Fernand Braudel

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"Just like Toynbee, who began as a specialist on ancient and modern Greece and who ended his career with a scholarly work on Hannibal and his legacy, Braudel started out as a historian of the Mediterranean. The second edition (1966) of his book on the Mediterranean World in the sixteenth century arguably remains his greatest work. Braudel reached out to the world rather late, only with his trilogy Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme (XVe–XVIIIe siècles), published in its entirety in 1979 when the author was 77.13 At age 84 he modestly returned to French history with yet another three volume work. Whereas Toynbee offered a key to almost all history, Braudel’s theoretical contribution was much more modest and focused: Firstly, La Méditerranée provided a model of how to analyze a large geographical space where several civilizations coexisted and interacted. Models are always easier to apply and to adapt than theorems and even general laws. This explains why a Braudelian perspective was highly influential and could easily be modified for the study of other seascapes and, in general, vast spaces all over the world."



Fernand Braudel on Structural History

Joshua Goldstein:

"Structure refers to the deeper forces of social change and conjunctureto the actual course of history. One can look at long-term change (structure), medium-term change (conjuncture), or very rapid change, "the shortest being the easiest to detect" (Braudel 1984:17).

Wallerstein's (1979:673) view of long cycles resonates with "structural history." He sees cyclical patterns as a "central part" of "long-term, large-scale social reality." "To seize this reality, we need data over wider space and longer time, and we have to search first of all for the continuities."

"This "structural history," pioneered by Braudel,1 emphasizes the systemic level of analysis, especially the level of the world as a whole, and examines the traces of long-term forces of change in society. Those who study history, Braudel argues, help society to develop and refine its collective self-temporalization—how we see our society in time. "World time" is Braudel's (1984:17) term for time "experienced on a world scale," which governs certain realities and excludes others. For Braudel, structural history means not only a new time scale but a change in focus, from the political to the economic/social/cultural aspects of history. His interpretations tend toward "geohistory" in which politics is "secondary to other historical ensembles of action" and the emphasis is on "a space ecologically articulated rather than on a nation politically expressed" (Kinser 1981:103). While shifting the focus away from the state and "politics," Braudel (1984:19) also steers clear of the approach in which economics drives all other aspects of society (economism): It would be a mistake to imagine that the order of the world-economy governed the whole of society. . . . An economy never exists in isolation. Its territory and expanse are also occupied by other spheres of activity—culture, society, politics — which are constantly reacting with the economy. Reality is a totality, the "set of sets," in which each set (economics, politics, culture, society) "extends beyond its own area" (Braudel 1984:45)."


More information

  • An excellent introduction to Fernand Braudel as a world historian is Lutz Raphael, “The Idea and Practice of World Historiography in France: The Annales Legacy,” in Writing World History 1800-2000, ed. Benedikt Stuchtey, Eckhardt Fuchs (Oxford, 2003), 155-71