Thursday, November 17, 2016

First Paragraph

I like to think of history as an untidy sprawling house. Over the past decades, historians have broadened their scope from political, economic, or intellectual history to include the study of emotions, attitudes, tastes, or prejudices. (And in what I find a rather tiresome trend, historians have also been looking increasingly at themselves; how they "created" the past.) And in the house of history are those who think in centuries and those who focus on a single moment. Some historians prefer to deal with the great changes, sometimes over millennia, that have taken place in human society. They look at the shift from hunting to agriculture, for example, or the growth of cities; or they count such things as population growth and migrations or economic output. The great French historian Fernand Braudel argued that the true object of historical research was to look beneath the surface of events and discover the longer-term patterns - what he called the longue duree. He saw human history as a great slow-moving river, affected in its course more by geography, the environment, or social and economic factors than by such transient or short-lived events - he called them "froth" - as politics or wars. While biography cannot explain all, it is perhaps no coincidence that Braudel spent the Second World War in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. From that perspective the longue duree must have offered hope that Nazism would disappear like a bad dream as history moved slowly on. 

- From History's People: Personalities and the Past by Margaret MacMillan


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