FOREWORD

By T.S.BROWN

‘ONE of the outstanding historical works of modern times’, ‘a classic’ and, ‘a vital work of synthesis’ are some of the accolades lavished on Marc Bloch’s Feudal Society. In his foreword to the first edition of the English translation, published in 1961, Professor Michael Postan could describe the work as ‘the standard international treatise on feudalism’ and launch into a spirited eulogy of Bloch’s scientific approach (‘positivistic and rational in the proper sense of the terms’), of his broad concept of feudalism and of his commitment to the study of mentalities and the ‘whole human environment’. 1 The work had an impact on the medievalist, the non-historical specialist, the student, and the general reader which is unparalleled by any other work on the Middle Ages.

Bloch’s status as the doyen of modern medievalists was not, of course, founded solely on Feudal Society (the second volume of which first appeared in 1940). He had previously built up a formidable reputation for his early monographs on French rural life and for a wide range of studies on topics as varied as the decline of ancient slavery and the miracle-working powers of the Capetian kings. His wider concern for history was reflected in his founding, together with Lucien Febvre, of the enormously influential periodical Annales d’ Histoire Économique et Sociale and by his authorship of the stimulating but incomplete treatise ‘Apologie pour l’Histoire ou Métier d’ Historien’. 2 Both before, and after, his execution by the Gestapo on 16 June 1944, Bloch’s standing rested on his actions as well as his writings: he was revered as a colleague, teacher, and friend, and was passionately concerned with his beloved France and her struggles in his own day. La Société Féodale was widely seen as the culmination of his work as a medievalist, and the publication of the English translation in 1961 gave its author the cult-status in the English-speaking world which he had long enjoyed in France. 3

Since then, however, the iconoclasts have been at work. A reaction has set in against Bloch’s concept of feudalism, and Feudal Society has been compared unfavourably with some of his earlier work. New historical movements, such as ‘metahistory’ and ‘cliometrics’, have condemned the work of the Annales school as flawed and old-fashioned, and there has

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