Friday, January 13, 2017

"Making the Great Man Theory of History Great Again"

"As a professional historian, this sort of analysis is entirely contrary to the way I was trained, which was to see social change developing across broad swaths of society, not emanating from particular individuals. Moreover, I was partly trained in France, under the aegis of the so-called Annales school, whose vision of history could not be more different from the heroic one. Fernand Braudel, one of the leaders of the school, taught his followers to pay attention to the deep, slow, geological, and climactic forces that, in determining the shape of the continents and patterns of global warming and cooling, ultimately shape human societies as well. After that, Braudel directed us to study centuries-long patterns of economic and social change. He compared all these subjects to the deep currents moving through oceans. Mere 'event history,' by contrast, including decisions taken by powerful individuals, he likened to the insignificant foam tossed up on the ocean's surface. Much of the history influenced by Braudel barely even mentioned particular individuals, let alone attributed a decisive influence to them. In short, my instinct was long to treat the 'heroic mode' as simplistic and misleading."

David A. Bell in Foreign Policy says that Donald Trump's "unpredictable rise is forcing historians and social scientists to rethink their most basic assumptions about how the world works."

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