,
biological,productive)and so interlockingas to defy alterationfor a
is the half-to full-centurycycle where
millennium.The conjuncturee"
technology, price gyrations, cumulative population changes, and
even mental or culturalshifts graduallyunderminethe "structure"
and eventuallyforma new equilibrium.The "events"are mere surface noises, often full of soundand furybut signifyinglittle, indicators
at best of the deeper currentsof history.As JackHexterhas put it in
reviewingBraudel'swork, each "time"has its correspondingkind of
history,even its own specialpackageof social sciences.22Under this
scheme, demographyand the study of geographicmilieu are obviously fundamental;the investigationof new techniquesof production
and exchangeand of culturalshiftsis somewhatless so; and explanations of politicalevents and formalideas have only marginalimportance.
The Braudellianschema was too Gargantuanto encouragemany
followers. The fact that Braudelapplied his notion of time to the
entire Mediterraneanbasin and far into the interiorsof three continents gave his worka spatialdimensionto which few historianscould
aspire. What is more, even the Annales researchersmust have worried about some of the methodological problems-including
Braudel'shandlingof economicstatistics-that were occasionallyexposed in foreign reviews. Hexter'sreview was good-humored,and
Braudel, tcrits sur l'histoire, p. 132 and passim; Hexter, "Fernand Braudel," p. 518. As
Hexter puts it, geographic features become "non-people persons."
(Paris, 1949, 1966), English trans. Sian Reynolds (New York, 1973), 2 vols.
Hexter, "Fernand Braudel," p. 531f.

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rightly characterized Braudel's relation to numbers as one with a

mistress who fascinates but is not taken too seriously. Hexter also
praised him for his evocative style, his voracious appetite for the
picturesque, and his almost anatomical sense of geography, qualities
that Bernard Bailyn had once summarized as a "poetic response to the
past," totally lacking in central theme or argument.24 The Annales
praised this kind of histoire totale as the highest goal of the school, but
only a few exceptional historians, such as Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie,
have been able to control their data and recreate their "world"in the
Braudellian mold.25 It is not surprising, therefore, that some Annalistes have sought respite from histoire totale and the tongue duree
and recommended a microanalysis of the functioning parts of the
"structure,"in other words, subjects of narrower temporal and spatial
scope.26 They might investigate a social group over two or three
generations, a village or a port over a century or, at most, the
attitudes toward death or children over two centuries.27 This more
limited approach has also deferred the problem of identifying the
linkages with those Braudellian "grand themes and vague forces"
that, as Jan de Vries says, "hover about without fixed moorings high
above the factual landscape."28
Whatever reservations one might have about Braudel's histoire
totale, it was under his editorship and direction since 1957 that the
Annales perfected a number of auxiliary historical disciplines.
23 Ibid., pp. 515-18. Braudel regards most of economic history as part of a "day-to-dayness"
or the routine habits of the mass of human beings, including their material concerns, all within
the framework of a pre-industrial society. See Fernand Braudel, Afterthoughts on Material
Civilization and Capitalism, English trans. Patricia M. Ranum (Baltimore, 1977), pp. 6-7 and
passim. See also Braudel, Civilisation mat6rielle et capitalisme (XVe-XVIIIesicle) (Paris, 1967),
Bernard Bailyn, "Braudel'sGeo-History-A Reconsideration," this JOURNAL, 11 (Summer
1951), 277-82. Melvin Knight's review was more kind; he alluded to the "connective tissue"
between social and natural phenomena in Braudel's work, a phrase that would please him.
Melvin M. Knight, "The Geo-History of Fernand Braudel (Review Article)," this JOURNAL, 10
(Nov. 1950), 212-16.
25 Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Les Paysans de Languedoc (Paris, 1965), 2 vols.; English
trans. John Day (Urbana, 1974). One might also add Huguette and Pierre Chaunu, S6ville et
l'Atlantique (1504-1650) (Paris, 1955-60), 11 vols. and annexes, and Pierre Goubert, Beauvais et
le Beauvaisis de 1600 a 1730 (Paris, 1960), 2 vols.
26 Frangois Furet, "Le quantitatif en histoire," in Jacques Le Goff and Pierre Nora, eds.,
Faire de l'histoire (Paris, 1974), I, p. 55; Adeline Daumard, "Donnees 6conomiques et histoire
sociale," Revue gconomique, 1 (Jan. 1965), 79-80. See Stoianovich, French Historical Method,
pp. 122-24.
27 See the collections Ports, routes, traffics and Les Hommes et la terre and the recent work
on the family by Philippe Aries and Jean-Louis Flandrin, and on death by Michel Vovelle and
Frangois Lebrun.
28 Jan de Vries, "The Classics in Transition," Reviews in European History, 1 (March 1975),

