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Marc Bloch
Born (1886-07-06)6 July 1886
Lyon, France
Died 16 June 1944(1944-06-16) (aged 57)
Occupation Historian

Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch (French: [maʁk blɔk]; 6 July 1886 – 16 June 1944) was a French historian who cofounded the highly influential Annales School 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. 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 during the German occupation of France for his work in the French Resistance.


Youth and First World War

Born in Lyon to a Jewish family, the son of the professor of ancient history Gustave Bloch, Marc studied at the École Normale Supérieure and Fondation 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.

After the war, he went to the university at Strasbourg, then in 1936 succeeded Henri Hauser as professor of economic history at the Sorbonne.


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 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 of Middle Ages but also on cultural anthropology.[citation needed]

Bloch's most important work centered on the study of feudalism. 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.[citation needed]


With colleague Lucien Febvre he founded the Annales School 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 through his unfinished manuscript The Historian's Craft, which he was working on at his death. Bloch's book is often considered one of the most important historiographical works of the 20th century.[citation needed]


Bloch was highly interdisciplinary, influenced by the geography of Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845–1918)[1] and the sociology of Émile Durkheim (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 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

In Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924)[2] 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, 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.[3]

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: 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]

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 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."[5]

His memoir of the first days of World War II, Strange Defeat, 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.[6]

Bloch joined the French Resistance 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 police in March 1944 and turned over to the Gestapo, 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.[7] Bloch spent his final days in prison writing his essay "The Historian's Craft," which was unfinished at the time of his execution.


  • Bloch's focus on the longue durée 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 became a constituent part of the University of Strasbourg on 1 January 2009.

References and Bibliography

  • 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
  • Hughes, H. Stuart. The Obstructed Path: French Social Thought in the Years of Desperation, 1930-1960 (1968)
  • Jambie, Joseph, ed. Architects and Craftsmen in History (1956)
  • 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 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 (London: Oxford University Press, 1949) Original French text; excerpt and text search


  1. Jason Hilkovitch & Max Fulkerson, "Paul Vidal de la Blache: A biographical sketch" at Vidal
  2. Translated as The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England (1990)
  3. Stirling (2007)
  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
  5. Bloch, The Strange Defeat
  6. 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
  7. Forward, by Bryce Lyon, of French Rural History, X.

External links

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