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This review is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

THE TRANSLATION OF HISTORY Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou, Cathars and Catholics in a French village, 1294-1324, translated by Barbara Bray (Scolar Press) £12.50

When Peter Burke gave his brief assessment of the French Annalesschool of historiography in 19771, he made no mention of one of its most recent and spectacular productions, Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou (1975). What he wrote was useful in so far as it dispelled the still tenacious myth that the Annalesgroup stand for the replacement of historical discourse by statistics. It gave sympathetic consideration to their aspiration to write "total history" and noted their "refusal to accept (at least a priori) the Marxist assumption of the dominance of the economic". (In effect, the commitment to "total history" is discernible in the Marxist tradition at least as far back as Plekhanov2. But it is nonetheless true that Le Roy Ladurie, at any rate, declares his distance from Marxism, which he very precisely qualified in a recent discussion as a "capital thing, on condition of knowing how to go beyond it"3.) Yet Burke's argument was less sound when he discussed their long-standing aim of writing the "histoire des mentalités". Correctly associating this project with the original influence of the anthropologist Lévi-Bruhl in the 1920s, he went on to state that Lévi-Bruhl's methodology has now been superseded by Lévi-Strauss. The undoubted implication (though not drawn explicitly, it is fair to say) is: "A plague on both your houses!" Yoked to the anthropologist, the historian must abide the nemesis of dying methodologies. Was he not imprudent to have chanced his hand in the first place?

It is here that Montailloucomes in. ...


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