What Makes a Nation?

When Fernand Braudel died in 1985, The Times of London called him "the greatest of Europe's historians." In spite of Braudel's great merits, many would question this accolade. Indeed, he may be assigned a place among those contemporary historians who justify, by their oeuvre, the sociological school, and who therefore have "betrayed" the historian's true vocation. If, in many of our universities, history has become a subclass of the social sciences, men like Braudel are to some extent responsible.

Not that the writing of history must forever remain on the tracks built by Herodotus and Thucydides; history, like other disciplines, does change course according to cultural fashion. Leopold von Ranke and his school insisted on "factual statements," and revisionists in this half-century took up hermeneutics in order to analyze the "real" motives of groups and classes. Then there is, of course, Marxist historiography with its appdictic class-bias.

The Annales school of which Braudel was for a long time the uncrowned head has respectable ancestors—Lucien Febre, for example, and Marc Bloch before the Second World War. But these men were still convinced that history should not break its association with literature—in other words, that history is a story, only a true one. Its style used to be literary. The second recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature...

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