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The AnnalesSchool


Foremost among these are human geography and historical demography. Geography has had a long tradition in France, combining a
keen sense of locale and milieu with a thorough ecological examination of a region or community.29 Marc Bloch was a master of this
approach, which was especially successful in rural history.30 In the
1960s Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie made a systematic study of climate,
based in part on an imaginative use of the dates of the wine harvest
from the late sixteenth century.31 But it was in demography that the
Annales could claim a major breakthrough. Blessed with parish registers that provided reasonably complete data on baptisms, marriages,
and burials from the mid-sixteenth century onward in a rural society
where geographic mobility was at a minimum, French demographers
led by Louis Henry and Pierre Goubert were able to move beyond
aggregate statistics to the reconstitution of the rural family.32 Here
the centralization of research served them well, for the demographic
"team" in Paris established a standard operating procedure for the
gathering of data region-by-region, village-by-village, by a prearranged sampling technique. Provincial universities assigned students
to remote villages where they laboriously filled out the blue, red, and
greenfiches sent from the capital. Once these were assembled and
interpreted, Annales historians trained by the Henry-Fleury manual
were able, first, to trace aggregate trends in population growth in
relation to epidemics and food supply, and then to study the implications of age structures, life expectancy, marriage age, pre-marital
conceptions, and birth control practices.33 It was with a mixture of
pride and humor that Le Roy Ladurie, chief spokesman for the
Annales at international conferences in the 1960s, reflected on the
sexual restraint of a rural community that married its men and women
in their late twenties and showed- almost no signs of illegitimate
29 Paul Vidal de la Blache, Principes de g6ographie
humaine (Paris, 1921); Lucien Febvre, La
terre et l'Nvolutionhumaine (Paris, 1922); see J. M. Houston, A Social Geography of Europe
(London, 1953).
30 Bloch, Les caractres
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Histoire du climat depuis l'an mil (Paris, 1967);trans. Barbara
Bray, Times of Feast, Times of Famine (Garden City, 1971).
32 The bibliography is enormous. For a start: Andre Burguiere, "La Demographie," in Le
Goff and Nora, eds., Faire de l'histoire, II, pp. 74-104; Pierre Goubert, "Recent Theories and
Research in French Population between 1500 and 1700," in D. V. Glass and D. E. C. Eversley,
eds., Population in History (London, 1965), pp. 457-73; P. Goubert, "Historical Demography
and the Reinterpretation of Early Modem French History: A Research Review," Journal of
Interdisciplinary History, 1 (Autumn 1970), 37-48. See also the French review Population,
especially since 1958.
Michel Fleury and Louis Henry, Nouveau manuel de d&pouillementet de l'exploitation de
l'tat civil ancien (Paris, 1965).

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births. Puritan England has nothing on seventeenth-century France

in these matters. (Less Rabelais, more Jansenism!) It was in demographic studies that hypotheses were more explicitly stated, especially
those intended to explain the appearance of birth control in the
peasant family with all of its implications of a deep historical change.34
Family history had come into its own, and it even yielded spinoffs in
occupational analysis, studies of geographic mobility, community
networks, and even literacy rates based on the study of signatures.35
No wonder that Anthony Wrigley, no amateur demographer himself,
still refers to Louis Henry as the "Great White Father."36
IfAnnales interest in demography owed something to France's own
population problems before World War II, its interest in economics
owed much to the world depression of the 1930s. In fact, it appears
that Ernest Labrousse and his many students took business cycle
theory only too seriously. Labrousse's adaptation of the cycle to
French sources was the crux of the problem. The mercuriales are
recordings of the wholesale grain prices in local markets and exist for
all of France for almost two centuries. These are solid "serial sources"
and it is tempting to graph and overlay them with demographic and
weather series over long periods. But lacking adequate production
data, it was unwise of Labrousse to use the grain prices, not only as a
statistical indicator of the entire agrarian economy and the distribution of income within it, but also of the entire economy of the nation,
including industry and commerce. In addition, he applied the gyrations in grain prices-arranged in a series of overlapping cycles based
on time periods of varying length-to explain the French Revolution
largely in terms of the price of bread.37 How frequently did French
professors of the French Revolution cite 14 July 1789 as the highest
point of the grain-price chart for the century! In 1950 David Landes
published an excellent critique of the Labrousse thesis from the point
of view of economic theory, but only in the last decade has that
criticism been recognized in France.38 In this case, the centralized
34 E. Le Roy Ladurie, Le territoire de l'historien, pp. 23-37. The Times Literary Supplement
devoted several issues (April 7, July 28, Sept. 8, 1966) to the "New History";among the articles
was Le Roy Ladurie's "From Waterloo to Colyton"-from "battle history" to the peasant family,
written with his characteristic elan. TLS (Sept. 8, 1966), pp. 791-92.
35 More accurately, family history "came into its own" when the quantitative data of the
demographers were joined to the qualitative findings of the anthropologist. See Robert Forster
and Orest Ranum, eds., Family and Society: Selections from the Annales (Baltimore, 1976).
36 Anthony Wrigley made this comment in a seminar at Johns Hopkins University in 1975.
37 Ernest Labrousse, Esquisse du mouvement des prix et des revenues en France au XViiie
siecle (Paris, 1932), 2 vols.; La Crise de l'gconomiefranpaise a la fin de l'Ancien Regime et au
debut de la Revolution (Paris, 1944).
David Landes, "The Statistical Study of French Crises," this JOURNAL, 10 (Nov. 1950),

