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Marc Bloch

Marc Bloch

Overview
Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch (6 July 1886 in Lyon
Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

 – 16 June 1944 in Saint-Didier-de-Formans
Saint-Didier-de-Formans
Saint-Didier-de-Formans is a commune in the Ain department in eastern France.-Population:-Personalities:The historian Marc Bloch was executed by the Gestapo here.-References:*...

) was a French historian who cofounded the highly influential Annales School
Annales School
The Annales School is a group of historians associated with a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century. It is named after its scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, which remains the main source of scholarship, along with many books and...

 of French social history. Bloch was a quintessential modernist. An assimilated Alsatian Jew from an academic family in Paris, he was deeply affected in his youth by the Dreyfus Affair
Dreyfus Affair
The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent...

. He studied at the elite École Normale Supérieure; in 1908-9 he studied at Berlin and Leipzig.
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Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch (6 July 1886 in Lyon
Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

 – 16 June 1944 in Saint-Didier-de-Formans
Saint-Didier-de-Formans
Saint-Didier-de-Formans is a commune in the Ain department in eastern France.-Population:-Personalities:The historian Marc Bloch was executed by the Gestapo here.-References:*...

) was a French historian who cofounded the highly influential Annales School
Annales School
The Annales School is a group of historians associated with a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century. It is named after its scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, which remains the main source of scholarship, along with many books and...

 of French social history. Bloch was a quintessential modernist. An assimilated Alsatian Jew from an academic family in Paris, he was deeply affected in his youth by the Dreyfus Affair
Dreyfus Affair
The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent...

. He studied at the elite École Normale Supérieure; in 1908-9 he studied at Berlin and Leipzig. He fought in the trenches of the Western Front for four years. In 1919 he became Lecturer in Medieval history at Strasbourg University, after the German professors were all expelled; he was called to the Sorbonne in Paris in 1936 as professor of economic history. He is best known for his pioneering studies French Rural History and Feudal Society and his posthumously-published unfinished meditation on the writing of history, The Historian's Craft. He was captured and shot by the Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

 during the German occupation of France for his work in the French Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

.

Youth and First World War


Born in Lyon
Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

 to a Jewish family, the son of the professor of ancient history Gustave Bloch
Gustave Bloch
Gustave Bloch was a French Jewish historian of ancient history who was born in Fegersheim, a commune in the department of Bas-Rhin...

, Marc studied at the École Normale Supérieure
École Normale Supérieure
The École normale supérieure is one of the most prestigious French grandes écoles...

 and Foundation Thiers in Paris, then at Berlin and Leipzig. He was an officer of infantry in World War I, rising to the rank of captain and being awarded the Légion d'honneur
Légion d'honneur
The Legion of Honour, or in full the National Order of the Legion of Honour is a French order established by Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of the Consulat which succeeded to the First Republic, on 19 May 1802...

.

After the war, he went to the university at Strasbourg
Strasbourg
Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département. The city and the region of Alsace are historically German-speaking,...

, then in 1936 succeeded Henri Hauser
Henri Hauser
Henri Hauser [ozer] , Algerian-born French economist, historian, geographer.He was a professor of ancient and medieval history at the University of Clermont-Ferrand , and modern history and geography at Dijon University , history at Sorbonne University , economic history at the University of Paris...

 as professor of economic history
Economic history
Economic history is the study of economies or economic phenomena in the past. Analysis in economic history is undertaken using a combination of historical methods, statistical methods and by applying economic theory to historical situations and institutions...

 at the Sorbonne
University of Paris
The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid 12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1250...

.

Career


In 1924 he published one of his most famous works Les rois thaumaturges: étude sur le caractère surnaturel attribué à la puissance royale particulièrement en France et en Angleterre (translated in English as The magic-working kings or The royal touch: sacred monarchy and scrofula in England and France) in which he collected, described and studied the documents pertaining to the ancient tradition that the kings of the Middle Ages were able to cure the disease of scrofula
Scrofula
Tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis refers to a lymphadenitis of the cervical lymph nodes associated with tuberculosis. It was previously known as "scrofula".-The disease:...

 simply by touching people suffering from it. This tradition has its roots in the magical role of kings in ancient societies. This work by Bloch had a great impact not only on the social history
Social history
Social history, often called the new social history, is a branch of History that includes history of ordinary people and their strategies of coping with life. In its "golden age" it was a major growth field in the 1960s and 1970s among scholars, and still is well represented in history departments...

 of Middle Ages but also on cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

.

Bloch's most important work centered on the study of feudalism
Feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

. He published a large work, available in a two-volume English translation as Feudal Society. In some ways, his most innovative work is his monograph French Rural History.

