- Marc Bloch: His Life and Legacy
In an era of expanding sales, niche markets, and chronic overproduction, academic history is characterized by hyper-specialization. So many books are published that nobody can reasonably expect to be familiar with all their titles, much less their contents. (On this, see the recent rant by Lindsay Waters, Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship– Waters, senior editor for the humanities at Harvard University Press, is not obviously in a position to benefit personally from the publication of fewer books.) So many specialist journals are launched that even researchers working in comparatively new fields, such as culinary history, can barely know all the most relevant ones ( Food and Foodways, Food and History, Gastronomica, Petits Propos Culinaires, etc.).
What a joy it was, then, to attend the day-long colloquium on Marc Bloch: His Life and Legacyheld at Queen Mary (University of London) on 16 June 2004 (the sixtieth anniversary, to the day, of Bloch's execution by the Nazis). Surely this is one of the few recent events to have been organized jointly by a historian of medieval religion (Miri Rubin) and one of twentieth-century French politics (Julian Jackson)! Drawing audience members and participants from Britain, North America, Germany, and France, the day testified to Bloch's international, as well as his cross-period, reputation. Whether as a scholar of medieval society, as the co-founder of Annales, or as the author of Strange Defeatand The Historian's Craft, Bloch remains known to an exceptionally wide swathe of historians.
The papers presented ranged from analyses of particular texts, to accounts of Bloch's correspondence with R. H. Tawney and musings on his language and the 'Blochian touch'. As these papers are all due to be published, too detailed a summary is inappropriate, but perhaps some of the highlights can be touched upon. The first two speakers – Jackson, and Jacques Revel, from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris – situated particular aspects of Bloch's work within broader thematic contexts. Jackson focused on Strange Defeat, in order carefully to disentangle Bloch's critique of late Third-Republic France from the blanket charges of 'decadence' so popular among rightwing politicians and Vichy officials. Revel, speaking on 'History and the Social Sciences' in the founding of the Annales, compared the disciplinary context and conflicts of the 1930s with those of the turn of the century and the 1960s. These talks set up two important themes for the remainder of the day: Bloch, the historian, as a methodological innovator, and Bloch, the witness, as a commentator on times of war and death. As later papers made clear, it is the braiding together – as well as the unravelling – of these two strands into a life that makes for much of the fascination still exerted by Bloch's work and person. [End Page 284]
After an excellent (and free!) lunch, the afternoon speakers developed these themes in a number of ways. Those that concentrated on Bloch as a historian stressed, as did Revel, that all his wide reading in other disciplines (anthropology, sociology, geography) never left Bloch pontificating about abstract 'theory' – if these various tools and approaches were to be combined, it would only be through reference to specific facts and use of particular examples. Peter Schöttler's detailed paper, 'The Language of Marc Bloch', was as much about Bloch's comparative method (as opposed to Max Weber's or Otto Hintze's) as it was about his laconic style and unexpected imagery. Stuart Clark talked about the publication history and reception of Bloch's Apologie pour l'histoire– published in English in 1954 as The Historian's Craft, this was the first of his books to be translated into English and remains one of the most widely read. Jacques Beauroy, too, situated Bloch within European intellectual life of the 1930s, noting his visits to the London School of Economics and growing fascination with industrial growth in the United States. From all of these papers, one gained the sense that if so many historians remain...