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Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed.

, Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

The New History: the Annales School of History and Modern Historiography

Peter R. Campbell

Through the nineteenth century the great majority of historians spent their time writing books on
the history of governments, wars, treaties, the rise of nation states, the development of political
institutions and the history of law. There were, for example, few historical studies of the peasants,
and almost no serious analyses of the economy. History was about narrative; it told a story, based
on documents. It was about ‘facts’, and the German historian Ranke was the model. Many
documents were published by learned societies, but they were all chosen for publication by men
with largely the same preoccupations, the same idea of History.

Into this came the influence of two new historical approaches: Marxism, and Sociology.
Marxist history of course was completely different, because the aim of Marx was to show how the
economy was, in the final analysis, the most important factor. Within the economic structures, class
struggle was generated. This emphasis on the role of economic factors had a very stimulating affect
on historians in the long run. Nowadays all historians in the West, whether or not they agree with
the other aims of Marx, recognize the importance of economic factors which condition and limit
men in their individual actions. At the beginning of the twentieth century Sociology was the other
major influence. Durkheim and Max Weber developed theories about the study of contemporary
society which put the emphasis on a new range of factors in human development. They pointed to
the importance of social structures, of the family, of hierarchical or patrimonial conceptions, on the
actions of men and women. They felt that they had discovered a science of society, and they
thought that theirs was a better sort of analysis than was Marxism.

All this had a deep influence on some intellectuals at the beginning of this century. Not all,
only some. Most continued to do the traditional forms of history from the nineteenth century. Of
the several who chose to be influenced by what was new, three Frenchmen in particular concern us.
All of them were inspired like missionaries to change the definition of History. The implication of
both Marxism and of Sociology was in both cases that analysis was just as important as the story.
So a political narrative had to be set in the context of the economy and of the structures of society.
This was a move away from History as a narrative towards History as a problem to solve. It
became complex on a different level. They set in train the development of a school of historians
whose work has profoundly altered the way historical studies are approached all over the world.
They have contributed to a new framework of explanation, a different sense of historical time, the
investigation of new subject matter studied with new methods - like popular mentalities, festivity,

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

attitudes towards death, the family, childhood, magic and superstition. From these beginnings new
approaches have become standard, like quantitative analysis of data, the history of mentalities, the
idea of ‘total history’, and from the 1980s a new kind of ‘cultural history’, still in the process of
finding its definition. Throughout, the key word of this diverse school has been interdisciplinarity, a
concept particularly dear to Sussex University.

The forerunner was Henri BERR (1863-1954) who founded a periodical in 1900 to bring
together all branches of knowledge in a synthesis. He had a plan to commission 100 volumes in a
collection called ‘The Evolution of Humanity’, which would use all the methods and subject matter
of all the social sciences like geography, economics, sociology, history, to explain human society. He
greatly influenced two younger men, Lucien Febvre (1878-1956) and Marc Bloch (1886-1944).

Both were against History as it was then practiced in most universities. Controversy was a
characteristic, a hallmark of their work. In 1929 the last two, both professors at the University of
Strasbourg, founded an historical periodical. This learned journal was called Annales d’histoire
économique et sociale (Annals of economic and social history). This journal was, especially from the
1950s, to become the largest and the most influential historical journal in the world. This is an
extraordinary achievement. Why did it happen at all, and why based in France? In fact, the
rethinking of History was also beginning in America, but perhaps French culture was more suitable
for the development of ideas than was the American or British. The latter are cultures that value
pragmatism more than they value theories. Part of its extraordinary success in France is to be
explained by the fact that by the 1950s the new historians had captured elite places in the
centralized education system and were able to train students to continue their ideas and campaign
for their historical beliefs from positions of power. With their missionary zeal and conviction that
their approach constituted the most stimulating analysis of the past, they were very adept at writing
about and publicizing their cause. But these are minor explanations. The most important answer
lies in their doctrine, in what they were saying, doing and advocating. They have written some of
the finest, most subtle, most stimulating history books in the twentieth century. This was recognized
not just in retrospect but also at the time of publication, in some cases in the 1930s, and the spirit of
innovation still continues to the present day. Every historian today (and a much wider public) is
familiar with the names and works of Bloch, Febvre, Fernand Braudel, Emanuel Le Roy Ladurie,
Georges Duby, Jacques Le Goff, Roger Chartier, amongst the French, and Natalie Zemon Davis
and Robert Darnton from America. For historians reading the articles in the Annales in the 1930s,
there was an excitement in them, a sense of discovery and intellectual adventure so often lacking in
the drier studies of the history of the ‘old school'. It was as if whole new perspectives were suddenly
opening up before the scholar. And this approach was to bring about, in the long run, a most
profound and permanent affect on Western historical studies. First, in studies of the medieval

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

period; and soon after in the early modern period. It is to be regretted that historians studying the
twentieth century have generally been much slower to take up these ideas.

