Annales School

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In historiography, the name Annales refers to three interlinked phenomena: (1) a journal founded by Marc Bloch (1886–1944) and Lucien Febvre (1878–1956) that still exists in the early twenty-first century, "probably the world's most talked about and most influential scholarly journal devoted to historical studies" (Huppert, p. 873); (2) a "school," or, more precisely, a circle or network of French and French-speaking historians; and, finally, (3) a broad, heterogeneous movement that, under the impetus of the journal of the same name, has profoundly renewed the way of thinking and writing about history, especially since the end of World War II.

In 1929 Bloch and Febvre, both then professors at the University of Strasbourg, founded a new journal entitled Annales d'histoire économique et sociale (Annals of economic and social history) that was meant to compete, in France, with the traditional Revue d'histoire économique et sociale (Review of economic and social history), deemed too "placid" and too "juridical" in its approach, and, on the international level, with the Vierteljahrschrift für Sozialund Wirtschaftsgeschichte (Quarterly for social and economic history), which had been discredited by the conduct of German scholars during World War I. In the diversity of its subject matter as well as its multidisciplinary perspective, which returned to an approach already practiced in the Année sociologique (Social science journal) of Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), the Annales went beyond the horizons of the dominant academic history to incorporate everything that might in one way or another enrich a history conceived as being "total," in the Durkheimian sense, or as a "synthesis," in the sense of Henri Berr (1863–1954).

While the earliest works of Bloch, Febvre, and their closest collaborators (notably Georges Lefebvre; 1874–1959), along with others such as the great Belgian historian Henri Pirenne (1862–1935) or the Austrian Jewish emigrant Lucie Varga (1904–1941), concentrated on particular problems in social history or on putting regional French or European history into a new perspective, with particular emphasis on the anthropological phenomenon of "mentalities," the arrival of Fernand Braudel (1902–1985) at the helm of the journal led, during the 1950s, to a methodological shift toward quantitative history and "long-term" studies modeled on the works of Braudel himself, notably La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II (2 vols., 1949; The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, 1972–1973) and Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe–XVIIIe siècle (3 vols., 1967–1979; Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, 1981–1983).

Owing to the institutional support that the Annales derived from its collaborators' prominence in the "Sixth Section" of the École Pratique des Études (known since 1975 as the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales)—headed by Febvre, then by Braudel, then by Jacques Le Goff (b. 1924), François Furet (1927–1997), and so on—the intellectual approach associated with its name over the years took on the form of a true movement that quickly expanded beyond the borders of France. Along the way, and with successive generations, the "Annales paradigms," as the scholar Jacques Revel called it, changed. Following the dominance of "total" socioeconomic history and then the "history of mentalities," since the 1970s particular predilections for historical anthropology and then for "microhistory" have been evident. To be sure, sociology as a discipline has remained the most important auxiliary frame of reference, but the functionalism and structuralism of days past have been succeeded, under the impetus of Jacques Revel and Bernard Lepetit (1948–1996) in particular, by a strong antideterministic orientation entirely focused on "agents" and their mutual "conventions." In 1994 this "critical turn" was reflected in a reorganization of the editorial board and a new subtitle: Annales. Histoire, sciences sociales.

Among the many criticisms made of the Annales, especially noteworthy is the accusation that it was too exclusively limited to the distant past of the early modern period or the Middle Ages, or even antiquity, whereas the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—in short, the contemporary period, with its effects on the present—appeared only as a sort of poor relation: underrated and unappreciated. Looking more closely, however, this reproach is only partially justified. In fact, during the interwar years Bloch's and Febvre's Annales devoted many studies and even more summaries and reviews to current social, economic, and even political events—and thus, to economic crises, fascism, Nazism, and the Soviet regime. At the time it was founded, moreover, it was clear that the Annales was not solely addressed to academic readers but that it also targeted a readership of "men of action." This was echoed in countless articles on the business world, and the presence of several economists and bankers (Charles Rist, Alfred Pose) on the enlarged editorial board seems to underscore that the "spirit of the Annales" aimed to understand the past from the perspective of present concerns—and vice versa. It was only during the 1950s and 1960s—in other words, in the context of the Cold War—and when the journal itself became a "major multinational business," that this mooring in the present was to some extent lost. Other French journals have since more or less adopted an Annales -type approach in their respective fields: Le mouvement social, Vingtième siècle, and so forth, even though the issue of the relationship between "society" and the "political," between "structure" and "event," or between "long" and "short" term has remained one of the major topics of debate in historiography.

See alsoBloch, Marc; Braudel, Fernand; Febvre, Lucien.


Burke, Peter. The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School, 1929–89. Stanford, Calif., 1990.

Carrard, Philippe. Poetics of the New History: French Historical Discourse from Braudel to Chartier. Baltimore, 1992.

Clark, Stuart, ed. The Annales School: Critical Assessments. 4 vols. London, 1999.

Dosse, François. New History in France: The Triumph of the "Annales." Translated by Peter V. Conroy. Urbana, Ill., 1994.

Hunt, Lynn, and Jacques Revel, eds. Histories: French Constructions of the Past. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer and others; Ramona Naddaff, series editor. New York, 1995.

Huppert, George. "The 'Annales' Experiment." In Companion to Historiography, edited by Michael Bentley, 873–888. London, 1997.

Stoianovich, Traian. French Historical Method: The "Annales" Paradigm. Ithaca, N.Y., 1976.

Peter SchÖttler

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Annales School

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