Annales School

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The Annales School is a highly influential style of historiography developed by French historians in the twentieth century. It emphasizes social history and rejects Marxism. The school deals primarily with a pre-modern world before the French Revolution of the 1790s, with little interest in later topics. It has dominated French social history and influenced historiography in Europe and Latin America. The success of the school has crowded out Marxist historiography in France. The school has had a small impact in the United States, apart from European demographic history.

Institutionally it is based on the Annales journal, the SEVPEN publishing house, the Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme (FMSH), and especially the sixth Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, all in Paris. Prominent leaders include co-founders Marc Bloch (1886-1944) and Lucien Febvre (1878-1956). The second generation was led by Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) and included Georges Duby (1919-1996), Pierre Goubert (1910- ), Robert Mandrou (1921–84), Pierre Chaunu (1923-2009), Jacques Le Goff (1924- ) and Ernest Labrousse (1895-1988).

A third generation was led by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (1929- ) and includes Jacques Revel,[1] and Philippe Ariès (1914–84), a political conservative who joined the group in 1978. The third generation stressed history from the point of view of mentalities.

The fourth generation of Annales historians, led by Roger Chartier, clearly distanced itself from the mentalities approach, which has fallen into disuse in France, replaced by the cultural and linguistic turn which emphasizes analysis of the social history of cultural practices. A similar cultural approach (with different origins) is very popular in the United States in the twenty-first century as well.

The main scholarly outlet has been the journal founded in 1929, Annales d'Histoire Economique et Sociale ("Annals of economic and social history"), which broke radically with traditional historiography by insisting on the importance of taking all levels of society into consideration and emphasized the collective nature of mentalités. They rejected Marxism, and downplayed material factors as less important than the mental framework ("mentalités") that shaped decisions.

Braudel was editor of Annales 1956-68, followed by Jacques Le Goff, a medievalist. However Braudel's informal successor as head of the school was Le Roy Ladurie, who was unable to maintain a consistent focus. Scholars moved in multiple directions covering in disconnected fashion the social, economic and cultural history of different eras and different parts of the globe. By the 1960s the school was building a vast publishing and research network reaching across Framce, Europe and the world. Influence spread out from Paris but did not come in. Much emphasis was given to quantitative data, seen as the key to unlock all of social history.[2] But Paris ignored the powerful developments in quantitative studies underway in the U.S. and Britain, which reshaped economic, political and demographic research in those countries, while France fell behind.[3] An attempt to require an Annales-written textbook for French schools was rejected by the government. By 1980 postmodern sensibilities undercut confidence in overarching paradigms. The Annales School kept its infrastructure, but lost its mentalités.[4]


The journal

The journal, founded in Strasbourg, moved to Paris and continues today as Annales: Histoire, Sciences Social.[5] In 1962 Braudel and Gaston Berger used Ford Foundation money and government funds to create a new independent foundation, the Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme (FMSH), which Braudel directed from 1970 until his death. In 1970 the 6th Section and the Annales relocated to the FMSH building. FMSH set up elaborate international networks to spread the Annales gospel across Europe and the world.

The scope of topics covered by the journal is vast and experimental—there is a search for total history and new approaches. The emphasis is on social history, and very-long-term trends, often using quantification and paying special attention to geography[6] and to the intellectual world view of common people, or "mentality" ("mentalités" in French). Little attention is paid to political, diplomatic or military history, or to biographies of famous men. Instead the Annales focused attention on the synthesizing of historical patterns identified from social, economic, and cultural history, statistics, medical reports, family studies, and even psychoanalysis.

Marc Bloch

Marc Bloch (1886-1944) was the co-founder of the Annales school, and a quintessential modernist. He studied at the elite École Normale Supérieure, and in Germany, serving as a professor at the University of Strasbourg until he was called to the Sorbonne in Paris in 1936 as professor of economic history. Bloch was highly interdiciplinary, influenced by the geography of Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845-1918)[7] and the sociology of Émile Durkheim (1858-1917). His own ideas, especially those expressed in his masterworks, French Rural History (Les caractères originaux de l'histoire rurale française, 1931) and Feudal Society were incorporated by the second-generation Annalistes, led by Fernand Braudel.