What then do Annales historians think History as a discipline should be? Of course, the
answer to the question is very different from the one given and practiced by the nineteenth-century
historians, including at that stage the Marxists. For Marc Bloch, History is the study of man, but it
should not have too precise a definition because definitions can be very limiting. Bloch wrote one of
the best books on history, entitled The Historian's Craft. It was published after he had been shot by
the Germans for being in the resistance during the Second World War. Allow me to quote to you
from Lucien Febvre's review of this book. We should note in passing that it was written in 1949
when memories of the Second World War were still very strong, and France had been occupied.

Is Marc Bloch going to make a lengthy, rigid definition of history at the start of his book?
There are indeed plenty of precedents for that. What historian is there who has not at least
once in his life fallen a prey to the disease? Marc Bloch resists. He does not define history.
Because any definition is a prison. And because the human sciences, like men themselves,
need freedom above all else. A definition of history? Which history? I mean at what date
and in what framework of civilisation? Does history not vary, all the time, in its restless
search for new techniques, new points of view, problems needing to be put more aptly?
Definitions - do not the most precise definitions, the most carefully thought out and most
meticulously phrased definitions run the risk of constantly leaving aside the best part of
history... Definitions - are they not a kind of bullying? ‘Careful, old chap, you are stepping
outside of history. Re-read my definition, it is very clear! If you are a historian, don't set
foot in here, this is the field of the sociologist. Or there - that is the psychologist's business.
To the right? Don't dare go there, that is the geographer's area... and to the left. the
ethnologist's domain.’ It is a nightmare, madness, wilful mutilation! Down with all barriers
and labels. To the frontiers, astride the frontiers, with one foot on each side, that is where
the historian has to work. (P. Burke, ed., A New Kind of History, p. 31)

Let us not define History, then, let us create a science of man! To do so, a new journal had been set
up, the Annales, whose introductory address reads as follows:

While historians apply their good old hallowed methods to the documents of the past, more
and more people are devoting their activity to the study of contemporary societies and
economies... among the historians themselves, as among the students of contemporary
problems, there are plenty of other lines of demarcation: ancient historians, medievalists
and modernists; scholars devoted to the description of societies termed ‘civilised’... or, on

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

the contrary, drawn to those which, for lack of better terms, can be called ‘primitive’ or
exotic. Nothing would be better, we absolutely agree, than for each person, concentrating
on a legitimate specialisation and laboriously cultivating his own back yard, nonetheless to
force himself to follow and know of his neighbours' work. But the walls dividing the
specialisations are so high that, very often, it is impossible to see the view... It is against
these high walls that we intend to raise our battle standards. Not by means of articles on
method or theoretical dissertations, but by example and accomplishment. Brought together
here in the pages of this Journal, scholars of different disciplines and different specialities,
all motivated by the same spirit of exact objectivity, will present the results of their
researches in subjects which they have chosen and in which they are expert... Our
enterprise is an act of faith in the exemplary virtue of honest labour, supported by solid and
conscientious research." (Annales, 1929, p.11, cited in Marwick, The Nature of History)

The intention was thus to bring together between the covers of a single journal excellent
work from different areas and perspectives, with the aim of encouraging dialogue and breaking
down the barriers between the different types of history and the other social sciences which also
studied the past. It is significant that both Febvre and Bloch had written their first books in the field
of what we would now call historical geography. Both had written about the characteristics of
regions of France in the past, Febvre on Franche-Comté and Bloch on the Ile de France.

A wider perspective that should result from the dialogue. But how would it work? Marc
Bloch showed us in his books and articles on medieval civilization, and in his many reviews of
books in the first ten volumes of the Annales. His reviews and those by Febvre are a delight to read
because both men have such original and inquiring minds. Although Bloch advocated a broad
approach to history, he did not mean to abandon completely the old topics. He only wanted to
write them and investigate them in a new way. For example, in 1934, when reviewing a traditional
history of the state that was really just a history of its institutions, he wrote:

I find it difficult to believe that it should be perfectly legitimate to describe a state without
having attempted first to analyse the society on which it rests.

A good history of the state should now be one of society, of urban development, of trade
patterns, of communications, of political thought, of cartography, of kingship, all blended into a
unified whole. This is a difficult task perhaps, but it is not an impossible one! The implication of this
is that different approaches interconnect and all have a valid perspective to add to a satisfactory
answer. Events and developments have many causes - Bloch speaks of ‘causal wavetrains’: the
causes of events are like waves in the sea coming from far away, or far back in time, and they were

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

themselves set in motion by different winds of change -- and a single perspective will not always be
correct. There is no suggestion that historical change will always be the result, in the final analysis
(as in Marxism), of a single factor. Causation is complex.

