underwent a crisis. During the Third Republic, historians had established a strong presence within French universities by teaching political history of the French nation. After World War I, however, historians faced a challenge to their powerful position. In the late twenties and early thirties the government reduced the number of teaching posts made available to historians in secondary and higher education. Moreover, some French intellectuals questioned the value of professional history, accusing historians of contributing to the rise of jingoistic nationalism.
In the context of these challenges to the status of history, some historians elected to alter the way they wrote political history. In the interests of “intellectual disarmament,” the Comite francais des sciences historiques and the Comite francais de la cooperation intellectuelle participated in an international effort to rewrite history textbooks. In 1929 the historians Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre launched a new journal Annales d’histoire economique et sociale.
They did so in hope of transforming the historical discipline by providing a venue for the publication of research focused on social and economic history. Throughout much of the journal’s history, editors of Annales encouraged a style of history that rose above the accumulation of fact, that mobilized historians to tackle shared problems, and that sought to build alliances among different fields in the social sciences. Historians in Europe and the United States have seen the creation of Annales as a crucial turning point in the history of the historical profession and the French social sciences.
After World War II the journal, then renamed Annales: economies, societes, civilisations, served as a rallying point for young French historians interested in exploring new approaches to writing history. Taking up the intellectual program first defined by Bloch and Febvre, Annales’s post-WWII editors advocated a style of history that borrowed problems and methods from demography, economics, and geography. This paper show how Bloch and Febvre drew on the concern about intellectual over-specialization and the trend to collectivize research in order to shape research on economic history and rural society.
Although Bloch proposed numerous collaborative projects, the mainstay of the journal’s success was its attention to rural history. The political import of research on rural societies and the cultural politics of intellectual cooperation thus proved to be valuable resources in the development of Annales’s intellectual program. HISTORIOGRAPHY Over the past two decades historians have been taking stock of the journal’s legacy to history and social science. A major theme in evaluations of Annales is the journal’s interdisciplinary ambition.
Some historians of history depict the alliances negotiated between history and the social sciences as problematic. For example, Georg Iggers and Lawrence Stone contend that in emulating the social sciences the New History lost sight of the ways in which human beings make history. Purporting to examine society at its most profound levels, Annales historians tended to make history not a study of change but a science of static societies. Some historians are rethinking the merits of social science history.
In a collection of essays on historiography Immanuel Wallerstein, once a proponent of Annales history, proclaims that the time has come to move beyond Annales and the emphasis on interdisciplinarity. Proponents of the New Cultural History have turned away from the blending of geography, economics, demography, sociology, and history that had been the hallmark of Annales history from the fifties to the early seventies. Some of them, including the Annales historian Herman Lebovics, draw on literary theory to criticize the assumptions and categories used by many social and economic historians in their analyses.
The reevaluation of history’s alliances with the social sciences is fueled partly by a reaction to the scientization of the discipline and partly by philosophers of historical writing, who have drawn attention to the rhetorical and literary aspects of history. Taking a different approach to analyzing the relationship between history and social science, Terry Clark and Francois Dosse look at the function of competition in intellectual life.
Clark depicts the leadership of historians over the establishment of the Sixth Section as the result of a struggle between historians and sociologists for control of institutional resources. More polemical than Clark, Dosse overtly attacks Annales historians’ tendency to raid other social sciences in their relentless pursuit of new topics and methods. Dosse suggests that interdisciplinarity was merely a form of intellectual acquisitiveness that led historians to absorb (or attempt to absorb) other intellectual fields.
The result is a patchwork history that had lost coherence as a discipline. Two sources help greatly in examination of Marc Bloch’s life and work, his influence and role in establishing the Annales School. The Susan Friedman book Marc Bloch, Sociology, and Geography: Encountering Changing Disciplines, provides excellent coverage of Bloch’s life and career: some fundamental and significant standpoints and events are described and discussed thoroughly therein. In addition, Carole Fink’s book Marc Bloch: A Life in History provides intellectual and political bibliography of Annales co-founder.
