Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 26 (Marc Bloch)

Bloch, Marc
Feudal Society Volume 1 - The Growth of Ties of Dependence

A few winters ago I found myself reading a lot about medieval Europe -- general histories, histories of art, etc. Along the way I discovered this two-volume work by the French historian Marc Bloch. Bloch is one of the founders of the Annales School of history, which, according to Wikipedia, "is a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century. It is named after its French-language scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, which remains the main source, along with many books and monographs. The school has been highly influential in setting the agenda for historiography in France and numerous other countries, especially regarding use of social scientific methods into history, emphasis on social rather than political or diplomatic themes, and for being fairly acceptant of marxist historiography."

It's a pretty interesting read if you are interested in the way social classes form over long periods of time. Here's from the introduction:

But the historian is in no sense a free man. Of the past he knows only so much as the past is willing to yield up to him. What is more, where the subject he is attempting to cover is too vast to allow him to examine personally all the sources, he is conscious of being constantly frustrated in his inquiry by the limitations of research. No survey made here of those paper wars in which scholars have sometimes engaged. History, not historians, is my concern. But whatever may be the reasons for them I resolved never to conceal the gaps and uncertainties in our knowledge. In this I felt I should run the risk of discouraging the reader. On the contrary, to impose an artificial rigidity on a branch of knowledge which is essentially one of movement -- that would be the way to engender boredom and indifference. One of the men who have gone furthest in the understanding of Medieval societies, the great English jurist Maitland, said that a historical work should make its readers hungry -- hungry to learn, that is, and above all to inquire. It this book does that, I shall be well content.

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