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  • The Annales School: An Intellectual History
  • Toby Burrows
Burguière, André, The Annales School: An Intellectual History, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2009; pp. xiv, 309; hardback; R.R.P. US$45.00; ISBN 9780801446658 (review copy supplied by Footprint Books).

By any measure, the Annales school has had an enormous influence on the historical profession. The journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, founded in the late 1920s, developed into a major historical movement in the 1930s under the direction of Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre. After the War, historians associated with the journal (now renamed Annales: Économies, sociétés, civilisations) came to dominate the writing of history in France, as well as dominating teaching in French universities and institutes. In English translation, their work also proved remarkably influential, even reaching the best-seller lists in the case of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. From the beginning, their main focus has been on medieval and Early Modern history, primarily – but not exclusively – that of France.

Over the last eighty years, the Annales school has encompassed a wide range of perspectives, methods and approaches. Numerous books and articles have already been written about it, including a considerable number in English (notably by Peter Burke). But this new book by André Burguière is something different. Burguière is very much an Annales insider. He was the journal's secretaire de redaction for twelve years from 1969 and has been a member of its editorial board since 1981. A distinguished historian in his own right, specializing in the demography of the ancien régime, he is an Emeritus Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.

Burguière is at pains to point out that this book differs from other studies of the Annales school. It is not a history of events, nor a historical sociology. Nor is it a reflection on the nature of historical knowledge, based on the ideas of the Annales historians. Instead, he describes it as 'an attempt to analyse and understand an intellectual trajectory' (p. 9). He sees that trajectory as extending from the 'history of mentalities in the 1930s to the anthropological turn of the 1970s and 1980s' (p. 5). He rejects as 'somewhat ridiculous' the idea of 'generations' of Annales historians (widely used in other histories of the school), preferring to focus on a series of 'moments' during which different aspects of the Annales programme were emphasized. As a result, his approach is selective in its choice of historians and topics, rather than comprehensive.

The first half of the book is devoted to Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre: their influences and antecedents, their agreements and disagreements, and [End Page 195] their legacy. Burguière sees their work as being drawn together by the central theme of the 'notion of mentalities', to which they had differing approaches and which they understood rather differently. He emphasizes their disputes and the 'combative climate' in which they worked, in contrast to the 'irenic image of their relationship' promulgated by Febvre after Bloch's death. He sees in this an important feature of the Annales school: an openness and lack of dogmatism that helped it to survive and change over subsequent decades.

For Burguière, the 1950s and 1960s were dominated by the quantitative approach of Ernest Labrousse and his disciples, applying the techniques of serial analysis to economic and social history. He regards Fernand Braudel as a more marginal figure; despite his prestigious position and powerful originality, Braudel failed to found a school and attract disciples as Labrousse did. On the other hand, Braudel did help to inspire those who wanted to move away from Labrousse – notably Le Roy Ladurie, who was so influential in the 'anthropological turn' of the Annales school in the 1970s and 1980s. Burguière's analysis of Braudel's work and influence, though relatively short, is subtle and interesting, and credits him with originating the 'paradoxical proximity' of microhistory and global history.

The final part of the book ('Questions') examines a series of developments in the 1970s and 1980s, beginning with the historical anthropology of Philippe Ariès, Michel Vovelle, François Lebrun and Alain Croix. Their studies of attitudes...


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