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The AnnalesSchool


universitysystem, among other factors,has tended to enshrine the

Labroussethesis for much too long. Even today Pierre Chaunu
continuesto cite Labrousse's-andhis own-cycles as France'smajor
contributionto economic history. The Annales group as a whole is
now less than unanimousabout Labrousse'swork, but still praisesit
as a pioneeringachievementin "serialhistory."39
In the mid-1960s,thanksin partto Simon.Kuznetsanda grantfrom
the SSRC, Jean Marczewskilaunchedthe "Americanapproach"to
economic history, nationalincome accounting. In an article in the
CahiersVilfredoParetoMarczewskiassertedthat quantitativehistory
was still little understoodin France,thathis Frenchcolleaguesreally
did not know how to employ statisticalanalysis,build mathematical
models, use statisticalinferenceand a system of references,and test
hypotheses explicitly and rigorously.40The reactionwas quick and
ratherheated, and in the end the New EconomicHistory"lost,"at
least amongthe Annalistes.Criticismrangedfromthe markedhostility of Vilarand Chaunuto the milder reactionsof Furet and Richet
who, while full of admirationfor the rigor of the method and the
sophisticationof the techniques, concludedthat Europeandata are
simply not adequatefor periodsbefore 1800 and that to limit history
to one centuryand to one social science would reduce it to "nothing
more than an additionalfield of datafor politicaleconomy."41 Pierre
Chaunu'smore vigorousriposte even suggested that "retrospective
econometrics"was not history.
This so-called history is hardly history at all. It is restricted to a very short, almost
contemporary time-span, and it is confined to the hyper-developed American sector,
where it refines, without great merit, an abundant statistical material, essentially
pre-prepared already.42

I cite Chaunu's strong reaction to stress again a certain French

195-211. Even so, the recognition has been very tentative. See Denis Richet, "Croissance et
blocages en France du XVe au XVIIIe siecle," Annales: E. S.C., 23 (1968), 783.
39 Pierre Chaunu, "Conjoncture, structures, systemes de civilizations," in Jean Bouvier,
Pierre Chaunu, et al., Conjoncture 9conomique, structures sociales: Hommage a Ernest Labrousse (Paris, 1974), pp. 21-35 and passim.
40 Jean Marczewski, "Buts et m6thodes de l'histoire quantitative," Cahiers Vilfredo Pareto,
No. 3 (1964), pp. 127-64.
41 Pierre Chaunu, "Histoire quantitative ou histoire s6rielle," Cahiers Vilfredo Pareto, No. 3
(1964), pp. 165-176; Pierre Vilar, "Pour une meilleure comprehension entre 6conomistes et
historiens: Histoire quantitative ou 6conom6trie retrospective?" Revue historique, 233 (1965),
293-312; Furet, "Le quantitatifen histoire," p. 44; Richet, "Croissanceet blocages," pp. 783-84.
Richet pointed to the dangers of "hypercriticism"of the "model." More sympathetic to the new
economic history have been Maurice LUvy-Leboyer and Franpois Crouzet, but neither can be
considered part of the Annales school.
42 Pierre Chaunu, "L'6conomie-depassement
et prospective," in Faire de l'histoire, II, p.

