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To Psychohistory

the Annales


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Dr. Baskerville
Dec.I I 1999
The difficultpart of writing apaper onthe Annales school of history is figuring outhowto

include Foucault in with historiansof the Annales school.There is an obvious way to do this:

simply borrow from Peter Burke the explanation that they both sharethree distinctive features,

including, a stresson collective attitudes;an emphasison unconsciousassumptions;and a

concern with structure of beliefs; or from Patrick Hutton that they are both concernedwith the

civilizing process. But a clue as to why this might be thelazy person'sapproach,is that Foucault

has come up many times before in earlier readingshaving nothing to do with the Annales, (in

particular, in discussionsabout post-modernismand desonstruction,but in othersas well) and is

referred to by scholarswho have something more than simply broadening our conceptionsof the

past in mind. Patrick Joyce,for example,has Foucaultin mind when he criticizes institutions

such as Oxford and Cambridge. Aletta Biersack,brings up Foucaultwhile discussingthe

hegemonicbattle with the global capitalistic system. My point is that Foucault's name comesup

when scholarsare not necessarilyconcernedwith the past at alI, but overtly concernedwith

overthrowing certain aspectsof our present.In this regard, Foucault can be read as anti-thetical

to the Annales school,especiallyif we find FrancoisFuret's analysisof this schoolpersuasive,

and perhapsbelongswith historianslike Carl Becker, in being bestunderstoodas a dramatic

challengeto the history professionitself. This essaywill tackle this question:Is Foucaultjust
'history' mansion,or is he a
anothercivilized tenantoccupying a room in a very big

barbarian/arsonistintent to burn it to the ground? And another:If Foucault is not allowed a

specialplace outsidehistoriographicaldivisions, commentingon all within, should we consider

allowing another scholar such aplace?

It is probably impreciseto characteize Foucaultas simply anotherroom in the

mansion, becauseit is an unfaithful characterizationof the way some historians have included

Foucault within historiography. Instead,we have Hutton who ends his essayon the Foucault

phenomenon:"The issue,therefore,is how historianswill reconciletheir newfound interestin

the puzzlesof rhetoric with their ongoing need to addressthe substantiveproblems that have

long servedas the stuff of history" (102). Hutton implies that Foucault is not'tacked' on to
- )!.>

historical studies(like a short chapterdevotedto minorities or women often is to books that

otherwise ignore them) but could infiltrate their studiesmore profoundly dependingon the

historian. For: "The style of the historian's inquiry as well as the quantity of data assembled
'room/mansion' metaphorbecauseof
determinesthe way it is rendered"(101). But, I chosethe

its associationwith Lawrence Stone and his attempt to transform what could be potentially

dangerousideologiesto the history professioninto oneswhich actually help give the profession


If Foucault "has fonly] challengedus to questionour assumptionsand . . . provided us with

the method and tools of analysisto write a new, political history of culture"(46), as Patricia

O'Brien suggests,then he belongsin any discussionof the Annales school and the history of

mentalities. Hutton has charactenzedall historiansof mentalities,including Foucault,as having

"traced new routes upon the map of cultural history. They have visited subjectshitherto

unexplored,or never before treatedseriously"(257). Further,Foucaultis like the historiansof

'total' history", not merely a room in a
mentalitiesin that both provide "not merely an elementof
'oaperspectiveon the civilizing process"(257).
mansion,but somethingmore :

It is with the help of Furet that we can imagine irreconcilable differences between Foucault

and the Annales school. Furet doesnot specifically credit his insightsto Foucault,but he does
'mask' of truth, to seethe true face of power.
what Foucault encourages:to look beneaththe

Furet suggeststhat any attempt to seethe Annales school as a contribution to our understanding

of the past is a farce. Instead,"[h]aving been enticedout of its position as the soothsayerof

national destiny and prophet of human progress,history has studied the social sciencesonly the

better to appropriatefor its own advantagethe ambition of Durkheimian sociology" (395).

