When the twentieth century looks back on its past and tries to locate the intellectuals who strove to make sense of the past in a meaningful way, then the names of Marc Bloch, Fernand Braudel, E J Hobsbawm, Georges Duby and Jacques Le Goff will crop up. With the exception of Hobsbawm all the others belonged to a school of historical thought, reflection and method which is generally referred to as the Annales School. While there is considerable disagreement between different historians on the themes, approaches and methods of writing history, all the leading members of the Annales School shared an ecumenical view of History one that skirted the primacy of the Nation State as the main motor or engine of History. Right from the days of Ranke the emergence of the Nation State was seen as the teleos of history, the end result of the long drawn struggle between Church and State and the religious conflicts which split Christendom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hegel even made the Nation State the informing ideal of History and the historical process. The wonton and savage destruction of a whole civilization in the battlefields of Somme, Ypres and Flanders during World War I raised questions in the minds of Historians about the validity of the nation state as the container of the historical process. From the ruins of World War I emerged a new way of looking at the past. Marc Bloch and his friend and collaborator Lucien Febvre founded a journal in 1929 in which they espoused a Historiography unhinged from the political and ideological demands of the Nation State. The Annales remained a journal devoted to the study of History not as a mere narrative of events, the dance of kings, queens and their courtiers on the stage of History, but as problems posed as questions--histoire problematique.
The death of Jacques Le Goff on April 1, 2014 brings an end to one of the most creative epochs of European medieval historiography. Born on January 1st 1924, Jacques Le Goff succeeded Fernand Braudel as the directeur of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales in 1972 and devoted most of his research energy to the uncovering of the deep structures of culture and ideology, the carapace within which society functions. The early Annales historians stresses the role of agrarian organizations and March Bloch famously demonstrated that the Open Field system emerged in southern France with the gradual end of serfdom. Using the maps of the Revolutionary period, Bloch was able to uncover the earlier patterns of farming and field organization. Under Jacques Le Goff, the Annales turned its attention to what the French called mentalites, the structures of thought and behavior informing social life. In books such as Time Work and Culture in the Middle Ages, The Birth of Purgatory, The Medieval Imagination and several such contributions Le Goff vastl;y extended the domain of medieval history. Understanding the medieval world in its totality remained the inspiring ideal of Le Goff.
A great historian is no more. This blogger lives works and teaches in India, far away from the land of Le Goff. I have read his work with passion and I write these words as a tribute to a Historian who will forever remain an inspiration.
Now History has moved into the realm of language and language games. Le Goff rightly avoided the temptation of making History a mere language game.