Historians and Historiography

The Annales School: French school of historical method named after the magazine Annales d’histoire economique et sociale founded in 1929 by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch. The most famous practitioner of Annales methods was Fernand Braudel. Grossly simplified, the idea is to look at historical change over very long periods of time, using artifacts of daily life.


Philipe Aries (1914-1984): Influenced by the Annales school he developed the history of “mentalities,” a history of values and representations. He was also a pioneer in demographic history. His most famous works are Centuries of Childhood and The Hour of Our Death.


Roland Bainton: Luther’s biographer (Here I Stand) he was an expert in Reformation theology and Protestant church history.


Geoffrey Barraclough (1908-1984): He started out as a medievalist but later in his career he turned his medieval knowledge to explaining how conditions developed in 20th century Europe. He is most famous for The Origins of Modern Germany. He wanted to achieve a “deeper understanding of the continuity of history and its underlying currents.”


Marc Bloch (1886-1944): He was a French patriot and active participant in the Resistance, captured and shot by the Nazis in 1944. A founder of the Annales school, his most famous work is Feudal Society.


Fernand Braudel (1902-1985): The foremost practitioner of the Annales school, he is noted for his history of The Mediterranean and for his three volume study of the economics of daily life between the 15th and the 18th centuries. He spent the Second World War in a German prison camp, writing his doctoral dissertation.


Jakob Burckhardt (1818-1897): The man who invented the Renaissance in Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.


Edmund Burke: He was the premier conservative of his time, famous for Reflections on the Revolution in France.


Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979): One of the most important historians of science as well as a scholar of English domestic politics. He is especially noted for Origins of Modern Science and The Whig Interpretation of History. His enemy was Namier and Namier’s method of “structural analysis.”


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881): He made historical writing a steppingstone to literary success and popularity. His most famous works were his French Revolution and his biography of Frederick the Great. He wasn’t much of a scholar, but he was good at giving the public what they wanted to hear.

H. Carr (1892-1982): He was an expert on the Soviet Union and a critic of Western capitalism although remarkable even handed in his scholarship. His life’s work on the USSR comes to some 14 volumes. His most popular book, What Is History? argues that historical knowledge is relative. A shorter more accessible work is The Twenty Years Crisis, 1918-1938.


Robert Darnton: American scholar of cultural history in the Ancien Regime and the French Revolution. Famous for The Great Cat Massacre, The Kiss of Lamourette, and many others.

Natalie Zemon Davis: Famous for using court records to reconstruct the events leading to The Return of Martin Guerre.

Will and Ariel Durant: They wrote 11 volumes of “The Story of Civilization.” They both lived to be almost one hundred years old and died within weeks of each other. Their books were best-sellers. Your family probably has one or two of them somewhere.

Sidney Bradshaw Fay: Famous for his two volume work The Origins of the First World War which shocked the public by asserting that the war was NOT Germany’s fault.

Francois Furet: Argued that the French Revolution fulfilled the ideas of Rousseau and that meant it was all building up to the Terror, not, as had been argued before, that the Terror was an aberration.

Peter Gay (1923-2015): Historian of European cultural movements, ideas and creative experiences, he literally wrote the book on The Enlightenment as well as a three volume set on The Bourgeois Experience, and a biography of Freud.

Dorothy George: Specialist in 18th century English cultural and social history.

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794): He wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, shocking the public with the theory that Christianity weakened the formerly virile Empire. He was a classically “Enlightenment” thinker.

Edith Hamilton (1867-1963): An American scholar, famous for her The Greek Way and later The Roman Way she is the only person to have been made an honorary citizen of Athens.

Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012): He is the best-known Marxist historian of his generation. He has completed a series of four works on the dominance of Europe in history: The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital, The Age of Empire, and The Age of Extremes. He is also an expert on jazz.


Olwen Hufton (1938- ): Contemporary social historian specializing in women’s history. Her most recent work is The Prospect Before Her, on women in early modern European history.


Paul Johnson (1928 – ): Wide-ranging scholar whose works include A History of the Jews, a Short History of Ireland and more.


Joan Kelly (1928-1982): Feminist medievalist and Renaissance scholar who dared to ask “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” and she answered “No!”


John Keegan (1934-2012): Military historian extraordinaire, he’s written The Face of Battle, A History of Warfare, and the last word on The First World War.


Paul Kennedy (1945 – ): Military and diplomatic historian, he wrote The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.


Peter Laslett (1915-2001): Pioneering scholar of population, social structure, family size and the processes of household formation. Most well known for The World We Have Lost.


Georges Lefebvre (1874-1959): Foremost scholar of the French Revolution until the end of World War Two. He wrote on the role of the peasantry, the Great Fear, Napoleon, and all the leaders of the Revolution.


Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (1929-   ): Social historian of medieval and early modern Europe, especially the peasantry, he is famous for Montaillou, Time of Feast and Times of Famine.

B. Macaulay (1800-1859): Some people have called him the best writer of narrative history ever! He was also a practitioner of the “Whig interpretation” of history – his works are imbued with 19th century liberal values and faith in progress. They tend to interpret the past in light of the present, and so to see what ever happened as tending toward the good situation that prevailed at the time he wrote.


William McNeill (1917-   ): He is one of the coolest, best and most knowledgeable writers ever. In addition to his huge synthesis The Rise of the West, he has also written on the impact of disease in history (Plagues and Peoples) the evolution of military technology and politics (Pursuit of Power) and the Mongol marauders (Europe’s Steppe Frontier.)