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aversion, not only to mathematical model-building, but also to

"growth"itself, especially industrial growth, and the source materials
that it requires.43 Chaunu, among others, is careful to draw a distinction between "growth" and "development," especially as applied to
Latin America, which is his main research interest. "Development,"
he argues, goes beyond national and per capita income; it concerns an
alteration in the mental (structures mentales) and social habits of a
population, "deeper modifications which are the condition of a harmonious growth."44 How many times have I heard French sociologists, or even well-read lay persons, speak of a future where life is
plus facile et plus douce; it is rare to hear American futurologists
speak in quite this way about douceur.
In fact, Chaunu recommends that the next phase of economic
history should be in the area of "collective mentalities," investigating
the reaction of large groups of people to the total material environment.45 It seems to me that here Chaunu reflects a larger shift within
the Annales school as a whole, the new emphasis on anthropology,
and especially that branch of anthropology called cultural ecology
which assigns greater independence to values and customs and their
interplay with the material environment or "resource base."6 This
opens the way for a measure of "voluntarism" and also joins the
proposal of Daumard and Furet to postpone the "total history" of
Consider, for example, the Annales articles in rural history over the
last thirty years. One can discern an early interest in the tension
between "agrarian individualism" and communal rights, between
43 That "growth"has not always been the prime goal of French entrepreneurs themselves is
discussed in Edward Carter, Robert Forster, and Joseph Moody, eds., Entreprise and Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century France (Baltimore, 1976), essays by Charles
Kindleberger, David Landes, Maurice LUvy-Leboyer, and Albert Boime.
" Pierre Chaunu, "Croissance ou developpement (?): A Propos d'une veritable histoire
economique de l'Amerique latine aux XIXe et XXe siecles," Revue historique, 244 (1970),
359-60. Italics mine.
45 Chaunu, "L'economie," pp. 66-67; "Un nouveau champ pour l'histoire serielle, le quantitatif au troisieme niveau," Melanges en 1'Ionneur de Fernand Braudel (Toulouse, 1973), pp.
46 More accurately, a "renewed emphasis" on anthropology, since it was Lucien Febvre in
1941 who wrote "Comment reconstituer la vie affective d'autrefois? La sensibility et l'histoire,"

Combatspour l'histoire(Paris,1965), pp. 221-38;and Le problemede l'incroyanceau XVie

siecle: La religion de Rabelais (Paris, 1942). For the "renewed emphasis," see the papers by
Frangois Furet, Jacques Le Goff, and Georges Duby in Jerome Dumoulin and Dominque

Moisi, eds., The HistorianBetweenthe Ethnologistand the Futurologist(Paris, 1973), pp.

197-227. For a concise description of the state of anthropology today see James W. Fernandez,
"Anthropology, A Discipline about Man Himself," New York Times: News of the Week in
Review (July 17, 1977).

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The Annaes School


seigneur and village, between town and countryside;in short, an

interest in social conflict in general. Then, in the 1960s, Le Roy
Ladurie's"deserted villages" stressed continuity, the Braudellian
tongueduree and "structuralconstraints"that relegatedsuch factors
as domain-building,"seigneurialreactions,"and royaltax policies to
secondaryimportance.And in the last few years-since 1970-the
emphasishas againshifted to the village as a tightly-knitcommunity
held together by habit and custom, by deference, clientage, and
paternalism,and by a host of ceremonialand ritualisticbonds that
contain or transformthe conflicts a strictly economic (or Marxist)
analysis might suggest. The anthropologicalapproachis manifest
here, a new interestin languageand popularculture,a radicalreduction of the spatial scope of the investigation,the use of qualitative
sources, and even a new conservativetone, a stressingof the constante fondamentale that defies individualcalculationand innovation.47

But this apparent turning to anthropology-and to what some

historianswould call "softdata"-has not dampenedthe interest of
otherAnnalistesin quantification,albeit quantificationwith a special
twist. If FrancoisFuret insists that, "scientificallyspeaking,"social
history can only be quantitative,he does not mean that all social
history can be reduced to numbers, much less mathematicalmodels.48 Like Chaunu,he prefersthe term "serialhistory,"the analysis
of datathat can be ordered in series-often computerized-to identify long-runor recurringpatternswhich must then be interpreted
and related to more qualitativeevidence. This half-wayhouse, as it
were, between the new economic history and traditional impressionistichistoryis admirablysuitedto the sourcesavailable,and I
sometimessuspectthe Annalesof concoctingstratagemsthat pass for
historicalmethodbut which are in realitytechniquesfor the deployment of French data.49As with much sociologicalresearchin this
country, the deployment of data or taxonomyis the point where
quantificationor the orderingof uniformpartsends; interpretationis
a separateoperation.
47 This pattern of evolution seems apparent in the eight articles published in Robert Forster
and Orest Ranum, eds., Rural Society in France: Selections from the Annales (Baltimore, 1977),
Intro. and passim.
" Adeline Daumard and Franpois Furet, "Les archives notariales et la mecanographie,"
Annales: E.S.C., 14 (1959), 676; Furet, "Le quantitatif," pp. 42-61.
49 See Appendix. Obviously, not all of these types of sources lend themselves to "measurement" in the same way. The data from parish registers can be computerized; those from
newspaper affiches cannot, to my knowledge at least.

