Marc Bloch’s philosophy of history

Marc Bloch wrote The Historian's Craft: Reflections on the Nature and Uses of History and the Techniques and Methods of Those Who Write It. after the defeat of France in 1940. The title suggests that the book is a "how-to" manual for doing historical research, authored by one of the great historians of the twentieth century. But …

Comparative history

One of Marc Bloch's most important contributions was to reinvigorate the idea of "comparative history."  Bloch believed that we could understand French feudalism better by putting it into the context of European legal and property regimes; and more broadly, he believed that the careful comparison of agrarian regimes across time and space could be an …

Marc Bloch and the French social sciences

Marc Bloch was one of the twentieth century's most important and pathbreaking historians.  Several features of his work are particularly important: his attention to the specifics of medieval economic institutions, his interest in historically specific customs and practices, and his interest in uncovering the social and technical characteristics of medieval agriculture.  He helped to define …

Generalizations in history

Historical generalizations are often suspect: "The Renaissance encouraged innovative thinking," "The Qing state stifled independent commercial activity," "The open frontier created a distinctively American popular culture." The problem with statements like these is their sweep; among other things, they imply that the Renaissance, the Qing state, or American culture were essentially uniform social realities, and …

Longue durée

Image: Making dikes on the Yellow RiverMany historical changes take place on a human scale -- the Great Depression came and went within the lived experience of many millions of people, and they were able to tell comprehensible narratives of the beginning, middle, and end. Likewise with periods of political transition and upheaval -- the …

Great structures?

The scholars of the Annales school of French history characteristically placed their analysis of historical change within the context of the large structures -- economic, social, or demographic -- within which ordinary people live out their lives. They postulate that the broad and enduring social relations that exist in a society -- for example, property …

Tempo of change

Think of some of the gradual processes of change that have important effects on human society: soil erosion, water pollution, loss of jobs, inflation, diffusion of innovation, a firm's decline in market share, and a nation's decline of naval power, to name a heterogeneous list. And think about the very different time scales associated with …

Mentalité?

Is there such a thing as a "mentalité" of a people, group, or nation? Take these young people at an Iowa potluck supper, or the traders pictured below at the Chicago Board of Trade -- is there a midwestern mentalité that they can be said to share? What factors might be comprised by such a …

Marc Bloch’s history

One of the historians whom I most admire is Marc Bloch. He was one of France's most important medieval historians in the first half of the twentieth century, and he died at the hands of the Gestapo while serving in the Resistance in Paris in 1944. (Carole Fink's biography is an outstanding treatment of his …

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