THE ANNALES PROGRAM From the journal’s inception through the end of the thirties, Bloch and Febvre worked to create a collective spirit among Annales’s readers and contributors. In the letter that accompanied the first issue of the journal, they proclaimed that the young periodical was born of “in effort to rapprochement of contributors,” whose ambition was to work collaboratively “constant community. ” By the end of the thirties Bloch and Febvre referred to a common identity that was shared by those who rallied to the journal.
In 1939, when they terminated their relationship with Armand Colin and began to publish the journal independently, they again appealed to the collective spirit of their subscribers. The reference to the solidarity of the journal’s “disciples” was the most explicit evocation of solidarity to appear during the thirties. In addition to making an explicit appeal to teamwork and collaboration, Bloch and Febvre marketed Annales to both academic and non-academic readers.
In the planning phase of the journal in 1928, they informed their publisher that they anticipated selling subscriptions to university libraries in France and abroad as well as to municipal libraries. In addition professional historians in higher education, they decided to make an appeal to history teachers in French high schools as well as local savants, whose good will and research efforts had been wasted, they felt, in the activities of provincial learned societies. In their efforts to market the journal, they distributed two prospects — one for professional historians and another for the local savant.
As Febvre wrote, he and Bloch intended to add, as an expression of good will, personal notes to the copies of the prospectus destined for provincial researchers. Professional sociologists and experts on society and economics comprised the last major group of potential readers and contributors that Bloch and Febvre had in mind in 1928. With the publication of Annales starting in 1929, Bloch tried to use the journal to advance his career. Early in the early thirties, he actively campaigned for a position in Paris, and he had his eye Camille Jullian’s Chair at the College de France.
In 1930, Bloch penned a flattering retrospective article on Jullian’s career, and late in 1932, he praised Jullian’s preface to Guy de Tournadre’s L’histoire du comte de Forealquier, while subjecting Tournadre to excoriating criticism. Bloch also attacked the medievalist Louis Halphen in a review of Halphen’s contribution to Cambridge University Press’s multi-volume series on medieval history. During the twenties Halphen and Bloch had entertained a rivalry. Both occupied the field of medieval history and therefore vied with each other for a position in Paris.
In the midst of that rivalry each historian struggled to establish his intellectual niche and institutional foothold by defining himself in opposition to the other. Although Bloch’s efforts to join the College de France failed, he won a position at the Sorbonne in 1935. Bloch, who was Halphen’s junior by six years, received a Parisian appointment only one year after Halphen assumed his Chair at the Sorbonne in 1934. Between 1932 and 1934, Bloch and Febvre actively solicited contributions from non-academic researchers by introducing another style of inquiry — the “enquete contemporaine.
” The contemporary studies were not designed to be collectively executed research projects, and Bloch and Febvre offered no specific research guidance. Instead, the journal published on-going or recent work on the economy of contemporary Europe, and most contributors wrote articles on such topics as banking and finance. By designing projects that called on the contribution of such an ilk, they hoped to rally different groups — amateur, professional, and expert — around the journal.
By choosing such a variety of scholars to participate in the journal, Bloch and Febvre thus defined the intellectual mission of the journal broadly. Moreover, they deliberately left such terms as “social” and “economic” loosely defined. Bloch’s correspondence with the historian of Japan Kanichi Asakawa revealed a conscious decision to leave open the journal’s definition of social history. Bloch and Febvre adopted a similarly broad view of the journal’s intellectual mission when they opened Annales up to contributions from other social scientists.
With the exception of favoring empirical research over theoretical studies, they defined no intellectual orthodoxy for the journal. In Annales, cross-disciplinarity was often little more than an ensemble of articles by different social scientists on related topics. In 1935 and 1936, for example, Bloch and Febvre published a series of essays on tools and technology, which included an article by Andre Haudricourt, an agronomist who later specialized in ethno-botany and the ethno-history of technology.
In his correspondence with the historian Charles Parain, Haudricourt wrote that he was astounded by the intellectual differences between historians and ethnographers despite their common interest in tools and technology. True to Haudricourt’s observation, his article on the harness and Bloch’s article on the same subject had no meaningful similarities or differences — they simply bypassed each other. Haudricourt’s essay in Annales followed the harness’s geographical diffusion. When they defined Annales’a intellectual mission, Febvre and Bloch shared a desire to avoid intellectual orthodoxy .