History has extendedits rangewith the Annales school,with its focus on ordinary people, in

order to better competewith sociology and anthropology- its rivals among university disciplines
- for supremelegitimacy Q90. The result is a colonizationof the other disciplines and a loss

for the discipline of history. "[T]he tyranny of vaguenessand imprecision (403)" that

characterizeshistory, and "temptation to tell a mere story (410)"remainsunchallenged. History


is re-constitutedandnot interpreted. Historians,on the other hand, can "still maintain the notion

of [their] superiority on the grounds that fthey] alone can study certain objects exhaustively,

from every angle . . . fand t]hus, in the midst of a crisis in historicist history, the historian has

fallen back on a lesscharismaticnotion of his learning,without suffering any epistemological

loss" (394).

Furet's analysisof the Annales historiansis consistentwith Foucault's belief that it is

structural changethat is important and not changein content. What is important to Furet is how

the discipline of history has maintained,even enlarged,its presencein the universities,just as to

Foucault, what is important to note in the French Revolution, is that the stateenlarged its

influence and presencein peoples' lives. Furet, I believe, showshow Foucault,can be usedto do

to the Annales historians, what they claim to do to conventional historians: depict their work as

superficial, misleading,as skimming the surfaceof the past, and "neglecting the'deep structures'

of historical reality which lie beneath"(Hutton,"History of Mentalities", 240).

This is Foucault "as an Attila [relishing] the scorchedhistorical terrain he leavesin his wake"

(O'Brien, 30). Itis this Foucaultwhich doesnot belong to any particular school of historical

thought, despitethe wishes of other historians. This is Foucaultthe barbarian,Foucaultthe

arsonist,who intendsto burn down ProfessorStone'smansion. The implications of his work

neednot simply awakennew kinds of history, but potentially, work to eliminate the historical

professionitself for its role in perpetuatingbourgeoishegemony. And it is this Foucaultthat is

usedby scholarssuch as Joyce,and Biersackwith somethought to doing exactly this.

Finally, is this Foucault which does not belong within any of the thematic subdivisions of

your (Peter's) course;but insteadbelongsoutsidecommentingand criticizingeverything he sees

,'.( within. He would say that no matter if eachschool distancesitself from the others,proclaiming
j.' itself as singulariiy enlightened,the strategyof assigningeachschool its particular week

encouragesa vision of the historical discipline as a many mansionnedhouse. Foucault would

say that to provide another impression would require structural change:the coursewould need to

be divided into two sections,perhaps,- one which includesall the voices which maintain

history's hegemony,ffid the other of voices which challengeit. Although, in a sense,and

inspired by Foucault,it is possibleto re-imaginethe courseas it has beentaught in such a way.

Foucault does,after all, imagine history as being divided into separatestages- epistemes- just

as the Annales scholarsdo, but he refusesto allow anyoneof them the resemblanceof being at

peace. Instead,every period is just as tangled,complicated,and saturatedwith power struggles

as every other period. Consideringthis coursewas borderedat one end by Carl Becker, who

proclaimed "every man a historian", and at the other with Foucault, we can imagine that the

surroundingwalls of Lawrence Stone's many roomedmansionas being on fire.

'petit duree', the last one
But if we considerintellectualtrendsover, what I will call the

hundred years, we may yet put out the fire, and contain Foucault after all within a discussion of

mentalites. In order to do this, I will needto spring Hayden White free from the discussionof

narrative, and introduce him to this discussionof mentalities. White introduced us to different to

different strategiesof emplotment in constructing works of history. But he also describeda

movementfrom Romanceto Tragedyto Comedy , ending finally in a deep ironic mode, in

nineteenth-centuryhistoriography;and in the twentieth,he notesa persistentoscillation between

the realist and ironic modesof description(Marcus,13-14). What I am getting at is that it is

possibleto assigneven the barbarianFoucaultto a world view common acrossdisciplinesat a

certain period of time. GeorgeMarcus provides a descriptionof periods of heightenedirony in

which Foucault seemsto fit nicely. He saysthat:

