The Historian, Autumn 1991 v54 n1 pp. 112-3.

The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School, 1929-89. By Peter Burke. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991. Pp. vi, 152. $27.50.)

This brief introduction to the Annales school demonstrates yet again that in Clio's house there are many mansions. Although Peter Burke confesses that he is a fellow-traveler of this party (he edited the writings of Lucien Febvre), he re­mains objective and critical throughout his presentation. In analyzing and evalu­ating the important works of the chief representative of the Annales, he focuses on the main themes of this school (and all in a text of a hundred-odd pages, a noteworthy achievement, indeed).

In dividing the Annales school into three chronological periods--the 1920s to 1945, 1945 to 1968, and 1968 to 1989--Burke traces not only the evolution of this historical school but its transformation as well. The last, if seen from the longue durée, may signify its decline. For after having rejected the history of events and the politics of states, many Annalistes are beginning to return to these older themes. Thus, the party has become fragmented, and the unity of outlook that characterized it in the past is no longer recognizable.

Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch are duly considered the founders of the Annales school. Burke shows, however, the influence of their predecessors who had already broken with traditional history, limited as it was to political, mili­tary, and diplomatic events. This "New History" took the whole of society for its oyster and began to examine mentalités and feelings of not only the elite groups or ruling classes. History "from below" became another of its concerns.

The author devotes a long chapter to the work and influence of Fernand Braudel, and although rightly impressed with The Mediterranean, Burke does not hesitate to cite its critics. Although skeptical of Marxism, he never minimizes the important contributions of Marxist scholars such as Ernest Labrousse, nor does he fail to admit that a number of leading members of the Annales (such as Le Roy Ladurie and Franqois Furet), have a Marxist background.

In this, Burke does not always see the more subtle arguments of Marxist scholars or of those influenced by Marx. He points out, for example, that critics of Braudel deny his geographic determinism just as they attack the economic determinism of Marx. Yet, only "vulgar Marxists" (to use Marx's own phrase) fail to see the symbiotic relationship between ideas and "the economic base." Surely, recent years have shown that political ideas modify and transform this base. If, as Burke says, "there has been a swing back towards voluntarism;" it can hardly be denied that those revolutionary movements that have embraced Marxism are voluntarist, just as the doctrine of predestination (a theological determinism) never discouraged Calvinists from voluntarism (109).

The Annalistes have been criticized for excluding people from their studies in favor of impersonal forces. This cannot be said of Burke, whose writings on Louis XIV, Montaigne, Vico, and Febvre demonstrate that for him, at least, man is still the measure of all things.

Morris Slavin
Youngstown State University