Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What Kind of Historian Am I? - part 2

So in my last post on this topic, I declared that I am a "historicist" - that is, I hold to the idea that we must evaluate historical persons and events in terms of their own times, not our times.

The next "school" of history and historiography I identify with is called the Annales school, named after a group of French historians led by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, publishers of the Annales d'histoire economique et sociale (Annals of Economic and Social History).  As with my historicism, I arrived at my congruence with the Annalistes by my own route, in thinking about why we do history and how we do history.  I figure things out on my own; I do not seek out ideologies to identify with.  In fact, I distrust and am highly suspicious of ideologies and ideologues.

The Annalistes got tired of the dominance of political and diplomatic history.  There's more to it than that, they realized.  They sought a holistic approach.  They looked at the big picture.  I like the big picture; too many people today are short-sighted, concentrating on minutiae, when they should step back and see the broader landscape.  That broader landscape is what I am after in my study of history.

Annalistes like Fernand Braudel embarked on massive studies.  Braudel produced a two-volume work, The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, which encompassed political, social, economic, intellectual and geographic factors.  This is the sort of thing I'm after in my study of St. Augustine, Florida, during the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821).  There were political factors at play, such as repeated attempts by British colonists, and later by Americans, to take Florida from Spain; there were economic factors -- shortages of cold cash and staple goods; there were social factors -- the Catholic church, practices concerning marriage and child-rearing, for instance; there were geographic factors -- St. Augustine is bordered by rivers and a swamp, and the presence of the swamp produced public health problems.  History, I have always been convinced, is a great deal more complex than we usually find it presented in books.

Basically, what I'm looking for is a Unified Field Theory of history!

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