For those of you in need of a Saturday quick pick, try this hot West Coast contest on for size:
Stanford (1-1) at San Diego State (2-0):
For a little background on this game, I think we should to the Annales school of French historical writing. The best guide to that style of historical practice is Peter Burke’s The French Historical Revolution. La nouvelle histoire, particularly the work of the scholars associated with Annales d’histoire économique et sociale, produced a “remarkable amount of the most innovative, the most memorable, and the most significant historical writing of the twentieth century,” Peter Burke asserts in the introduction to his historical survey of the Annales school, The French Historical Revolution. Burke traces the intellectual origins of Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch, the two historians that founded Annales d’histoire économique et sociale in 1929, before describing and analyzing the evolution of the school over its first six decades of existence. Burke divides the history of the Annales school into three generations: Bloch and Febvre’s founding generation, the post-war historians led by Fernand Braudel, and the polycentric movement that emerged after the student uprisings of 1968. A concise intellectual history of the movement, The French Historical Revolution succeeds in both placing the Annales school in context and explaining some of the ideas that shape contemporary historical writing.
Despite Burke’s emphasis on the diversity of ideas among Annales school historians, he summarizes Annales thought based on three characteristics. Firstly, rather than writing a conventional narrative of events, Annales school historians substitute a problem-oriented analytical history. Secondly, rather than focusing on political and military history, they analyze a broad range of human endeavors. Finally, the Annales school combats narrow specialization by appropriating ideas from and collaborating with a number of disciplines, including geography, sociology, economics, and psychology. Within this framework, Burke studies the development of the movement based on the major books produced by the luminaries of the school; he describes the impact of the books on the process of historical writing as a means of demonstrating the evolution of the Annales school.
The Annales “revolution,” as Burke puts it, arose in reaction to the professionalization of history by the disciples of Leopold von Ranke, who marginalized social and cultural history during their era of dominance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. These professional historians, who controlled the major European journals, concerned themselves primarily with political history. A pair of newly appointed professors at the reformed University of Strasbourg, Lucien Febvre, a historian of early modern Europe, and Marc Bloch, a medievalist, exchanged ideas about infusing their field with economics, sociology, and anthropology over the course of the 1920s; sharing their thoughts with colleagues, the pair formulated an interdisciplinary approach to history. Febvre and Bloch became co-editors of a new “outsider” journal in 1929, Annales d’histoire économique et sociale, that acted not only as outlet for the work of scholars of their ilk, but also a mouthpiece for their developing historiographical approach. The publication’s editorial board included several non-historians, emphasizing the Annales’ call for intellectual exchange.
Burke moves from discussing the journal itself to discussing the important works of the school’s first generation and their impact on the development of the leading ideas of the Annales school. Febvre’s The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais introduced the idea of problem-oriented history. Basing his study on the question of whether or not the French literary figure Francois Rabelais was an atheist, Febvre framed an argument based on linguistics, philology, social, and cultural history to prove that a conceptual apparatus that would enable atheism did not exist during Rabelais’ lifetime. The idea of outillage mental, a “conceptual apparatus,” the mentality with which a society can view itself and its surroundings, received further attention in the Encyclopédie française, a project edited by Febvre. Bloch’s sociologically oriented Feudal Society explored the “culture of feudalism” as a whole in order to discern the society’s “collective memory” and “modes of thought and feeling.”
The Annales school, under the leadership of Febvre, took control of the French historical establishment in the years following the Second World War. Febvre’s rise in the higher educational apparatus enabled him to set up the Sixth Section of the Ecole Pratique des Haute Etudes, which became an institutional organ for the Annales school. Febvre’s “intellectual son,” Fernand Braudel, inherited control of the Annales school, becoming the most powerful and influential historian in France until his death in 1985. Burke focused on the influence of Braudel’s masterpiece, The Mediterranean, a gargantuan three-part study of Phillip II’s foreign policy that pushes the narrative of events into background while focusing on the social trends and the geographic history of the region. Moving from geography to society to narrative, Braudel argued that “superficial” historical events could not be understood without a rigorous examination of social trends and an even more thorough understanding of geographic features.
Although criticized by many historians for its fiercely deterministic outlook, The Mediterranean influenced post-war historiography profoundly. Burke explains that Braudel’s division of history into geographic, social, and individual time created a structure aimed at understanding the totality of history. During Braudel’s tenure as France’s leading historian, the idea of “quantitative history,” appropriated from economics by Ernest Labrousse, brought statistical method into the Annales school. Used not only for economic history, the employment of quantitative methods soon brought demographics into the Annales school. The quantitative approach reinforced the Annales school’s emphasis on economic and social structures while pushing cultural history and the history of mentalities to the side.
The third generation of the Annales school emerged in the years following the 1968 uprising. While a number of talented historians developed in the third generation, the era lacked a dominant figure like Braudel. Burke reveals that among third generation historians “at the very least, one has to admit that polycentrism prevails.” Some in the movement, notably Philippe Ariès and Christiane Klapisch, have reacted against the determinism of Braudel by focusing on cultural history; others have used qualitative methods to research cultural history. Some historians, including George Duby, have even returned to the traditional narrative form of biography as a way to explore socio-cultural mentalities.
Burke concludes The French Historical Revolution by examining the reception of the Annales school abroad. He points out the acceptance of Annales school ideas, particularly in Poland, Latin America, and Italy; acceptance has come slowly in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Cultural and linguistic factors appear to play a large part in acceptance of the Annales school; the movement proved more popular, possibly even more applicable, among historians in countries that speak romance languages, have populations that are predominately Catholic, and continue to have large segments of their population engaged in agriculture. Burke discusses the acceptance of the Annales school’s interdisciplinary approach in a broad range of disciplines, including psychology, anthropology, geography, and sociology.
The ability of the Annales school’s thought to be interpreted in a number of ways has enabled it to adapt to changes in the academic environment. Burke argues correctly that the greatest achievement of the Annales school has been the reclaiming of large areas of human activity for history. The ambitious, interdisciplinary approach of the Annales school brought an unprecedented degree of rigor to the study of history; the intellectual inclusiveness of the Annales school, demonstrated by the broad range of approaches to history writing taken by the third generation, makes for a productive academic environment. The work of Bloch, Febvre, and Braudel provides the historian with a thoughtful, rigorous intellectual framework from which to develop their own voice in the academy.
A legitimate case can be made that the ideas of the Annales school are only narrowly applicable; the vast majority of major figures in the movement have studied either early modern Europe or the Middle Ages. Considering the centrality of political history to the modern era, it appears to many that an approach rooted in de-emphasizing political history makes little sense as a model for writing modern history. More broadly, there has been a lack of non-European history written in the style of the Annales school. While these criticisms of the Annales school are certainly valid, they far from discredit the movement. The popularity of the Annales school among academics in Latin America, particularly Brazil, suggests that the Annales school may be applicable in other non-European cultures. First-generation Annales cohort Georges Lefebvre found the outillage mental applicable to research on the French Revolution. If one of the most important historians of the seminal event in the modern era finds the ideas of the Annales school useful, who is to say that further historical writing, based on the Annales school, on the modern era will not be produce positive results? As the modern era dims in the collective memory of post-colonial societies, the ability of historians to write comprehensively about it in the style of the Annales school may improve.
That being said, I think Stanford’s offensive and defensive fronts will wear out the Aztecs in the second half. Expect the Cardinal to pull away late in this hotly contested game.
Final Score: Stanford 31 San Diego State 17
As always, this is a work of parody and not intended to be taken seriously. For more of the same, follow me on Twitter: @ClaytonTrutor