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Marc Bloch and the Historian’s Craft
By Alan Macfarlane
Published Online (2007)
Introduction: The French historian and co-founder of the Annales School of historiography, Marc Bloch (1886-1944) has been a source of inspiration ever since I first read and indexed his Feudal Society in 1971. One way to give some indication of my reaction to his work is to provide my thoughts in different decades to his work for, like Malthus, he meant something different to me in different phases of my work and my understanding of what he was saying has shifted considerably. In the 1970’s it was his Historian’s Craft, The Royal Touch and Feudal Society, which I read and enjoyed. In the 1980’s his French Rural History. In the 1990s I returned to Feudal Society and read Land and Work in Medieval Europe more fully.
In 1973 I read and indexed Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft, written in 1944 while Bloch was in a prisoner of war camp and before he was executed. For some years after that almost every talk or essay that I wrote used to start with ‘As Marc Bloch once said’. Bloch seemed to distil so much wisdom in this short book.
Bloch explained simply many things about the historian’s craft which I half-recognized but had been unable to articulate. He helped to give me confidence in my attempts to bring together history and anthropology and to pursue the gruelling work of detailed reconstruction of lost worlds. Here are a just a few of the many wise observations which I found most helpful.