Their goals were twofold. They wanted to encourage historians to think about specific research problems, and they also wanted to lay the groundwork for doing empirical research on economic and social history by gathering information about archives. One of the strategies they used to accomplish those goals was the organization of collective projects. Responding to the inter-war emphasis on international cooperation, Bloch and Febvre saw collective research as a way to inspire their readers to organize their work around common problems.
In the first issue of Annales Bloch and Febvre announced several structured inquiries into the history rural society, of prices, and of nobility. But in spite of their agreement on the basic research program for the journal and in spite of their confidence in the utility of collective research, they eventually developed very different conceptions of what intellectual teamwork might bring to history and social science. Febvre’s conception of teamwork and its usefulness for historians and social scientists centered on the collection of information.
In contrast with Febvre’s fascination with the division of labor and the creation of a research network, Bloch showed less interest in culling data from a pool of untrained research workers. Early in his career, he had expressed an interest in using research questionnaires, although he had not thought of them as useful for establishing large-scale projects in data collection. Bloch’s earliest writings on methodology drew parallels between the use of questionnaires and the scientist’s practice of reporting on research objectives and procedures.
Bloch saw questionnaires as instrumental for structuring communication among fields in the social and human sciences. For example, he advocated emulating the multi-disciplinary approach of the Oslo Institute for the Comparative Study of Culture. BLOCH’S WORK AND ROLE In the journal’s first year Bloch implemented a collective project on rural history. The project on “Les plans parcellaires” was journal’s longest and most successful team project. In his introduction, Bloch called on historians and geographers to create an inventory of archival sources on rural history.
According to him, valuable data on the rural economy had been preserved in rarely consulted property registers and land plats held in local archives and libraries. The “plans parcellaires” and the property registers created by European states provided visual and textual sources on the evolution of the French countryside. Scattered in archives throughout France and Europe, they provided snapshots of rural societies at different points in history. In France, they offered a way to study rural history from seventeenth to the nineteenth century.
Bloch argued that the study of the “traits matiriels” of the rural countryside would help researchers understand the basic structure of rural society as a precursor to further research. Using cadastral maps, geographers and historians could study changes in land usage, systems of crop rotation, the persistence of common land or its enclosure, settlement patterns, the distribution and size of villages, and the evolution of seigniorial authority. Because of the cadasters’ potential value to geographers and historians, Bloch used Annales to create a basic inventory of their availability.
He did not, however, use his team projects to generate raw data on rural history. Bloch asked readers to submit articles on the availability of four types of sources in their local archives or libraries: land maps (terriers) created prior to the Revolution, property records generated during the Revolution, the Napoleonic cadaster, and any revisions made to it during the nineteenth century. Through Annales, Bloch built a team comprised of local savants, students, and specialists on rural society and economy from France and abroad.
In 1931 the friendly society of provincial archivists adopted a proposal to establish an inventory of the Napoleonic cadaster as well as any maps that provided information on the type of crops grown in the different regions of France. The Director of French Archives endorsed the proposal in a circular distributed to archivists throughout France. As the project unfolded, Bloch not only recommended that historians analyze visual historical sources on the French countryside (i. e. , cadastral atlases and terriers), but he also advocated studying the contemporary landscape.
In instructions and articles for the study of the “plans parcellaires,” he recommended using aerial photography and archaeology in order to identify the trace of past in the present configuration of the countryside. Bloch’s work on rural history has helped to define the nation myth of French diversity and rootedness in a rural past. One of the themes that emerges from Bloch’s book on French rural history, Les caracteres originaux de 1’histoire rurale francaise, was indeed the diversity of France and the deep continuities between past and present that defined French rural history.
Surveying the French countryside from the hamlets of Brittany to the villages of Provence, Bloch identified dramatic contrasts in the physical, economic, and social configuration of French rural life. Examining the rural economy, he identified a variety of agrarian regimes. Open fields, enclosures, agricultural tools as well as biennial and triennial systems of crop rotation all combined and overlapped in divergent ways throughout France. In place of any form of national ethnic unity or homogeneity, he identified three distinct types of agrarian civilization.
