Analytical Essay #2
Before the emergence of the Annales paradigm, history had been viewed by historians such as Ranke and Marx in terms of movement along a one-dimensional timeline from past to present. As a radically alternative theory of historical time, the Annales historians have emphasized the relativity and multi-layering of time. Laying the foundations in 1929 with the publishing of the journal, Annales d’histoire economique et sociale, Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch rejected a political and diplomatic approach to historical research in favor of a more interdisciplinary approach. Aspiring to break down the boundaries separating the human sciences, they sought to incorporate as many of these disciplines into their work as possible. The founders’ approaches were different, yet complimentary, with Bloch concentrating on analyzing the material structures of society, and Lebvre’s interest in analyzing the geographical effects on a region’s social, cultural and political development. Promoting an ideal of “total history,” the founders argued that all aspects of a society were important parts of historical reality.
A thesis published in 1949 by Febvre’s student, Fernand Braudel, introduced a new three-tiered model of historical time, or durees, and also broke from the empirical research methods of his contemporaries. Braudel’s distinct contribution to the Annale’s paradigm, designated as “geo-historical structuralism,” pushed geography to the forefront while individuals and events were seen as negligible.
Braudel’s “total history” would be conveyed within the parameters of these durees rather than by theme, illustrating a definite structuralist approach with the deepest layer being the most significant. As defined by Edith Kurzwiel, structuralism is the systematic attempt to uncover deep universal mental structures as they manifest themselves in kinship and larger social structures, and in the unconscious psychological patterns that motivate human behavior.1 The traditional preeminence placed on people and events was reversed in Braudel’s model, with emphasis on the long duree of geographical time. Braudel’s thesis, La Mediterranee et le monde Mediterraneen a l’epoque de
Philippe II, was widely regarded as well as criticized. Many reviewers felt it was not a histoire totale since he had excluded key topics such as culture, agriculture, and religion. Others accused him of “geographical determinism,” because he credited all existing historical agency to its unchanging geographical environment. Not only was his work oddly devoid of people, but also lacking any theory of historical change. However, it is still considered one of the great works of twentieth-century history in that it established new trends in historical thinking and methodology. Braudel’s immediate followers comprise what is known as the second generation of Annales historians, focusing mainly on the statistical aspect of his work, such as economic trends. This new focus on quantification prompted more criticism due to its descriptive rather than analytical nature. “The collection of serial data on prices, marriages or book production sometimes seemed to constitute an end in itself. In the absence of a defined focus of research, method thus ran the risk of becoming a fetish. A newer, more technologically-advanced form of positivism replaced the old one.”2
In the 1960’s and 1970’s a shift in interest from the quantitative and objective scientific history to a more subjective interpretation of the collective thought structures or mind-sets of the past.