Periodsof heightenedirony in the meansof representingsocial reality seem

to go with heightenedperceptionsthroughoutsocietyof living through historic
momentsof profound change. The contentof social theory becomes
politicized and historicized;the limiting conditionsof theory becomeclearer.
Those fields most closely tied in their concernsto describingand explaining
social phenomenaundergoing complex changesexhibit strong internal
challengesto reigning paradigms,and to the idea of paradigmsitself. . .
Intellectually . . . the problem of the moment is less one of explaining changes
within broad encompassingframeworks of theory from a concern to preserve
the purpose and legitimacy of such theorizing, than of exploring innovative
ways of describingat a microscopiclevel the processof changeitself. (15)

In this descriptionwe seeFoucault's assaulton theory; Joyce's and Biersack's senseof rapid

changeswhether threatening to make all previous historical work irrelevant as with Joyce, or of

tensehegemonicbattleswithin disciplines,and againstglobal capitalismas with Biersack; and

even recognizethe concernsof authorslike PeterBurke that the Annales school lacks details on

how changeoccurs.

Further, Foucault's claim that different epistemesare entirely unrelated to each other is

challengedby White's accountof the petit duree. According to Marcus, White saw a similar

ironic style dominating the nineteentwenties and thirties - a period equally suspiciolF of grand

covering theoriesand reigning paradigmsof research(14).

What Marcus's conceptionof an ironic period doesis deflateFoucault's belief that he stands

apartfrom conventional scholarsin being revolutionary. Instead,belonging to an ironic period,

Marcus would credit him with (ust) another intellectual current; one which "takes full account of

intractable contradiction, paradox, irony, and uncertainty in the explanation of human activities"

(15). He believesthat this can lead to a lot of creativescholarlywork, but it doesnot repudiate

all the intellectual trends that went before it. "Older dominant frameworks are not so much

denied - there being nothing so grandto replacethem - as suspended"(10). Scholars,even

radical oneslike Foucault,eachbelong to certainperiods,eachpart of'"Jpiralwhere "there is

sumulative growth in knowledge, through the creative rediscovery of older and persistent

questionsin responseto keenly experiencedmomentsof dissatisfactionwith the stateof a

discipline's practicetied to perceptionsof unprecedentedchangesin the world" (10). Stone

might be encouragedby this conceptualization- all he needsto do is sit still and, like KingLear,
'ironic' fire storm, awaiting a oromantic' new dawn ahead.
endurethrough the fierce
'different' motives for the scholars,
We would be cautiousif we listenedto White, to assume
'power', as Foucault
living in different periods,i.e., they are not primarily motivated by
'truth' in line with what scholarshave been doing for generations:
suggests,but by a pursuit of

Thomas Kuhn's conceptionof their enterprise. If we acceptthis, we would have to ignore

Furet's judgement of why scholarshave been attractedto the Annales school. Furet not only

implied they were motivated by a need to 'colonize' otherdisciplines in an attempt to deny them
'escape'from the trying, tensetimes of the
influence, but also that thesescholarssoughtan
'free space'of the long duree,where political issuescould be
nineteensixties. The unchanging,

ignored as unimportant in the larger schemeof things, is presentedas an antidote to their present

where political issuesprovoked considerableanxiousness.TheseAnnales scholars,saysFuret,

are not primarily interestedin truth, but in solitude. This, again,is not the kind of thinking which

can be understood as a contribution to historiography, but as potentially undermining the entire

field of historiography. If historiansattractedto the Annales school engageinhistory as akind

of 'therapy', how about other historians? How about: RenatoRosaldo'shistorianswho seek

comfort in pleasingmetaphors; PeterNovick's historianswho needthe professionalrituals and

apparatusto serveas a superego; PeterLoewenberg'scliometricians(cited in Floyd's article I

believe) fleeing humansto engagewith numberswhich can't hurt them; or Patrick Joyce's

historianswho go about their businesswhile everythingthey have ever believed,asbeen

undermined by post-modernists? If we want to avoid asking uncomfortable questionsabout the

motives of historians, we could quietly allow White to contain Foucault as another intellectual

trend; but we should at least recognizethat this could be representedasjust another attempt to

I believe that we should allow a scholarto standoutsidethe history discipline, outsidehis

'school' or 'period', to commenton the entire discipline of history. I don't believe it should be

Foucault - there is something apocalyptic about him, and not White, his relativism can be

Whothen...whocouldluse?... Of course!Iknowjusttheone!