In some ways the greatest virtue of the early historians of the Annales School was not in
putting forward a new theory of a wider and more open view of History, because that had been
done before. The real difference was that they actually put such ideas into practice and showed
others what could be done. Bloch is the author of three influential studies. The first was on French
Rural History, which is a study of the evolution of rural society and the community over at least a
thousand years, showing that many of its basic characteristics continued unchanged. He showed
that its characteristics depended less on the landlord class and the manorial system, which were
usually studied through the surviving legal documents, than on patterns of organization and tenure
dating from the early Middle Ages. He was using a variety of new sorts of evidence to rescue the
history of rural community from the distorting mirror of a certain single type of document. His
most famous book is Feudal Society, in which he tries not just to describe feudal institutions but in a
famous chapter mainly to understand the mind of the Middle Ages, which gave rise to these
institutions. Finally, The Royal Touch explores the popular belief that kings in Europe had the power
to cure a certain unpleasant disease by touching the sufferer. He showed that the belief originated
almost by accident, that it was linked to the idea that kings were the agents of God, became over a
long period a fundamental part of the concept of royalty, and that the belief played a part in
maintaining the strength of royalty. Attitudes and institutions were linked.

In all this, there is another important contribution, and it is this: It is vitally important to ask
the right questions. A historian can only do this by becoming familiar with many aspects of a period
in the past and the evidence it has generated, and by being aware of other attempts to solve similar
problems in different periods or even different cultures. An imaginative mind can use the relics and
artifacts of the past in clever ways, and they become new evidence that helps us to answer the
questions we have asked. You must ask the right questions first, you set the terms of the problem to
be solved, and then you look around for evidence. You do not study evidence just because it is
there, like the followers of Ranke. The study of History is about solving problems.

Having defined for us what the study of the past should involve, it was necessary to tell us
how to do it. If History should be a broad subject, asking questions and setting the terms of
problems, what methods should be used? Their answer was that History as a discipline could not be
separated from the other social sciences, like economics, geography, or sociology. Although they
usually dealt with the present, they employed methods and techniques which could be used to ask
the same sort of questions about the past, and man in the past is the proper study for historians.

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

After all, geography influenced where people lived, what sort of crops they were able to grow and
patterns of trade. The past had economies, often very different ones in different cultures, but it
should still be possible to ask what was the volume of trade between Europe and the new World or
China three or four hundred years ago, and its effects. And if an economist today counts the tax
revenue from the customs in the ports, it might be possible to use a similar technique with records
kept by officials three hundred years ago. And if a sociologist today has a way of deciding how
many people of each social class there are, or why people migrate to towns, then an historian could
use these methods for the towns of the past, or to try to find out how many bourgeois there were in
France in 1789. Marc Bloch appealed in 1936 for a systematic study of the European nobility as a
social group -- a study that is only today really making progress. Scholars from various disciplines
would all work together to ask the same broad historical question.

Perhaps Fernand Braudel put the case for interdisciplinary history most forcefully, in 1951.
To understand him, imagine that the whole social and political life of the human race is a large
house with different rooms. Each room is a different academic subject, like geography or history.

For us, he said, there are no bounded human sciences; each of them is a door open onto
the entirety of the social life of man. Each door [or discipline] leads to all the rooms, to
every floor of the house. But the investigator should not allow his progress to stop because
he fears to enter the rooms out of reverence for the other specialists in them. If we need to,
let us use their stairways and doors.

Not only should we use the methods of other disciplines in the social sciences, but we should also
use teamwork as well. Some of the tasks that the New History sets itself are too big for one scholar
to working alone using notes and record cards. Groups of historians, all with a common object, can
systematically go through records that one person could never hope to read. They will then put
their conclusions together, building up banks of data, discussing the problems which arise. This is
the method and structure of research seminars in Paris where a professor will decide on a topic to
investigate during the year.

Some problems require experts from other fields, so organize a team with geographers,
historians, experts in linguistics, art history, sociology and economics. These will bring together
their different approaches to elucidate the elements of the problem. Thus the right questions will be
asked and the right methods used to answer them. This is the idea behind several colloquiums, and
is the original idea for setting up the historical section of an important French institution called ‘La
maison des sciences de l'homme’ (In English this might be rendered ‘The centre for the human

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

sciences’ -- but note that the French word science means not science as in physics or chemistry, but
knowledge rationally organized).

Three other methods are important. First of all there is the comparative method. Marc Bloch
was a great advocate of this. By comparative history he means the choosing of the same issue or
problem in two or more different areas, and the study of it. When you have come to conclusions
about the same phenomenon in different areas, different cultures or different periods, you will be in
a position to see what is general about the phenomenon and what is particular. For example, look
at motives for popular rebellion by peasants in the seventeenth century in France, Russia and
China, as Roland Mousnier has done.

