ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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History Written in Its Entirety

Revisiting Marc Bloch’s Feudal Society

The Annales historical tradition has had little impact on Indian historiography despite being a major influence on the way the discipline of history is understood as well as practised in most parts of the world. This article engages with one of the foundational texts of Annales historiography on the occasion of its republication in India and suggests, through examples, a different method of doing history.

This article is substantively based on the introduction written for the new edition of Feudal Society being published by Routledge in India.

The brutal killing of Marc Bloch by the Gestapo and its French collaborators on 16 June 1944 in an open field for his active participation in resistance against the Nazi occupation of France is not his only entitlement to enormous respect within the world’s academia. In some measure it is even more due to the radical transformation his work effected in the study of societies, past and present. His Feudal Society, published between 1939 and 1940 in French and in 1961 in English, takes us far beyond the study of medieval Europe; it reformulates the mode of studying history and society. To begin with, it breaks the temporal barriers by looking at history as a continuous process from the past to the present and disciplinary barriers among social sciences by borrowing freely from them. It redefines change as imperceptible in its daily occurrence but “revolutionary” in long durèe perspectives, contrary to the construction of revolution as a single massive upheaval. It implicitly substitutes for the positivist/Marxist permanent causal hierarchy a moving conjuncture with shifting priorities relevant to each situation. And it enormously enlarges the space for the study of history and society by looking at them in their entirety, even as it avoids totalising explanations. The vast expansion of the historians’ database, way beyond archival records, came as a necessary corollary.

Much has changed since the book was published, as Bloch had expected and indeed invited. Yet, some of the innovative methods, implicit rather than explicated, retain their value.

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