There is a scholarI would like to introduceyou to - Lloyd deMause- who although I'm sure

you've heard of him, you may not yet have appreciatedhis importance:for he is a man slightly

aheadof his time. His fellowhistorians respondto him inthe sameway apatient doeswhen his

psychoanalystmakes a premature interpretation - with deep feelings of humiliation and rage

(DeMause,Foundationsof Psychohistory.301).

DeMause's thoughtson why we do history will concludethis essay. Structurally,I hope to


communicate that I am now limiting the attention I give other schoolsof historical thought,

(although, be sure, I will give my fellow studentsmy full attention) and that I am merging with

the one school - psychohistory- which will occupy most of my time hereafterin the next

semesterand beyond. I leaveyou with DeMausle, respondingto an article by Henry Ebel:

As usual, Henry Ebel has uncoveredan unpleasantlittle attitude of ours that

endsup by giving the whole show away.
What he has done is simply describethe motivationsfor being historians
andfor reading history. We all want to return again and againto that wax
museumof history becausewe wantto relive again all thosetraumas- history's
traumas and our own - but now safely.
Now psychoanalysishas a technicalterm for the processof endlessly
reliving our life traumassafely:perversion. A pervert is someonewho takes
a childhood trauma and, by slightly rearrangingits content, now triumphs over
it; by masturbatingwith a woman's shoe,the pervert both affirms and denies
the woman's lack of a penis, triumphing over what was once an unpleasant
discovery by concentratingon the phallic heel or toe of the shoe.
The psychoanalystRobert Stoller tells us that much of the excitementpresent
in our sexualfantasiescomesfrom this mechanismof perversion,constantly
rearranging our traumas into triumphs.
But if this is true, then the writing andreading of history has to date been
a perverse activityt Thathistorians get perversesexualpleasureout of handling,
playing with, reaffanging and triumphing over the historical traumas to which
they chooseto devotetheir lives becomesevident when psycho-historiansdo
the samething but overtly describethe historical group-fantasiesbeing acted out.
Then they get accused, as one critic of mine so well put it, of "indulging in their
own excited fantasies." Of course!How can I (or you) write of the abusesof
children without evoking our own childhoods including all the fantasieswe still
carry with us to help us master our earliest terrors? How can I (or you) write
about war without evoking our own sadism,our own fantasiesof revenge
and triumph? We all initialty go to that vast psychodramanoiLcalled history for
the samereasonwe indulge in any perverseactivity: to triumph over our past.
The only difference is that the historian acts out and enjoys this perversion
while the psychohistorian,when successful,revealsit by describingthe
historical group-fantasiespresentin the material and in its viewer.
The unconsciousof every one of us has the samematerial inside it.
Psychohistory differs from history in not }ust acting out and secretly enjoying
the endlessperverseritual of playing with our historical shoe-fetishbut in
finally overcoming the past by revealing and then understandingit. We will
remain trapped in the wax museum of history only as long as we continue to
deny the thrill we get from being there. ("The Psychohistoryof History",264)

Lloyd deMause,Foundationsof Psychohistory.New York: CreativeRoots,Inc., 1982.

Lloyd deMause, o'Psychohistory Vol$
of History:A Symposirm'',The Journalof Psychohistory,
No.l (M#cr ,1981).
GeorgeE. MarcusandMichaelM. J. Fischer,Anthropologyasa Culflral Critique:
an ExperimentalMoment in the HumanSciences.Chicago:University of Chicago