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For example, marriage contracts and wills from the well-stocked

notarial archives can be treated "serially," but not "quantitatively."
For besides dowries and sometimes family capital, marriage contracts
in France include residence, occupation (of parents and often grandparents), signatures, and a list of witnesses. Wills contain these same
data plus charities, bequests, requests for perpetual masses and other
manifestations of religious sentiment that can be reduced to uniform
units and in fact "measured"over time. Daumard and Furet have not
only constructed a socio-professional code from the vocabularyof a set
of marriage contracts but also attempted to chart occupational and
residential mobility as well as literacy among social categories.50
Michel Vovelle has investigated 50,000 wills in Provence and attempted to "measure" religious sentiment by social class over a
century. His work has been criticized by those who cannot accept
outward signs of religious conformity as a reflection of true religiosity,
but the variations even of formal observance among social groups over
time is itself revealing and presents a pattern to be interpreted.51
This kind of procedure places the Annales group close to the
sociologists with whom, I suspect, the Annalistes are still most at
home. Charles Tilly claims that characteristic problems treated by
French historians which have "quantitative edges" to them are (1)
composition of particularpopulations, (2) group differences, (3) trends
or shifts in trends, (4) paths (the spreading of epidemics or panics, for
example), and (5) correlations. Tilly concludes that the French by and
large use quantification descriptively, not analytically. Even where
they have firm numbers in series-and the Annales is replete with
graphs, tables, maps, and charts-there is no use of statistical inference, of statistics of relationships (for example, correlation coefficients), or of other statistical procedures or tests. "Normally,">
writes Tilly, "the French quantifier lines up numerical descriptions
50 Franpois Furet and Adeline Daumard, Structures et relations sociales a Paris au milieu du
XVIIIe sicle (Paris, 1961); Furet, "Pour une definition des classes inf6rieures a I'6poque moderne," Annales: E. S.C., 18 (1963), 459-74; Daumard, "Une reference pour l'etude des soci6tes
urbaines en France aux XVIIIe et XIXe siecles: Projet de code socio-professional," Revue
dhistoire moderne et contemporaine, 10 (1963), 185-210, including the occupational codes for
the 19th and 20th centuries (pp. 208-10) that have now become standard references for all
occupational analyses undertaken by the "school." Furet's assertions about "quantification"as
essential to "scientific" social history elicited the criticisms of Jean-Yves Tirat, "Problemes de
methode en histoire sociale," Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine, 10 (1963), 211-18; a
rejoinder by Furet and Daumard appeared in the same review in 1964 (pp. 293-98).
M Michel Vovelle, PiWt6
baroque et d6christianisation: Attitudes provenwalesdevant la mort
au siecle des Lumueres(Paris, 1973); Jean Delumeau, "Au sujet de la dechristianisation," Revue
dhistoire moderne et contemporaine, 22 (1975), 52-60.

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The Annales School


on the way to conductingan essentiallynonquantitativeanalysis."52

After the numbers are deployed-often very artfully, it should be
added, with the aid of balls, bars, boxes, concentriccircles, dotted
lines, hash marks,and infinite cartographicshadings-the readeris
usuallyaskedto check correlationsby eye; sometimes, as Tilly demonstrates,with disastrousresults.53The same kindof criticismcan be
madeaboutsimpleeconomicconceptsandtools, rangingfromLorenz
curvesto rent-incomeratios;they are rarelyused, even when the data