As Meillet and Demangeon had done in the late twenties, Bloch also indulged a patriotic claim that French scholars might lead their European colleagues in orchestrating research on rural civilization. Unlike Febvre, whose work with the Commission des recherches collectives eventually led him to undertake a national inventory of France’s rural civilization, Bloch remained committed to implementing projects at the international level, planning collective studies that built on his work in rural history.
In a 1933 proposal published in the Bulletin of the International Committee of the Historical Sciences, he outlined a project on the transformation of seigniorial institutions throughout Europe. Bloch proposed to create a common questionnaire in order to establish a basic starting point. With France clearly in mind, he focused on studying the erosion of large seigniorial demesnes and the rise of the small landholder, who paid a form of rent usually in crops but sometimes in obligatory labor. As he had stated in Les caracteres originaux, the emergence of the small landholder was one of the defining characteristics of French rural history.
Although France was his starting point for defining research projects on rural history, he intended his project to generate comparative and cross-disciplinary research on European agrarian history. Yet in his work on rural history Bloch transformed France into a microcosm of Europe. He used France to illuminate research problems that he considered pertinent to Europe as a whole, and he claimed that rural France was in fact an ideal laboratory for the study of European agricultural civilization as a whole. The diversity of France and the multiple agrarian civilizations that Bloch found there made it a universal theater of research.
In 1934 Bloch repeated his call for collective research on rural civilization to an audience of French scholars. In a proposal to the College de France, written for his campaign for a chair in the comparative history of European civilization, he outlined plans for an international investigation of European rural history. He proposed to pursue research on agrarian regimes as well as on evolving notions of personal liberty and servitude. Bloch again called for the use of a unified research questionnaire in order to solicit contributions from those outside of the University’s upper echelons.
The standardized questionnaires allowed for more effective coordination in the scale and scope of research, and the coordination of comparative research would establish France’s intellectual leadership in an area and research method that had thus far been neglected beyond France’s borders. Bloch argued that his project would guide experts, scholars, local savants, and students in a vast collaborative project that would cross national frontiers as well as the intellectual and social boundaries created by university hierarchies. Between 1928 and 1930, Bloch had elaborated his approach to comparative history.
From the outset Bloch eschewed the modern nation-state as his research terrain. To accept modern boundaries and national divisions within the formulation of a research project was to impose anachronistic categories on historically situated societies, groups, institutions, and economies. For Bloch effective comparison required researchers to recognize the fluidity of geographical frontiers. Bloch’s approach to comparative history drew heavily on Antoine Meillet’s work in comparative and historical linguistics, which had sought to redefine the study of European civilization through international study of dialects and language families.
As much as Bloch admired the tools that Meillet had brought to the history of civilizations, he also saw historical linguistics as only one tool among others. Bloch contended that the cultural frontiers identified by historical and geographic linguistics did not necessarily correspond to the frontiers that could be identified by historians or human geographers. Bloch trusted the detection of multiplicity and the complex connections among linguistic, institutional, social, economic facts that made explaining change such a difficult undertaking.
Above all he feared intellectual laziness, which tempted scholars to rely on categories or abstract concepts that too easily substituted for criticism, reflection, and intellectual flexibility. In interwar Europe, ethnicity was one of the abstractions that informed research on rural civilization, and many of Bloch’s commentaries on rural civilization contained sharp criticism of it. In a 1928 article on comparative history, he had criticized the effort by Friedrich Meitzen, the German specialist of agrarian civilization, to establish an ethnic map of Europe.
In a 1934 review of German research on toponymy and ancient history, Bloch criticized scholars who attempted to write the history of race and ethnicity. In 1932 Bloch returned to the rural habitat in a review of the latest round of work that had emerged from the 1931 International Conference of Geographers. In a tangent on Slavic scholarship on the rural history of Eastern Europe, Bloch objected to the intrusion of nationalism into scholarship on European settlement patterns.