Bloch, Marc. Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924)[8] looked at the long-standing folk belief that the king could cure scrofula by touch. The kings of France and England indeed regularly practiced the ritual. Bloch was not concerned with the effectiveness of the royal touch—he acted like an anthropologist in asking why people believed it and how it shaped relations between king and commoner. The book was highly influential in introducing comparative studies (in this case France and England), as well as long-durations ("longue durée"), studies spanning several centuries—even a thousand years, downplaying short-term events. Bloch's revolutionary charting of mentalities resonated with scholars who were reading Freud and Proust. In the 1960s, Robert Mandrou and Georges Duby harmonized the concept of mentalité history with Fernand Braudel's structures of historical time and linked mentalities with changing social conditions. A flood of mentalité studies based on these approaches appeared during the 1970s-80s. By the 1990s, however, mentalité history had become interdisciplinary to the point of fragmentation but still lacked a solid theoretical basis. While not explicitly rejecting mentalité history, younger historians increasingly turned to other approaches.


Fernand Braudel became the leader of the second generation after 1945. He obtained funding from the Rockefeller Foundation in New York and founded the 6th Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, which was devoted to the study of history and the social sciences. It became an independent degree-granting institution—one of the central institutions of the School. Braudel's followers admired his use of the longue durée approach to stress slow, and often imperceptible effects of space, climate and technology on the actions of human beings in the past. The Annales historians, after living through two world wars and incredible political upheavals in France, were deeply uncomfortable with the notion of multiple ruptures and discontinuities created history. They preferred to stress inertia and the longue durée. Special attention was paid to geography, climate, and demography as long-term factors. They believed the continuities of the deepest structures were central to history, beside which upheavals in institutions or the superstructure of social life were of little significance, for history lies beyond the reach of conscious actors, especially the will of revolutionaries. They rejected the Marxist idea that history should be used as a tool to foment and foster revolutions. In turn the Marxists called them conservatives.[9]

Braudel's first book, La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen à l'Epoque de Philippe II (1949) (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II) was his most influential. This vast panoramic view used ideas from other social sciences, employed effectively the technique of the longue durée, and downplayed the importance of specific events and individuals. It stressed geography but not mentalité. It was widely admired, but most historians did not try to replicate it and instead focused on their specialized monographs. The book dramatically raised the worldwide profile of the Annales School.


Before Annales, French history supposedly happened in Paris. Febvre broke decisively with this paradigm in 1912, with his sweeping doctoral thesis on Philippe II et la Franche-Comté. The geography and social structure overwhelmed and shaped the king's policies.

The Annales historians did not try to replicate Braudel's vast geographical scope in La Méditerranée. Instead they focused on regions in France over long stretches of time. The most important was the study of the Peasants of Languedoc by Braudel's star pupil and successorm Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie.[10] The regionalist tradition flourished especially in the 1960s and 1970s in the work of Pierre Goubert in 1960 on Beauvais and René Baehrel on Basse-Provence. Annales historians in the 1970s and 1980s turned to urban regions, including Pierre Deyon (Amiens), Maurice Garden (Lyons), Jean-Pierre Bardet (Rouen), Georges Freche (Toulouse), and Jean-Claude Perrot (Caen). By the 1970s the shift was underway from the earlier economic history to cultural history and the history of mentalities.[11]

Impact outside France

The Annales school systematically reached out to create an impact on other countries. It success varied widely.[12] The Annales approach was especially well received in Italy and Poland. Franciszek Bujak (1875-1953) and Jan Rutkowski (1886-1949), the founders of modern economic history in Poland and of the journal Roczniki Dziejów Spolecznych i Gospodarczych (1931- ), were attracted to the innovations of the Annales school. Rutkowski was in contact with Bloch and others, and published in the Annales. After the Communists took control in the 1940s Polish scholars were safer working on the Middle Ages and the early modern era rather than contemporary history. After the "Polish October" of 1956 the Sixth Section in Paris welcomed Polish historians and exchanges between the circle of the Annales and Polish scholars continued until the early 1980s. The reciprocal influence between the French school and Polish historiography was particularly evident in studies on the Middle Ages and the early modern era studied by Braudel.[13]

In South America the Annales approach became popular. From the 1950s Federico Brito Figueroa was the founder of a new Venezuelan historiography based largely on the ideas of the Annales School. Brito Figueroa carried his conception of the field to all levels of university study, emphasizing a systematic and scientific approach to history and placing it squarely in the social sciences. Spanish historiography was influenced by the "Annales School" starting in 1950 with Jaime Vincens Vives (1910-1960).[14]

British historians, apart from a few Marxists, were generally hostile. American, German, Indian, Russian and Japanese scholars generally ignored the school. The Americans developed their own form of "new social history" from entirely different routes.[15]

Fourth generation

The leader of the fourth generation is Roger Chartier, who is Directeur d'Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, Professeur in the Collège de France, and Annenberg Visiting Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He frequently lectures and teaches in the United States, Spain, México, Brazil and Argentina. His work in Early Modern European History focuses on the history of education, the history of the book and the history of reading. Recently, he been converned with the relationship between written culture as a whole and literature (particularly theatrical plays) for France, England and Spain. His work in this specific field (based on the criss-crossing between literary criticism, bibliography, and sociocultural history) is connected to broader historiographical and methodological interests which deal with the relation between history and other disciplines: philosophy, sociology, anthropology.