Bloch again was passionately interested in studying the peasantry in the past and especially
the culture or mentality of the peasants. In France the early twentieth century, when France still
had a majority of its population living in rural society, children were often brought up by their
grandparents, because the parents would be working. So, if you want to study the structures and
operation of peasant culture in the more distant past, it is a good idea first to look at that slow
moving culture today. This will give you ideas about the right questions to ask about, say, sixteenth
century peasant culture. It will be a sort of comparative approach and is called the ‘regressive

Finally, there is the frequent use of models in history. By model we mean an artificial idea of
what is normal. For instance, there is a Marxist model of revolution, which sees revolution as the
product of certain historical forces: class struggle, economic crisis, political crisis and the rise of a
new class to power. A sociologist might of course have a different model of revolution, though it
might still be influenced by Marxism. The purpose of a model is to provide a framework which
again helps you to know what to look for and what to try to explain. Models can be helpful and in a
way we all use models, because a simple word itself can be almost a model without us realizing it.
‘Modernization’ is a word-model, but so for example is ‘child’, as Philippe Aries has shown with his
history of childhood through the ages, revealing that childhood as a specific stage of development
was not recognized earlier periods.

Historians of the Annales School have developed a new structure of explanation. It is a very
important contribution indeed and has now almost become an article of faith among many
historians. It can however be criticized and should be regarded as an inspiration rather than a
dogma. We shall begin with the status of the event in history. The traditional writing of history put
a high value on the event, with its political and diplomatic narrative. History was at risk of
becoming just one thing after another, and far too much narrative history was published. But, as we

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

have seen, the rise of Marxist history and the development of the social sciences meant that history
could and should move away from the study of the mere event - ‘history as events’ as it is called in
France - towards the study of underlying structures and their effects. Geographical, economic,
cultural, demographic structures all have an influence on the individual lives of men in ways they
sometimes do not see themselves. Here not only Marxism played an important part, but also
ethnography, the study of other cultures, and anthropology, which is the study of other social
structures outside Europe.

One of the influences came from an economist called François Simiand. As an historian of
the movement of prices, he wrote about economic cycles in Europe. When prices steadily went up
over a generation the movement brought profits and prosperity. This was an ‘A phase’. When there
was not enough gold and silver prices went down and there was a depression. This was a ‘B phase’.
History was a succession of ‘A phases’ and ‘B phases’. From about 15O0 to about 1630 there was
an ‘A phase’ in Europe (increasing prosperity), and from 1630 to about 1730 there was a ‘B phase’
(decreasing prosperity). 1730-1778 was another upward swing, and 1778 saw the beginning of
another downturn. This may all sound complicated, but the point to remember is very simple. In
the past people, and whole cultures, were caught up in long-term economic movements which were
beyond their control. So if I ask you now how do we measure time in the past, what will you
answer? The fact that one year simply follows another is not very helpful in understanding
historical change. There are bigger units of historical time than years, and these movements are
economic cycles. So we now have a ‘long term’ way of seeing things, we have a new way of picking
out rhythms in the past and which were not apparent to observers at the time. Two famous
historians have done studies using these ideas. Le Roy Ladurie wrote a marvelous book, the
product of ten years study in the archives, on The Peasants of Languedoc. Languedoc is a region in the
south of France, a region which formed a social and economic unit because of its historical
experience and its trading patterns. He chose to study it from about 1550 to about 1730. That is,
he studied it over a whole economic period from the beginning of a rise in prosperity, through the
times of feast to the depression that lasted half a century and ended only in 1730. And he chose a
region that made cultural and economic sense to people at the time, not the state during the life of
a distant king. A similar study is by Pierre Goubert and it is called after a town and its hinterland, a
town near Paris in France: Beauvais and the Beauvaisie. The town produced textiles and
dominated the surrounding countryside. He studies it from about 1630 to about 1730, during the
phase of depression. I cite these examples in order to show you that there are other possibilities for
the choice of an historical period which are different from political divisions. Is it right to study
France in the reign of Louis XIV, 1661-1715? Or France from 1630 to 1730, an economic cycle?
Of course, it depends what kind of topic you are studying.

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

Ethnography was the study of non-European cultures. The first thing to strike Europeans as
they looked outside was that European historical time was not the only time. Chinese and African
History moved at a different rate of change, over different periods. Other societies were evolving at
different rates. So the notion of time had to be modified. Moreover, if you begin to measure
change, you begin to notice resistance to change. You notice traditions and structures. So there is
now a history of continuities and resistances to be written, instead of the conventional history of

In order to explain the direction these thoughts were leading, we must turn to one book in
particular. It is The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, (1949) by Fernand
Braudel. It is no ordinary history book. The large, very large, book in two volumes began as a
history of the foreign policy towards the Mediterranean world of the King of Spain in the sixteenth
century: Philip II. However, Braudel was influenced by Lucien Febvre who said to him: ‘Philip II
and the Mediterranean is a good idea, but the Mediterranean world and Philip II is a better one’.
The book is divided into three parts, each corresponding to a certain type of historical time. The
parts are called structures, conjunctures, and events. Allow Braudel himself to explain their
significance to you:

This book is divided into three parts, each of which is itself an essay in general explanation.
The first part is devoted to a history whose passage is almost imperceptible, that of man in
his relationship to the environment, a history in which all change is slow, a history of
constant repetition, ever recurring cycles... On a different level from the first there can be
distinguished another history, this time with slow but perceptible rhythms. If the expression
had not been diverted from its full meaning, one could call it social history, the history of
groups and groupings. How did these swelling currents affect Mediterranean life in general
- this was the question I asked myself in the second part of the book, studying in turn
economic systems, states, societies, civilisations, and finally, in order to convey more clearly
my conception of history, attempting to show how all these deap-seated forces were at work
in the complex arena of warfare.

