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In Marc Bloch?s The Historian?s Craft, readers are exposed to the groundbreaking historiographical principles of the Annales School of historical methodology. Deeply concerned with the usage of history, Bloch pleads for the creation of utilitarian history that can be used by members of society. In his opinion, history is designed to help people live better and understand current events that are so intimately connected to the past.
Writing in the early twentieth century, Bloch was aware of the development of new histories that did not focus solely upon political and religious people or events. The author welcomed these histories as part of a growing trend toward a histoire totale. However, universal history is not easily attained without the proper research methods and tools. Researchers must carefully use the proper tools to establish their own paths through the historical record. Although each person has a different focus, the common research practices Bloch describes must be utilized to produce proper history.
The Annalistes, like Bloch, were particularly interested in the use of unconventional sources and abuse of conventional ones. Many past historians have depended solely upon traditional resources such as eyewitness testimonies and narratives to write their books, but other valuable sources exist. Bloch suggests that historians think outside the box and look for unconventional sources that are equally informative. Archaeological and anthropological artifacts can be just as useful if not more so than manuscripts or memoirs. Also, researchers can discover unintentional histories from conventional sources if they reassess the questions that are being asked. It is in this way, Bloch surmised, that historians can ?overhear what was never intended to be said.?
When examining sources, scholars must develop careful questions to be answered in order to achieve a greater understanding of the material that is available. The validity of a source must be questioned, and if found flawed or fraudulent then historians must find what influenced the creation of such a forgery. Likewise, in their analysis, historians must be careful not to infect their narratives with too much opinion and not enough scholarship. By using the methods described by the author, historians can attain greater understanding of the sources available and the history of their subject.
Most troubling for Marc Bloch was the historian?s fetish for periodization and lack of consideration for language. By arbitrarily dividing the historical record, historians may miss important shifts in the mentalities of people between periods. Bloch viewed time as a continuum that should not be fragmented because social events taken out of context lose all relativity and should not be addressed abstractly. Similarly, authors must not be anachronistic and transpose contemporary culture or ideas upon the past. Certainly, Bloch realized personal biases and individuality is unavoidable when writing history, but blatant agendas disregarding historical evidence are noticeable and inexcusable. Bearing the onus of describing past events and ideas, historians must carefully use terminology to provide readers with clear understandings of their subjects. Producing such work is not easy and Bloch?s book is a tool to aide historians during their quest.
Although left unfinished, Marc Bloch?s book greatly changed the way historians have treated sources in their monographs, and the movement he founded continues to inspire new histories in the present. Historians continue to work toward the goal of a histoire totale and seek to answer Bloch?s question regarding the use of history while living in a modern world that is future-forward and often past-ignorant.
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