Chartier's typical undergraduate course focuses upon the making, remaking, dissemination, and reading of texts in early modern Europe and America. Under the heading of "practices," his class considers how readers read and marked up their books, forms of note-taking, and the interrelation between reading and writing from copying and translating to composing new texts. Under the heading of "materials," his class examines the relations between different kinds of writing surfaces (including stone, wax, parchment, paper, walls, textiles, the body, and the heart), writing implements (including styluses, pens, pencils, needles, and brushes), and material forms (including scrolls, erasable tables, codices, broadsides and printed forms and books). Under the heading of "places," his class explores where texts were made, read, and listened to, including monasteries, schools and universities, offices of the state, the shops of merchants and booksellers, printing houses, theaters, libraries, studies, and closets. The texts for his course include the Bible, translations of Ovid, Hamlet, Don Quixote, Montaigne's essays, Pepys's diary, Richardson's Pamela, and Franklin's autobiography.


  • Burguière, André. The Annales School: An Intellectual History (2009) 328pp
  • Burke, Peter. The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School 1929-89, (1990), the major study in English excerpt and text search
  • Carrard, Philippe. "Figuring France: The Numbers and Tropes of Fernand Braudel," Diacritics, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 2–19 in JSTOR
  • Carrard, Philippe. Poetics of the New History: French Historical Discourse from Braudel to Chartier, (1992)
  • Clark, Stuart, ed. The Annales School: Critical Assessments (4 vol, 1999)
  • Dewald, Jonathan. Lost Worlds: The Emergence of French Social History, 1815–1970 (2006) 250pp excerpt and text search
  • Dosse, Francois. New History in France: The Triumph of the Annales, (1994, first French edition, 1987) excerpt and text search
  • Fink, Carole. Marc Bloch: A Life in History, (1989) excerpt and text search
  • Forster, Robert. "Achievements of the Annales School," The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 38, No. 1, (Mar., 1978), pp. 58–76 in JSTOR
  • Friedman, Susan W. Marc Bloch, Sociology and Geography: Encountering Changing Disciplines (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Hexter, J. H. "Fernand Braudel and the Monde Braudellien," Journal of Modern History, 1972, vol. 44, pp. 480–539 in JSTOR
  • Hufton, Olwen. "Fernand Braudel", Past and Present, No. 112. (Aug., 1986), pp. 208–213. in JSTOR
  • Hunt, Lynn. "French History in the Last Twenty Years: the Rise and Fall of the Annales Paradigm." Journal of Contemporary History 1986 21(2): 209-224. Issn: 0022-0094 Fulltext: in Jstor
  • Huppert, George. "Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch: The Creation of the Annales." The French Review Vol. 55, No. 4 (Mar., 1982), pp. 510–513 in JSTOR
  • Iggers, G.G. Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (1997), ch.5
  • Rubin, Miri. The Work of Jacques Le Goff and the Challenges of Medieval History (1997) 272 pages excerpts and text search
  • Moon, David. "Fernand Braudel and the Annales School" online edition
  • Roberts, Michael. "The Annales school and historical writing." in Peter Lambert and Phillipp Schofield, eds. Making History: An Introduction to the History and Practices of a Discipline. (2004), pp 78–92 online edition
  • Stirling, Katherine. "Rereading Marc Bloch: the Life and Works of a Visionary Modernist." History Compass 2007 5(2): 525-538. Issn: 1478-0542 Fulltext: History Compass
  • Stoianovich, Traian. French Historical Method: The Annales Paradigm, (1976)
  • Trevor-Roper, H. R. "Fernand Braudel, the Annales, and the Mediterranean," The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 1972), pp. 468–479 in JSTOR