Annales


With colleague Lucien Febvre
Lucien Febvre
Lucien Febvre was a French historian best known for the role he played in establishing the Annales School of history. He has designed the Encyclopédie française together with Anatole de Monzie.-Biography:...

 he founded the Annales School
Annales School
The Annales School is a group of historians associated with a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century. It is named after its scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, which remains the main source of scholarship, along with many books and...

 in 1929, by starting the new scholarly journal, 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 mentalities.

Bloch has had lasting influence in the field of historiography
Historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

 through his unfinished manuscript The Historian's Craft, which he was working on at his death. Bloch's book and What is History?
What is History?
What Is History? is a 1961 non-fiction book by historian Edward Hallett Carr on historiography. It discusses history, facts, the bias of historians, science, morality, individuals and society, and moral judgements in history....

 by Edward Carr are often considered two of the most important historiographical works of the 20th century.

Historiography


Bloch was highly interdisciplinary, influenced by the geography of Paul Vidal de la Blache
Paul Vidal de la Blache
Paul Vidal de la Blache was a French geographer. He is considered to be the founder of the modern French geography and also the founder of the French School of Geopolitics...

 (1845–1918) and the sociology of Émile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

 (1858–1917). In Méthodologie Historique (written in 1906 but not published until 1988), Bloch rejected the histoire événementielle (event history) of his mentors Charles-Victor Langlois
Charles-Victor Langlois
Charles-Victor Langlois was a French historian and paleographer, who specialized in the study of the Middle Ages and taught at the Sorbonne....

 and Charles Seignobos to argue for greater analysis of the role of structural and social phenomena in determining the outcome of historical events. Bloch was trying to reinvent history as a social science, but he departed significantly from Durkheim in his refusal to exclude psychology from history; Bloch maintained that the individual actor should be considered along with social forces. Bloch's methodology was also greatly influenced by his father, Gustave Bloch, a historian of the ancient world, and by 19th-century scholars such as Gabriel Monod
Gabriel Monod
Gabriel Monod was a French historian, the nephew of Adolphe Monod.-Biography:Born in Ingouville, Seine-Maritime, he was educated at Le Havre then went to Paris to complete his education, lodging with the de Pressensé family...

, Ernest Renan
Ernest Renan
Ernest Renan was a French expert of Middle East ancient languages and civilizations, philosopher and writer, devoted to his native province of Brittany...

, and Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges
Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges
Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges was a French historian.Born in Paris, of Breton descent, after studying at the École Normale Supérieure he was sent to the French School at Athens in 1853, he directed some excavations in Chios, and wrote an historical account of the island.After his return he filled...

.

Bloch vigorously supported the idea of international scholarly cooperation and tried unsuccessfully to set up an international journal with American support. Bloch wrote some 500 reviews of German books and articles, While promoting the importance of German historiography and admiring its scholarly rigor, he repeatedly criticized its nationalism
Nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

 and methodological limitations.

Miracles and mentalities


In Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924) Bloch looked at the long-standing folk belief that the king could cure scrofula by touch. The kings of France and England indeed regularly practised 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 studies spanning a thousand years (with specific events used as illustrations). By investigating the impact of rituals, the efficacy of myths, and all the possible sources of collective behavior
Collective behavior
The expression collective behaviour was first used by Robert E. Park, and employed definitively by Herbert Blumer, to refer to social processes and events which do not reflect existing social structure , but which emerge in a "spontaneous" way.Collective behavior might also be defined as action...

, he became the "father of historical anthropology." Bloch's revolutionary charting of mentalities resonated with scholars who were reading Freud and Proust. Stirling (2007) examines this essentially stylistic trait alongside Bloch's peculiarly quixotic idealism, which tempered and sometimes compromised his work through his hope for a truly cooperative model of historical inquiry. While humanizing and questioning him, Stirling gives credit to Bloch for helping to break through the monotonous methodological alternance between positivism
Positivism
Positivism is a a view of scientific methods and a philosophical approach, theory, or system based on the view that, in the social as well as natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical and mathematical treatment are together the exclusive source of all worthwhile information....

 and narrative history
Narrative history
Narrative history is the practice of writing history in a story-based form. It can be divided into two subgenres: the traditional narrative and the modern narrative....

, creating a new, synthetic version of the historical practice that has since become so ingrained in the discipline that it is typically overlooked.

Rural history


Bloch's own ideas on rural history were best expressed in his masterworks, French Rural History (Les caractères originaux de l'histoire rurale française, 1931) and Feudal Society (1939).

In L'Individualisme Agraire du XVIIIe Siècle (1978), Bloch characterized the agrarian reforms of 18th-century France as a "failed revolution," citing the persistence of regional traditions as evidence for their failure. A typical example of the Annales School's "total history," Bloch's argument weaves the connections between politics, culture, and economics against a backdrop of class conflict to illustrate how "the conscious actions of men have overcome the rhythms of the materialist causality of history." He argued that the anti-feudal sentiment of French peasants expressed in the 1789 cahier de doléances (list of grievances) was linked to the "seigneurial reaction" of the late 18th century in which lords significantly increased feudal dues. Bloch argued that it was this intensified exploitation that provoked peasant revolt, leading to the Revolution.