Lastly, the third part gives a hearing to traditional history -- history, one might say, on the
scale not of man, but of individual men, what Paul Lacombe and François Simiand called
the history of events: surface disturbances, crests of foam that the tides of history carry on
their strong backs. A history of brief, rapid, nervous tensions, by definition ultra sensitive.
As such it is the most exciting of all, the richest in human interest, and also the most
dangerous. We must learn to distrust this history with its still burning passions, as it was felt,
described and lived by contemporaries whose lives are short and as short-sighted as ours...

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

Resounding events are often only momentary outbursts, surface manifestations of these
larger movements and explicable only in terms of them. The final effect, then, is to dissect
history into various levels, or, to put it another way, to divide historical time into
geographical time, social time and individual time." (The Mediterranean World, English
translation, I, pp. 20-21)

What he actually wrote was a book whose first part described the geography of the lands
around the Mediterranean Sea, looking at the possibilities for human settlement and trade and
communications. Next he examines the economies of the Mediterranean basin in the sixteenth
century and the influences on them, like the size of the population and the amount of precious
metal for exchanges. Finally he turns to the politics of the period and shows that it was constructed
within a set of assumptions and aims that had been conditioned, unbeknown to the men of that
time, by trends far beyond their control.

This ‘dialectic of space and time’ as Braudel calls it, had a profound impact on the structure
of explanation in history books and researches. Most general history books in France and the
majority on other countries are now written with Braudel's structure in mind. They begin with
economy and society, move on to cultures or ‘mentalities’ and then turn at last to politics.

There are some helpful criticisms to make of the structure of explanation so much praised in
Braudel’s work. Braudel, in writing about events in the context of structures, put the emphasis on
`the long term'. This phrase is often used: "the long term". It has led to a virtual abandonment of
political history by Annales historians, as they concentrate on social phenomena over a long period.
This has been good, beneficial, but now is the time for historians to come back to political history
with all the new understanding provided by the exciting developments in historical studies. There
are problems about accepting uncritically the idea of the long term and the influence of structures.

First of all, people at the time could not see them, and were at least consciously unaware of
them. Second, to describe the long term structures and the century-long conjunctures is not the
same as to explain them. I mean that the problem of the relation between causes is still left
unsolved. Thirdly, is it really possible to observe a neat division between types of time? As Jack
Hexter has argued, the eruption of a volcano like Vesuvius on 24 August 79 A.D. was a geological
event of short-term significance -- and of long term to people living on the edge of the volcano. And
is not the Catholic Monarchy that lasted in Europe for six or seven centuries a phenomenon of the
long term? In the final assessment we may prefer to keep the inspiration of Braudel, and not adhere
too strictly to the specific relationship between the structures he emphasized. But let us not be
discouraged by these problems. The criticisms themselves come from within the Annales School.

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

They testify to the vigor of the new history and the flexibility of its philosophy. Let us not forget that
these ideas have permitted whole new areas of history to be developed, and that these areas are a
major and permanent contribution to knowledge. In my opinion the truest inheritor of the mantle
of Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel was Georges Duby, the medievalist. His works have all the
brilliant originality in finding answers to questions in unexpected places that was the special quality
of Marc Bloch. He himself made illuminating comments on the history of mental structures over
the long term. He believed that the study of particular crises could also give us a privileged access to
an understanding of the way people thought. I quote:

It is possible, by analysing certain explosive events, which reveal or bring to the surface a
large number of latent factors, and which will generate a large amount of evidence, to
make important advances in the history of structures, and to find out more precisely what
makes it significant.

Indeed, he himself has used the event to illuminate the structures and has done as much as anyone
to develop the new history of popular mentalities.

So let us move on to have a look at my fourth area of the new history, the new types of
history that have been invented especially since the 1950s and are currently widely practiced. These
new subjects or approaches have been very fruitful in producing more subtle and sophisticated
interpretations of the past... and therefore of the present.

One idea that has been very dear to some historians like Braudel, has been the concept of
‘total history’. By this its proponents mean something like global history, or to put it at its simplest,
‘history that includes everything’. The theory is that all human activity is the subject matter of
historians, and that all human activity is a seamless web, interconnected on some level. The real
problem with this idea is that even if it were possible to study everything in itself in little sections,
how ever would you be able to put it together into one book? After all, the past is not History until
it has been explained rationally to other people and read. So ‘total history' is just a mirage on the
horizon, perhaps an inspiration but never to be a reality.

