Marc Bloch

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Marc Bloch (1886-1944), French historian, was the cofounder of the Annales School of French social history, and a quintessential modernist. An assimilated Alsatian Jew from an academic family in Paris, he was deeply affected in his youth by the Dreyfus Affair. 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.

World War II

His memoir of the first days of the World War II, Strange Defeat, written in 1940 but not published until 1946, blamed French social and political culture for the defeat and helped after the war to neutralize the traumatic memory of France's defeat and by helping to build a new French identity.[1]

Bloch joined the French Resistance in late 1942, driven by ardent patriotism, identification with his Jewish roots and a conception of France as champion of liberty. His code name was "Narbonne" but he was captured by Vichy police and turned over the Gestapo, which tortured and shot him in June 1944 as the Nazis realized that the Allies were about to reconquer France; Bloch became a national martyr.


With colleague Lucien Febvre he founded the Annales School in 1929, by founding 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 was highly interdisciplinary, influenced by the geography of Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845-1918)[2] and the sociology of Émile Durkheim (1858-1917). In Méthodologie Historique (written in 1906 but not published until 1988), Bloch rejected the histoire événementielle of his mentors Charles-Victor Langlois 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, Ernest Renan, and Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges.

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 and methodological limitations.

Miracles and mentalities

Bloch, Marc. Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924)[3] 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 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, 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 and narrative history, 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 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: 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.[4]


  • Burke, Peter. The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School 1929-89, (1990), the major study in English excerpt and text search
  • Chirot, D., "The Social and Historical Landscape of Marc Bloch", in Theda Skocpol (ed.), Vision and Method in Historical Sociology (1984), pp. 22-46
  • Epstein, S.R. "Marc Bloch: The Identity of a Historian," Journal of Medieval History 19 (1993), 273-83
  • Fink, Carole. Marc Bloch: A Life in History, (1989) excerpt and text search
  • Friedman, Susan W. Marc Bloch, Sociology and Geography: Encountering Changing Disciplines (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Lyon, B. "Marc Bloch, Historian," French Historical Studies 15 (1987), 195-207 in JSTOR
  • Modestin, Georg. "Royal Therapy as a Collective Error," H-Ideas (November, 2000), a retrospective review of The Royal Touch; online edition
  • Morpeth, Neil. "Marc Bloch, Strange Defeat, the Historian's Craft and World War II: Writing and Teaching Contemporary History." European Legacy 2005 10(3): 179-195. Issn: 1084-8770 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • 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

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 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)
  • 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* Bloch, Marc. Memoirs of War, 1914-1915 Cornell U. Press, 1980. 177 pp.
  • Bloch, Marc. The Strange Defeat (1946), written between July and September of 1940 excerpt and text search


  1. Donald Reid, "Narratives of Resistance in Marc Bloch's L'etrange Defaite." Modern and Contemporary France 2003 11(4): 443-452. Issn: 0963-9489 Fulltext: Ebsco
  2. Jason Hilkovitch & Max Fulkerson, "Paul Vidal de la Blache: A biographical sketch" at [1]
  3. Translated as The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England (1990)
  4. Pamela O. Long, "The Annales and the History of Technology: Annales D'histoire Economique et Sociale 7 (November 1935), Les Techniques, L'histoire et La Vie." Technology and Culture 2005 46(1): 177-186. Issn: 0040-165x Fulltext: Project Muse