Enoughhas been saidto establishthe factthat the Annalesscholars

are not capturedby the legacyof Descartesand Newton. They would
seem to preferthatof Lamarckand Buffon,with a strongseasoningof
Courbetand Millet. More precisely, the main pillarsof the Annales
school today are still sociologyand anthropologywith auxiliarysupport from demography,geography,economics, psychology, linguistics, and art history,roughlyin that orderof importance.But lest we
becomeimmersedin a kindof Braudellianenthusiasmforthe "dialectic" of historyand the social sciences,55it should be recognizedthat
the researcherswho contributeregularlyto the Annales appearinterested less in any "theory"or formalmethodologythat these disciplines offer than in some of their techniquesand approacheswhich
they adapt, almost unconsciouslyit would appear, to their source
materials.56Perhapseffective integrationis never obvious. One can
52 Charles Tilly, "Quantificationin History as Seen from France," in Lorwin and Price, eds.,
The Dimnensionsof the Past, p. 114 and passim, pp. 94-125.
53 Ibid., pp. 114-16.
" Jan de Vries, "The Classics in Transition," pp. 473, 568-73, passim. While full of admiration for the breadth of vision and the density of the source materials employed in the Annales
articles under review, de Vries is less happy about "a sloppy use of elementary economic
concepts" and what he calls a "conceptual gap" between the facts and the "grand themes" such
as "crises," "structures," phases "A," "B," and so on.
55 J. H. M. Salmon in a review of Braudel, tcrits sur l'histoire, in History and Theory, 10
(1971), 346-55, makes the point well: "The trouble is that Braudel has not given us a close
analysis of the methodology of this dialectic. He has preferred, instead, to communicate both his
enthusiasm about the kind of integral historical reality it will make intelligible and his faith in its
role as a meeting place for the social sciences" (p. 354). In short, one must not confuse a
panegyric with a "method."
" When Fransois Furet talks about importing a "model" from contemporary demography,
he simply means (as I read him) employing the procedures of a demographer; that is, charting
changes in the composition of the family (age at marriage, number of children, rates of
illegitimacy, birth and death, and so on) in order to discover or uncover a pattern of behavior
over time. Furet says this is a "heuristic" process, a "building up of a body of data" from which
"discoveries" can be made, such as the unexpected fact that French peasant women married at
the late age of 28 in the seventeenth century. "Of course," continues Furet, "the problem of
causality remains unsolved." The word "model" as used here-and too often throughout our
profession, I fear-has nothing to do with "explanation," at least as analytical philosophers
define the word. This is not to say that the discovery and deployment of new data is not part of

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detect, of course, such elements as social classificationand crosssectional analysis-a comparativeperspective if not comparative
method57-and perhaps,aboveall, a relianceon the kindof evidence
a sociologist and anthropologist would employ.58 The sociology of the
Annales seems to be functionalist, if indeed that term is still viable; its
anthropology closer to cultural materialism and descriptive ethnography than to symbolic anthropology or interpretive ethnography. If
Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou is a sign of the times-and Le Roy's
prodigious range of interests is a kind of weathervane for the
school-Oscar Lewis is still preferred to Victor Turner,59 though the
Roubins, Agulhons, and Ozoufs with their rituals, ceremonies, and
fetes, and their notions of sociability and religiosity are in the wings,
moving center-stage.60
The grand alliance of the social sciences, so much vaunted and so
selectively adapted by the Annales-with all its dangers of dispersal of
effort, dilettantism, and downright anarchy-has nonetheless enormously extended the subject matter of history and suggested new
issues, new relationships.61 More, given the French orientation tothe historian's task. Furet, "Discussion," in Dumoulin and Moisi, eds., The Historian Between
the Ethnologist and the Futurologist, p. 47.
William H. Sewell makes a useful distinction between "comparative history," "comparative method," and "comparative perspective." The last, for example, suggests an awareness of
other societies when studying one, but not an explicit use of other societies to test a hypothesis
about one. Sewell observes that the comparative "awareness"of the Annales historians seems
much keener regarding pre-industrial societies. "Marc Bloch and the Logic of Comparative
History," History and Theory, 6 (1967), 208-18. Bloch, Febvre, and Braudel were "masters"at
comparative insights, though usually within a European context from the twelfth to the
eighteenth century. See Marc Bloch, "Towarda Comparative History of European Societies,"
trans. J. C. Riemersma, in Frederic C. Lane and Jelle C. Riemersma, eds., Enterprise and
Secular Change (Homewood, Ill., 1953), pp. 494-521.
58 See the three volumes of Le Goff and Nora, eds., Faire de l'histoire. I think it is significant
that the word "method" is not employed in the subtitles of these recent volumes on "a new type
of history" in France. The subtitles are: "New Problems," "New Approaches," and "New
59 Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou, village occitan, 1294-1394 (Paris, 1975). I refer to
the detailed fieldwork and ethnographic realism of Oscar Lewis in Children of Sanchez (New
York, 1961) rather than to his controversial notion of a "culture of poverty." By contrast, Victor
Turner is an "interpretive ethnographer" who attempts to understand what certain "ritual
performances" mean to those who practice them, using them as "decisive keys" to how people
think and feel about their environment and their own interrelations. These "feelings" are not
apparent or obvious, but must be inferred through indirect evidence and semantic links, a
"discourse"that for the traditional empiricist is very unsettling not only because of its complexity, but because it detects symbolism so ubiquitously. The Ritual Process (Chicago, 1969), pp. 6,
42-43, and passim.
60 Lucienne Roubin, "Male Space and Female Space within the Provengal Community," in
Forster and Ranum, eds., Rural Society, pp. 152-80; Maurice Agulhon, La Republique au
village (Paris, 1970); Mona Osouf, "La fete sous la Revolution franaise," in Le Goff and Nora,
Faire de l'histoire, III, pp. 256-77.
61 Frangois Crouzet comments that "total history" is stimulating in many ways, "but it
involves a serious risk of dispersion of efforts, of amateurism, and it has led in many cases to