History of technology


The November 1935 issue of the Annales contains Febvre's introduction that defines three essential approaches to a history of technology
History of technology
The history of technology is the history of the invention of tools and techniques, and is similar in many ways to the history of humanity. Background knowledge has enabled people to create new things, and conversely, many scientific endeavors have become possible through technologies which assist...

: to investigate technology, to understand the progress of technology, and to understand the relationship of technology to other human activities. Bloch's article, "The Advent and Triumph of the Watermill in Medieval Europe," incorporates these approaches by investigating the connections between technology and broader social issues.

Second World War


In 1939 France declared war on Germany after its invasion and occupation of Poland. As France mobilized its troops, Marc Bloch left his position at the Sorbonne and took up his reserve status as a captain in the French Army
French Army
The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre , is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces.As of 2010, the army employs 123,100 regulars, 18,350 part-time reservists and 7,700 Legionnaires. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in...

 at the age of 52. He was encouraged at the time by colleagues both in France and abroad to leave the country. He said it was his personal obligation to stand for the moral imperative.
"I was born in France, I have drunk the waters of her culture. I have made her past my own. I breathe freely only in her climate, and I have done my best, with others, to defend her interests."


His memoir of the first days of World War II, Strange Defeat
Strange Defeat
L'Etrange defaite is a book written in the summer of 1940 by French historian Marc Bloch. The book was published in 1946; in the meanwhile, Bloch had been tortured and shot to death by the Gestapo in June 1944, for participating in the French resistance.The book focuses on the causes of the French...

, written in 1940 but not published until 1946, blamed the French military establishment, along with her social and political culture, for the sudden total military defeat and helped after the war to neutralize the traumatic memory of France's failure and to build a new French identity.

Bloch joined the French Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

 in late 1942, driven by ardent patriotism, identification with his Jewish roots and a conception of France as the champion of liberty. His code name was "Narbonne". He was eventually captured by Vichy
Vichy France
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...

 police and turned over to the Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

, which tortured and shot him in June 1944, just as the Nazis realized that the Allies were about to reconquer France; Bloch became a national martyr after the Allied liberation.

Legacy

  • Bloch's focus on the longue durée
    Longue durée
    The longue durée , is an expression used by the French Annales School of historical writing to designate their approach to the study of history, which gives priority to long-term historical structures over events— what François Simiand called histoire événementielle, "eventual history"— the short...

     and his emphasis upon structures underlying events led to misguided accusations of a denial of human agency and a marginalization of political history. In Strange Defeat he clearly states his view that individuals can change events and he castigates the French government's refusal to trust its own officers in the field of battle, thus leading to the surrender of France to the Nazis.

  • In 1998 the University of Social Sciences in Strasbourg was renamed in honour of Bloch. Marc Bloch University
    Marc Bloch University
    The Université Marc Bloch, also known as Strasbourg II or UMB was a university in Strasbourg, Alsace, France. As of 2006, it had around 13,000 students. Its name used to be Université des Sciences Humaines , but it was renamed in 1998 in honour of the French historian Marc Bloch...

     became a constituent part of the University of Strasbourg
    University of Strasbourg
    The University of Strasbourg in Strasbourg, Alsace, France, is the largest university in France, with about 43,000 students and over 4,000 researchers....

     on 1 January 2009.

Primary sources

  • Bloch, Marc. Méthodologie Historique (1988); originally conceived in 1906 but not published until 1988; revised in 1996
  • Bloch, Marc. Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924), translated as The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England (1990), his doctoral dissertation
  • Bloch, Marc. La Vie d'Outre-tombe du Roi Salomon (1925)
  • Bloch, Marc. Feudal Society: Vol 1: The Growth of Ties of Dependence (1989); Feudal Society: Vol 2: Social Classes and Political Organisation(1989) excerpt and text search
  • Bloch, Marc. French Rural History, tr. Janet Sondheimer (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966). Translation of Les caractères originaux de l'histoire rurale française, 1931. ISBN 0-520-01660-2
  • 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; Original French text
  • Bloch, Marc. Memoirs of War, 1914-1915 Cornell U. Press, 1980. 177 pp.
  • Bloch, Marc. Strange Defeat; a Statement of Evidence Written in 1940
    Strange Defeat
    L'Etrange defaite is a book written in the summer of 1940 by French historian Marc Bloch. The book was published in 1946; in the meanwhile, Bloch had been tortured and shot to death by the Gestapo in June 1944, for participating in the French resistance.The book focuses on the causes of the French...

     (London: Oxford University Press, 1949) Original French text; excerpt and text search

External links