‘We must count’ is a characteristic saying of the Annales School. Since the early 1930s the
economic historians had been writing a statistical history of prices and wages in France. Newer
economic theories about the development of economies, the notion of ‘take off’ put the history of
prices and its value in a different context and new factory like trade statistics were also seen to be
important from the 1960s onwards. However, it is not just in economic history that the need was
felt to produce data in a systematic form. If history was to become a valid human science, as the

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

pioneers of the New History hoped, it had to prove that it had methods comparable to real
sciences. It had to prove that the writing of history was not just a matter of insight and imprecise
flashes of understanding about a past in which each case was unique and unrepeatable. It had to
show that, even if we cannot use experimental method on the past, we can use systematic
collections of information in the form of figures and statistics. This would defend history from the
imperialism of the other social sciences, and show that history was not guesswork.

And so it became important for historians to learn how to count. You say the bourgeoisie is
rising in the seventeenth century? Prove it to be with statistics of social mobility of the purchase of
manors by the middle classes! You say the Spanish empire is in decline in the seventeenth century?
Measure the amount of gold and silver imported into Spain from the New World, and measure the
amount of trade that Seville, the major port, has with colonies on the other side of the Atlantic!
Measure! Quantify! Count!

That is exactly what Pierre Chaunu did for Spanish trade. He wrote a huge book, with his
wife, on Seville and the Atlantic from 1500 to 1650. Using the customs’ records of the import and
export duties and the records of cargoes kept by some shippers, he was able to reconstruct the
whole pattern of trade and its modifications over time, for the area influenced by the Iberian
Peninsula (Spain and Portugal today). He did the same for the Pacific Ocean too in a book on the
Philippines. Eight volumes with statistics in the book on Seville! One is tempted to read the eight
pages of interpretation at the end, but there is no question about their scientific basis. This
approach is good news for economic historians, but how does the quantitative history and its
techniques affect the rest of us, more modest historians with less ambition? The answer is that if you
are working with evidence that lends itself to being counted, it is now accepted that your
conclusions will only be accepted if you do so. If you are studying a peasant village and its struggle
with the lord over a century, it will be possible to see how much wheat he takes in feudal dues in
that village. It will be possible to see from the legal records of lawsuits -- and many village
communities took their masters to court -- whether there was an increase in litigation over the
century and to compare it with elsewhere. It is even possible to gather together statistical evidence
that points towards changes in people's way of thinking about religion or about witchcraft. Michel
Vovelle’s pioneering work on baroque piety and attitudes towards death used thousands of wills
and testaments for Provence to trace how a certain baroque or flamboyant conception of death
gradually gave way to a less ostentatious less ritualistic attitude during the eighteenth century,
beginning with the elite and moving down society by the end of the century. We should note two
things therefore. First, in the New History, the respect for detail and the respect for history based
on looking at and analyzing documents has been extended to statistics as a systematic form of
document. Statistics well prepared help us to see changes over time that were not perceptible to the
people who lived then. If the statistics are too numerous, some projects use a computer. This is the

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

case with the records of births, marriages and deaths, which form the basis of historical
demography. Second, wherever possible generalizations from anecdotal evidence like memoirs and
letters should be tested against figures produced about the same question from other sources. ‘We
must quantify!’

Certainly the most fascinating new type of study is the history of mentalities and ideologies.
Each of these words does not have the narrow political meaning usually attached to it. Instead, the
meaning of the words has been enlarged to suggest the ways in which cultures in a given period see
and interpret their world. The history of mentalities is the study of the beliefs and the ways of seeing
in a given culture. Ideology means something much broader than a political creed; it means the
attitudes and values people hold. The classic text on the history of mentalities is by Lucien Febvre,
and it is called The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais. Febvre was made
very angry by a scholar who claimed that the great sixteenth-century writer Rabelais was an atheist,
not a Christian. Febvre felt that the accusation was unhistorical and he set out to show why. It was
true, he admitted that Rabelais had been called an atheist, but this was just a common term of
abuse in that period which meant little in practice. He wrote a book in three parts that was a study
of the perception by men in the sixteenth century of the world and god. The first part is about
Rabelais himself as seen through his writings, the second is about his friends and the intellectual
circle he was in, and the third part is a very brilliant and bold explanation of the way all men in
sixteenth-century France thought. Febvre thus gave us a history of the mental universe of men in a
certain period in the past. The conclusion of the book was that all thought had the concept of the
existence of god as an unchallengeable assumption, and so Rabelais could not have been an atheist!

We needed the Annales School’s redefinition of History for the history of mentalities to be
possible, and we needed their redefinition of historical time as well. This is because we are not
dealing with events, we are dealing with attitudes. Therefore we need to make use of the new sense
of historical time that has been developed. An attitude must be studied over a longer period,
perhaps over a century, and a change of attitude will not take place suddenly, although sometimes
it may seem to do so. It will have been prepared over many years but may suddenly become visible
at the time of a great event. In general, then, mentalities and ideologies deal with ways of thinking
over the ‘long term’.