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The A nna/es School


wardarchivalmaterials,it has led to a very imaginativeuse of sources.

I ventureto say thatthe Annalistescholaris morelikelyto begin with
a block of sources-in "series,"if possible-and then search for a
problem to which to relate them, than to begin with the historical
question.The "trick,"of course, is to marrythe source, the problem,
and some ancillarysocialscience discipline;and if this mewnagea trois
seems unlikely,so much the better.62The element of surprise,eclat,
of assuming the professionallimelight by a tour d'esprit-backed
always by those torrents of archivalcitations-is also part of the
Annales style and achievement.
Recent examplesof this meld include:the nutritionalanalysisof a
set of pensionsforthe aged and a studyof theirimplicationsforpublic
health and village customs;a social and occupationalanalysisof one
city's declarationsof pregnancyover time to identify the change of
partnersin illicit love-and, perhaps, in the expressionof affection
itself; a linguisticanalysisof court recordsto get at the motives and
nature of crime in the eighteenth century;an investigationof the
reportsof countrydoctorsto constructa typologyof disease and also
to understandthe nature of rural resistanceto professionalhealth
services;the use of oraltestimonyas well as fiscaland notarialrecords
to constructthe value system of clientage in a Picardvillage for a
century;content analysisof episcopalvisitationsto trace changes in
religiousobservanceand sentiment.' At this level of investigationit
seems especiallyinappropriateto talk about an "Annalesmethodology";here we mustdefer to the professionalcompetenceof individual
historians, judged by the logic of their extrapolationsfrom the
sources, about which they are usually very explicit, much more so
than about their "method."However empiric and pragmaticthese
monographicstudiesare, at least they avoidthatseries of assumptions
upon which most "models"must rest.64
economic history being sacrificed, being treated as preliminary spade-work to higher pursuits,
such as the study of social structures and mentalitcs-which are a French obsession.
31 (March 1971),
Franvois Crouzet, "The Economic History of Modem Europe," this JOURNAL,
143 and passim, 135-52.
62 For many examples of this see Le Goff and Nora, eds., Faire de l'histoire.
13 R. J. Bernard, "Peasant Diet in Eighteenth-Century G6vauden," in Elborg Forster and
Robert Forster, eds., European Diet from Pre-Industrial to Modern Times (New York, 1975),
pp. 19-46; Jacques Depauw, "Illicit Sexual Activity and Society in Eighteenth-Century Nantes,"
in Forster and Ranum, eds., Family and Society, pp. 145-91; Yves Castan, Honratetg et
relations sociales en Languedoc, 1715-1780 (Paris, 1974); Jean-Pierre Peter, "Disease and the
Sick at the End of the Eighteenth Century," in Forster and Ranum, eds., Biology of Man in
History (Baltimore, 1975), pp. 81-124; Alain Morel, "Power and Ideology in the Village
Community of Picardy: Past and Present," in Forster and Ranum, eds., Rural Society, pp.
107-25; Dominque Julia is completing a catalogue of the French sources of episcopal visitations.
64 This touches a debate of long standing among economic historians. Most relevant here are

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Along a spectrum from "scientific" to "humanistic" history, the

largest number of Annalistes seem nearer the second "ideal type."
For all of the prodigious apparatusof numbers and tabular materials,
theirs is nonetheless a qualitative empiricism, a working outward and
upward from the sources,65 with the Braudellian grand themes held
at a distance, but with an awareness of a stock of middle-range
questions that sociologists and anthropologists-and sometimes economists and even art historians-ask about historical materials. FranVoisFuret comes close to expressing an Annales view of history today:
One takes history in the widest sense, that is as a discipline not strictly reducible to a
set of concepts, and with countless levels of analysis, and then addresses oneself to
describing these levels and establishing simple statistical connections (liaisons) between them on the basis of hypotheses which, whether original or borrowed, depend
on the intuition of the researcher.8