Major books and essays from the school

  • Ariès, Philippe et al. eds, A History of Private Life (5 vols. 1987-94)
  • Bloch, Marc. Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924), translated as The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England (1990)
  • Bloch, Marc. Feudal Society: Vol 1: The Growth and Ties of Dependence (1989); Feudal Society: Vol 2: Social Classes and Political Organisation(1989) excerpt and text search
  • Bloch, Marc. French Rural History an Essay on Its Basic Characteristics (1972)
  • Braudel, Fernand. La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen à l'Epoque de Philippe II (1949) (translated as The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II excerpt and text search vol. 1)
  • Braudel, Fernand. Civilisation Matérielle, Economie et Capitalisme XVe-XVIIIe Siècle (3 vol. 1979) (translated as Capitalism and Material Life; excerpt and text search vol. 1; excerpt and text search vol 3)
  • Burguière, André, and Jacques Revel. Histoire de la France (1989), textbook
  • Chartier, Roger. Inscription and Erasure: Literature and Written Culture from the Eleventh to the Eighteenth Century (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Earle, P., ed. Essays in European Economic History, 1500-1800, (1974), translated articles from Annales
  • Ferro, Marc, ed. Social Historians in Contemporary France: Essays from "Annales", (1972)
  • Goubert, Pierre. The French Peasantry in the Seventeenth Century (1986) excerpt and text search
  • Goubert, Pierre. The Ancien Regime, 1600-1750 (1974)
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village, 1294-1324 (1978) excerpt and text search
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. The Peasants of Languedoc (1966; English translation 1974) search

Historiography from the school

  • Bloch, Marc. Méthodologie Historique (1988); originally conceived in 1906 but not published until 1988; revised in 1996
  • Bloch, Marc. Apologie pour l'histoire ou Métier d'historien (1949), translated as The Historian's Craft (1953) excerpt of 1992 introduction by Peter Burke, and text search
  • Braudel, Fernand. Ecrits sur l'histoire (1969), reprinted essays; translated as On History, (1980 excerpt and text search
  • Braudel, Fernand. "Histoire et Science Sociale: La Longue Durée" (1958) Annales E.S.C., 13:4 Oct.-Déc. 1958, 725-753
  • Braudel, Fernand. "Personal Testimony." Journal of Modern History 1972 44(4): 448-467. Issn: 0022-2801 Fulltext: Jstor
  • Burke, Peter, ed. A New Kind of History From the Writings of Lucien Febvre, (1973)
  • Duby, Georges. History Continues, (1991, translated 1994)
  • Febvre, Lucien. A New Kind of History: From the Writings of Lucien Febvre ed. by Peter Burke (1973) translated articles from Annales
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. The Mind and Method of the Historian (1981)
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. The Territory of the Historian (1979)
  • Le Goff, Jacques and Paul Archambault. "An Interview with Jacques Le Goff." Historical Reflections 1995 21(1): 155-185. Issn: 0315-7997
  • Le Goff, Jacques, History and Memory' (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Revel, Jacques, and Lynn Hunt, eds. Histories: French Constructions of the Past, (1995).
  • Revel, Jacques, ed. Political Uses of the Past: The Recent Mediterranean Experiences (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Vovelle, M. Ideologies and Mentalities (1990)

External links


  1. Since 1978, Revel has taught at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris), where he is directeur d’études (Full Professor); he served as President of the Ecole from 1995 to 2004.
  2. One of numerous spin-off journals was Histoire & mesure (1986- ), devoted to quantitative history.
  3. Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge," pp 59-61
  4. On the decline see Hunt (1986); for an obituary see Burke, French Historical Revolution 106-7
  5. See for recent issues
  6. See Lucien Febvre, La Terre et l'évolution humaine (1922), translated as A Geographical Introduction to History (London, 1932).
  7. Jason Hilkovitch & Max Fulkerson, "Paul Vidal de la Blache: A biographical sketch" at [1]
  8. Translated as The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England (1990)
  9. Olivia Harris, "Braudel: Historical Time and the Horror of Discontinuity." History Workshop Journal (2004) (57): 161-174. Issn: 1363-3554 Fulltext: OUP. Only Ariès was a true conservative--indeed a royalist.
  10. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, The Peasants of Languedoc, (1966, translated 1977) excerpt and text search
  11. Ernst Hinrichs, "Provinzen, Landschaften, Regionen in Der Modernen Französischen Geschichtswissenschaft - Ein Essay," Blätter Für Deutsche Landesgeschichte 1994 130: 1-12. Issn: 0006-4408 Fulltext: online edition
  12. Burke, French Historical Revolution (1990) ch 5.
  13. Anita Krystyna Shelton, The Democratic Idea in Polish History and Historiography (1989). Even the Marxist journal Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej, founded in 1953, had an Annales flavor.
  14. Nil Santiáñez-Tió, "Temporalidad Y Discurso Historico: Propuesta De Una Renovacion Metodologica De La Historia De La Literatura Española Moderna." [Temporality and Historical Discourse: Proposal of a Methodological Renewal of the History of Modern Spanish Literature]. Hispanic Review 1997 65(3): 267-290. Issn: 0018-2176 Fulltext: in Jstor
  15. Both the American and the Annales historians picked up important family reconstitution techniques from French demographer Louis Henry. Burke, French Historical Revolution (1990), pp 56, 96-100.