The second important point to realize is that, the history of the mentality of an era will need
to include the history or description of many attitudes. A noble in the sixteenth century could
believe both in honor and in witchcraft, but peasant may have believed in magic but not the noble
idea of honor (he knows it exists but his idea of it is different, he may prefer to stay with his family
than to go on campaign, but would take another peasant to court for impugning his wife’s ‘honor’),

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

and so mentalities may change according to the social group. So a third point to note is that each
social group will have a slightly different mentality. This mentality, or vision of the world, may
include ideas and attitudes that everyone then had, and it may also contain some ideas that only
members of that particular group had. The study of mentalities is therefore very closely connected
to the study of groups. Their mentality is one of the things that make groups different. Journeymen
artisans have a different mentality in some respects (probably those most noticeable to other people
in society) from their masters, and the master artisans see the world differently from the noble or
the rich bourgeois. Yet, they all share some attitudes and ways of reacting and behaving, because
they are all members of the same society.

An interesting statement follows logically from this. It is not just the economic role that
determines social structures in society; the mentality, the shared set of values and attitudes, also
creates the differences between groups. Allow me to make this clearer by contrasting a quotation
from Karl Marx with one by Marc Bloch:

Marx: ‘Men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter,
along with their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not
determined by consciousness but consciousness by life’.

Bloch: ‘Social realities are a whole. One could not pretend to explain an institution if one
did not link it to the great intellectual, emotional, mystical, currents of the contemporary

While Marx is suggesting that Ideology is the consequence of material conditions of life and
production, Bloch is suggesting that the apparently material institutions in life are to be understood
in the light of mentalities. I think that it is true to say that Marx did not adhere consistently to his
view, as is revealed by the idea that the protestant religion and capitalism were linked. Yes, they
were perhaps connected, but did the religious belief make better capitalists, or did frustrated
potential capitalists choose the protestant religion? This relationship between ideology and
infrastructure is perhaps one of the least clear. On the other hand, Bloch would certainly agree that
the material conditions of life also structure the mentalities. Take the example of peasants and their
volatile emotional state: is this not a consequence of a life led on the edge of the precipice of
poverty? Is not the peasant sense of time less precise than that of an urban dweller? It is precisely
because there is a large and legitimate area of overlap that both Marxists and liberals have been
able to work so well together in the same field of history. And, of course, the Annales school itself was
influenced from the beginning by Marxism and Sociology. Leading and influential Marxist

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

historians of mentalities are in England E.P. Thompson, and in France Michel Vovelle, former
professor of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In more recent years we have come through study to realize that even though a period of
history and a culture has certain characteristic mental structures, there is a lot of variation between
different subcultures in that society. Thus sailors and shoemakers have general assumptions about
the world in common, but have very different cultural practices and some specifically different
beliefs. One might compare and contrast two famous studies of the history of mentalities: Natalie
Zemon Davis’s study of marriage and family life in a village in the 1540s. The disappearance of
Martin Guerre and his apparent return (for it was in fact an impostor), and court case provide the
basis of a wide exploration of attitudes and personal strategies in a village. Robert Darnton’s much
debated discussion of the ‘great cat massacre’ in eighteenth-century Paris uses this little known
episode in cultural history to shed light on the mentality of artisan print workers and their relations
with their boss, as expressed in symbolic form through their villainous prank.

The history of witchcraft and folklore is really fascinating. The discipline historians have
borrowed from in order to do it is cultural anthropology. But instead of using certain theories and
techniques to ask questions about the non-European societies today, we historians use as far as is
possible the same methods to study cultures of people who are dead. ‘The past is another country’
as Fanon said, and why not study and discuss the society our own ancestors lived in the same way
you would study a foreign culture? After all, is it not misleading to think that we British or
Americans have kept the same sorts of attitude over the centuries? In some ways we have, but the
differences may be as important as the similarities. The similarities may be more apparent than
real. Thus we can study the types of festival in a society, and try to understand the role and function
of festivity in the past. Why is the world so often turned upside-down in rituals? For example, why
is carnival characterized by plenty and waste, when there was so little food in society? Why is
authority allowed to be mocked by the inversion of its symbols, and why do groups of young men at
carnival time think that all is permitted and pretend to be kings or bishops? It is not enough to just
say this is the spirit of carnival, for what is this spirit? There are historical questions to be asked, and
answered. What is the role of magic in the village community and why were witches suddenly
persecuted? It is not enough to in the village community and why were witches suddenly
persecuted? It is not enough to say witches were persecuted because they were women, because
why were they not persecuted as witches before the sixteenth century? The answer must lie partly
in the attitudes of men towards women, and these attitudes must have changed in some way, or
have been given different expression. And so it is that big new questions come to our attention just
as we try to understand a society at the point at which it is most obscure and incomprehensible. To
do so we need to use the tools provided by other disciplines, but still ask well-formulated historical
questions. In the last decade the history of mentalities has fed into an emerging discipline of cultural

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

history. In terms of inspiration we have moved from Clifford Geertz to Pierre Bourdieu and
cultural history provides greater complexity and subtlety at any given moment, although it still has
difficulty with explaining change over time. Exploiting developments in literary theory and cultural
anthropology, and responding to criticisms of the history of mentalities, historians like Roger
Chartier have studied the culture of printed books, their readership and reception, notions like
private and public spheres of life, or concepts like civility and religious piety. This kind of history is
more theoretically driven; it emphasizes culture as appropriation at a given time, rather than sets of
unchanging attitudes. Its questions are important, and are transforming our understanding of the
past and how we got here. But a fuller exploration must await its own chapter in a second edition!