As I see it, these "simple statistical connections" may be charted as

correspondences and correlations; they are descriptions of rapports
or interrelationships, but they are not, strictly speaking, explanations,
the distillation and isolation of independent variables, or the reduction to the parsimonious "cause."`67 Tout se tient. At the same time,
sociology and anthropology surely reinforce certain habits of thought,
and implicitly give great weight to such general factors as milieu,
demographic pressures, the resource base, social groups, and collective attitudes and values. These are the categories in the back of every
Annaliste's mind which "inform"-an anthropologist'sword-the subject matter.
And beyond this is a kind of conservatism implicit in the
sociologist-anthropologist's approach, reinforced no doubt by a kind
of Old World wisdom. The Annales would abandon certain nineteenth-century assumptions-liberal or Marxist-about progress and
the possibilities of rational action. The Braudellian schema still
Fritz Redlich, "New and Traditional Approaches to Economic History and Their Interdepen25 (Dec. 1965), 480-95; "Potentialities and Pitfalls in Economic History,"
dence," this JOURNAL,
Explorations in Entrepreneurial History, 6 (1968), 93-115; Wassily Leontief, "Theoretical
Assumptions and Nonobserved Facts," American Economic Review, 61 (1971), 1-7.
0 Redlich, "Potentialities and Pitfalls," pp. 93-94.
" Furet, "Le quantitatif," Faire de l'histoire, I, p. 44.
67 Raymond Aron writes that the historian often creates the illusion that he is "explaining"
when he is in fact juxtaposing and aligning. R. Aron, "Postface," in Dumoulin and Moisi, The
Historian Between Ethnologist and Futurologist, p. 235. H. W. G. Runciman claims that the
"general theory" of Talcott Parsons "rests on so blatant a confusion of explanation with taxonomy
as to make it puzzling that it should be taken as seriously as it has." He goes on to say, however,
that there is "nothing wrong with taxonomy." Runciman, Sociology in its Place and Other
Essays (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 16-17.

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The AnnalesSchool


lives in the sense of presentingthe world beset by profoundimpersonal constraintsin which Whig politics and Marshallianeconomics,
classconflictand simplisticviews of superstructureare but dustin the
balance.68Not only is "economicman" a myth; neither faith nor
reasoncan move mountains.Not Braudel'smountains-not even with
bulldozers,wretched machinesanyway.

Johns Hopkins University




1. ParishRegisters(baptisms,marriages,
2. TaxRolls(includesoccupational,
Old Regime:taille,capitation,vingtieme,centiwmte
3. NotarialDocuments(wills, marriagecontracts,partages,inventories
4. LawCasesand LegalBriefs;Listsof Accused.
5. GrainPrices(mercuriales,
6. MilitaryConscriptLists(physicalcondition,age, residence).
7. ElectoralLists(listsof "notables,"
8. Cahiers(1789).
9. Revolutionary
(propertyof emigres,Church,etc.).
10. MunicipalMinutes(villages,towns,sections).
11. SpecialEnquetes(onforges,wood,cattle,harvest,clearings,vineyards,
12. MedicalReports(villagequestionnaires,
of pregnancy,
of prostituteswithoccupation
of parents;epidemics).
13. Institutional
chapters, guilds,universities,charities).
14. PrivateAccounts(seigneuries,partnerships,
livresde raison).
15. Admiralty
16. Bankruptcy
" Furet, "History and Primitive Man," in The Historian Between the Ethnologist and the
Futurologist, pp. 199-203; Le Goff, "The Historian and the Common Man," ibid., pp. 204-15.
Le Goff, however, believes there are some dangers in the "ethnographic point of view."
"Growth,"he writes, "may need to be removed from the cloak of Rostovian myth; but it is still a
reality to be explained" (ibid., p. 215). See also Le Goff and Nora, Faire de l'histoire, I, p. xi; E.
Le Roy Ladurie, "L'Histoire immobile," Annales: E. S.C., 29 (1974), 673-92.

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17. Administrative Correspondence and Police Reports (17th-19th centuries).

18. Reports of Episcopal Visitations.
19. Matriculation Lists (schools and universities, academies and clubs).
20. Royal Censor's Lists (book titles).
21. Newspapers, literary journals, affiches.

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