The bulk of his article, though, dealt with the conceptual problems of writing on the rural habitat. Bloch developed Lefevre’s earlier recommendation that such terms as habitat, village, and hamlet be more clearly defined. Between its first meeting in 1925 and its final report in 1931, the International Committee on the Rural Habitat had elected to use a numerical formula to define the terms village and hamlet: X number of houses within a given area equaled a village, whereas fewer than X made up a hamlet.
Emphasizing the importance of examining social groups in addition to habitat and landscape, Bloch sought to make the analysis of rural life intellectually subtle and less vulnerable to serving nationalist agenda. To the arbitrary numerical definition of the village that was offered by geographers, Bloch added a social definition the rural village. Arguing that geographers had overlooked the social nature of the village community, he contended that family or kinship groups often define villages and hamlets. He held that historians and social scientists in fact understood very little about the history of the family.
During the late thirties he began to sharpen his criticisms of what he saw as the increasingly romantic nationalist strain in research on rural civilization. At the 1937 Congres international de folklore, Bloch overtly attacked Demangeon’s work on the rural habitat. According to Bloch, Demangeon had simplified the complexity of rural society by glorifying peasant civilization. In a paper for the 1939 International Conference of Sociologists, he proposed another research project in which he gave the guidelines for a study of village communities.
Bloch’s 1939 proposal was not the first time that he had dealt with the social structures of rural civilization. Even in Lea caracteres originaux, he had taken care to differentiate among the social groups working the land, discussing the emergence of the small landholder and agricultural day laborers. Bloch’s plans for a study of the village community built on his interest in extending the analysis of rural civilization to include the structures of social life in addition to his earlier projects on cadastral records and the physical features of the rural habitat.
9S Bloch’s recommendations came with what he saw as the urgent need to arrest the intrusion of nationalism into the social sciences, and he attacked any effort to use research on rural life and the peasantry to indulge romantic and ethnic definitions of the nation. That concern about the nationalist overtones of research on rural society emerged in his articles on rural history. In an article for the catalog of the 1939 exhibition on the French agronomist Olivier de Serres, Bloch redoubled his attacks on the mythologization of peasant France.
In his paper he scrutinized the writings of nineteenth century French historians, pointing out their simplification of French history in using such abstractions as the Gallic or Frankish races. Bloch had clearly wearied of the ways in which discussions of European settlement patterns and rural civilization served as a blank screen for the projection of politically motivated descriptions of national unity, colonization, conquest, or invented antagonisms among races or ethnic groups. CONCLUSION Historians of Annales have often focused on the resistance among most historians to Bloch and Febvre’s efforts to reform the historical profession.
Their studies have neglected the strategies that Bloch and Febvre used to recruit participants for journal and for their efforts to negotiate alliances with other fields in the social sciences. More often than not, Febvre’s and Bloch’s attempt to bring the fields of sociology, geography, linguistics, folklore, and history together around such topics as work, prices, or rural history revealed significant differences of method. Thus, the journal’s cross-disciplinary alliances yielded limited success in structuring genuinely cross-disciplinary collaboration.
In order to direct historians away from the writing of political history, Bloch and Febvre adopted collective research as a strategy for rallying historians to the journal and to define research problems. For Febvre collaborative research furnished researchers who generate raw data which can then be used by expert researchers. Through his involvement with the Commission des recherches collectives, he negotiated an alliance with folklorists to organize amateur researchers for the purposes of gathering data on traditional ways of life, village communities, and peasant customs.
In Bloch’s work team research functioned as a form of pedagogy through which he instructed his colleagues in the provinces and the students on techniques and sources that were critical to writing the history of rural civilization. Through Annales Bloch worked to alter the intellectual terrain of history. However, the historian remained the guardian of the nation’s symbols and heritage, just as it had been earlier in the Third Republic. Rather than focus on political history, Bloch defined France through the diversity of its rural civilization.
At the end of the thirties, Bloch became increasingly cognizant of the political implications of research on rural France. In his reviews and through their leadership of research projects both Bloch helped to position the discipline of history as the critic of fields that contributed to the study of rural France. During the forties the study of rural France became increasingly politicized by the Vichy government.
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