History will never be truly scientific. It can use all the methods of the other social sciences; it
can use hypotheses and theories and models, just like them; but it should retain a literary quality
that makes it of interest to everyone. History is not an empire, it is the past of everyman. History is
everything that happened in the past. It is the great achievement of the Annales School to have
taught us to accept this statement, and to give us methods to do the history of everything.

Well, is History the most important science among the Humanities? Annales historians believe
it is. It is the most complex, precisely because it has to deal with the specific relations between
models, structures and events that are unique. It is the most important because it can make use of
the techniques of all the other social sciences, even the most modern, in order to study the whole of
the past. Without any doubt at all the work and the ideas of the historians of the Annales School has
been and continues to be an inspiration to us all. Moreover, it is in the great humanist tradition.

Campbell, ‘The New History’, Full version: part published in Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, UCL Press, 1998.

Further reading.

It is better to read the historians themselves than introductions to their approach, but J. Le Goff
and P. Nora, eds., Constructing the Past (Cambridge, 1985) is almost a manifesto. Marc Bloch’s The
Historian’s Craft (Manchester, 1954) is an inspiration, as are his longer works mentioned in the text.
Lucien Febvre’s essays collected in A New Kind of History, ed. P. Burke (London, 1973), open many
windows onto the past, as does his Life in Renaissance France. Febvre’s The Problem of Unbelief in the
Sixteenth Century makes an excellent read and the last 100 pages are an essay on sixteenth-century
mentalités. Braudel’s works remain widely available, and his essay on ‘Structures and the long term’
is reprinted in English in On History (Chicago, 1980) while a special edition of the Journal of Modern
History in 1972 was dedicated to ‘Braudellian History’. Philippe Aries opened new vistas with his
Centuries of Childhood (New York, 1975) and The Hour of Our Death (London, 1981). Many have written
exemplary works in the footsteps of these masters: Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s Peasants of
Languedoc, (Urbana, 1974), Carnival in Romans (London, 1980) and his best seller Montaillou (London,
1978) are representative of the Annales, as is Pierre Goubert’s The Ancien Régime (London, 1973 and
1996); Michel Vovelle’s Mentalities and Ideologies (Cambridge, 1990) contains stimulating essays on
popular culture and religion, as does Natalie Zemon Davis’s collection of essays Society and Culture in
Early Modern France (Stanford, 1975), which she followed up by The Return of Martin Guerre (1983).
Robert Darnton’s The Great Cat Massacre (1984) takes a jolly and varied step towards cultural history,
debated in the Journal of Modern History in 1985 and 1988, while his The Kiss of Lamourette (London,
1990) is more reflective, and Roger Chartier’s Cultural History (Cambridge, 1988) helps to define a
new sub-discipline. Carlo Ginzburg is the leading Italian exponent of the history of mentalities, and
his The Cheese and the Worms, The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-century Miller (London, 1981) is a fascinating
glimpse into someone’s mind. The multi-volume series edited by Georges Duby and collaborators
on A History of Private life, and A History of Women show just how great the achievement of the Annales
School has been, in a very accessible form. Peter Burke has written a brief history of the Annales
school, The French Historical Revolution (Cambridge, 1990), and a special issue of Review, 1978 was
dedicated to the Annales achievement. Most of these are available in paperback.

Peter R. Campbell, University of Sussex, UK, & Université de Versailles-St-Quentin, France.

A note about the text. I first read Marc Bloch at seventeen and was captivated by the humanity and
breadth of conception in his writing. The work of the great Annales historians has subsequently influenced my
own work and teaching, notably a course on mentalités and social structures at Sussex. But noticing that the
Annalistes had abandoned politics as ‘mere events’, I wanted myself to study the mentalité of the elite,
reasoning that historians would one day have to return to the centre to understand politics and society. And
indeed they have, in force. The current shift to cultural history has brought conceptual gains, but also losses.
This article grew out of a lecture series prepared for a lecture tour of five Chinese universities in 1990, during
which I focused on explaining as clearly as possible the new history, at that time in China a challenging
alternative to a Marxist analysis of society and motivation. A version of this article was published in W.
Lamont, ed., Historians and Historical Controversy, (UCL Press, London, 1998), though unbeknown to me it was
much truncated. I wish to thank the now sadly defunct Baring Foundation for funding this important, and
ongoing Sussex University China Exchange.