Lewis Namier (1888-1960): He was a specialist in late 18th English politics. Famous for demolishing the myth that George III was trying to restore royal absolutism. He also created the techniques of Structural Analysis (the effort to “stop the political machine in order to examine its component parts and his functioning”) and Prosopography (collective biography.) He collected evidence on the life, career, connections and behavior of all the MP’s who sat in Parliament during the time he was studying.

R. Palmer (1909-2002): One year younger than God, his text A History of the Modern World has been engaging students of European history since 1950. He is also known for his argument that the “Atlantic” world was swept by one single wave of democratic revolution in the late 18th century. In short, he thinks America is part of Europe. (It’s in The Age of Democratic Revolution.) And he also wrote a hundred other books, a lot of them about the French revolution and its leadership.


Henri Pirenne (1862-1935): He was the “driving force of Belgian scholarship.” He specialized in the history of the Middle Ages, especially of the cities. His was the first successful attempt to interpret urban history in social and economic terms. He supported his university’s refusal to stay open under German auspices in 1916 and so he was interned by the Germans for the rest of the war. His Muhammad and Charlemagne put forth the “Pirenne thesis” that “without Muhammad, Charlemagne would have been inconceivable.” He encouraged the establishment of the Annales School and was a close friend of Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch.


Eileen Power (1889-1940): An exceptional scholar, she became a professor of economic history at the London School of Economics. Her most famous work is Medieval People; she died before completing her full-length book on the English wool trade.


Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886): The man who aspired to write history “as it actually happened.” He meant that he wanted to find out what happened rather than to prove a dogma. He started writing history using a large variety of historical documents including letters, diplomatic documents, diaries and so on.


Sheila Rowbotham (1934 – ): British, feminist Marxist historian. Her best-known work is Hidden From History.


George Rude (1910-1993): A pioneer in the “new social history” he published The Crowd in the French Revolution, which showed how crowd behavior was disciplined, ritualized and rational. He tried to identify the “faces” in the crowd and analyze their actions.


Albert Soboul (1914-1982): French historian focusing on the laborers and working classes. He was kicked out of his teaching position by the Vichy regime. His mentor was Georges Lefebvre, also a specialist in the lower classes, though focused on the peasantry. He stressed the importance of social conflict, and held that the rise of the bourgeoisie over the aristocratic classes depended on the support they got from the sans culottes and the peasants in the majority.


Oswald Spengler (1880-1936): He wrote The Decline of the West, published in 1922, which asserted that cultures (he had eight main ones) have life cycles and that the West is coming toward the end of its life span. He may have been about fifty years off, but, hey… The life cycles are discussed as seasons. Winter comes last, ending in tyranny, war, and materialism. The Germans liked it because it made them feel not so bad about losing World War I.

H. Tawney (1880-1962): An advocate of the working class, he was active in British politics, as a member of the Labour party. His work concentrated in economic history, but with a skew at the beginning of his career) toward how individuals and groups resisted capitalist modes of thought. In Religion and Capitalism he explored the relationship between economic practice and moral principle.

A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990): A controversial English historian who made a lot of money and became very popular giving lectures about history on the BBC. (If you saw “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” you may remember the old professor guy in the sweater at the end of the movie. He is modeled on Taylor!) He wrote a ton of books, the most famous of which are The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, The Origins of the Second World War, The Course of German History, and a dandy autobiography.

P. Thompson (1924-1993): Communist activist English historian, famous for The Making of the English Working Class. He is noteworthy for his attempt to write history from the bottom up.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859): French lawyer and writer famous for his Democracy in America and The Ancien Regime and the Revolution. His family was persecuted by the Terror and his father narrowly escaped with his life.

Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975): His uncle, also called Arnold Toynbee, coined the term “Industrial Revolution.” He wrote A Study of History that came out in 12 volumes between 1934 and 1961. He was interested in why civilizations thrived and others failed. He rejected Spengler’s life cycle model and came up with the “challenge and response” model. Even so, the Study charts the rise and fall of twenty civilizations. At the end of his life he became religious and supposed that the engine for the advance of civilization was the “universal church.” He thought all civilizations gave rise to it in their desperation to avoid a fall.

M. Trevelyan (1876-1962): The quintessential Whig historian. His most famous works are England in the Age of Wycliffe, British History in the 19th Century, and English Social History.

R. Trevor-Roper (1914-2003): He is noted for The European Witch Craze of the 17th Century, The Last Days of Hitler (which was a best seller) and a ton of others. He was in a fight with R.H. Tawney – it was called the “gentry controversy” – in which he asserted that it was not the rise of the gentry that explains the outbreak and course of the English Civil War, but rather it was a decline of a part of it.


Barbara Tuchman (1912–1989): American independent historian who wrote The Guns of August, The Zimmermann Telegram, Stillwell and the American Experience in China, The March of Folly, Practicing History and many more. She started in journalism.

V. Wedgwood (1910-1989): Independent British historian whose works include biographies of Richelieu and William the Silent, and The Thirty Years War, which she says was a “meaningless conflict.”

Cecil Woodham-Smith (1896-1977): British historian whose exceptionally readable works include The Reason Why (about the Charge of the Light Brigade and British mis-management of the Crimean War, and The Great Hunger (about the Irish potato famine.)