An Inter-disciplinary approach of ‘Total History’

Understanding history should extend beyond the study of diplomatic, war and political actions.

In order to determine the cause of any war or event,  historians have been using traditional methods of analysing causation of political, and diplomatic causes. But it has been analysed differently by Annales school to present a ‘total history’ in order to understand the complexity of any issues.

The Annales school of Historical approach was founded in 1929 by French intellectual tradition as a historical journal Annales d’histoire économique et sociale (Annales Economic and Social History). The Annales School achieved its pinnacle of significance and impact in the mid 20th century and continues to be a prominent mode of history writing.

These historians are a loose group of historians with similar goals that are dedicated to expanding the scope of history. This article explains the discourse of the emergence of Annales school and its basic principles based on general sources for the mass readers.

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Annales insisted on breaking down barriers between disciplines, drawing consciously on methodologies of other disciplines and drawing consciously on the methodologies of other disciplines and posits an inter-disciplinary approach that constitutes geography, social sciences such as sociology, economics, linguistics, anthropology and psychology. 

World History; Picture Source: @CANVA

It goes away from restrictions of periodization and geographical boundaries and focuses on an approach to a study of long-term historical structure (la longue durée) over events, that explores the impact of the environment on humanity over millennia, where the change is slow.

It popularize the ‘history from below approach to history’. This school believes that understanding history should extend beyond the study of diplomatic, war and political actions. These historians, in particular, offered alternatives to the dominance of the ‘economic substructure’ as a causative element in history. They placed a more significant focus on geography than on economics, and historians’ work on mentalities and cultural history foreshadowed the linguistic shift’ – the emphasis on the importance of language.

World History; Picture Source: @CANVA

Annales School of Historiography

The Annales School historians are divided into four generations. The most significant members of the first generation – the founders – were the medievalist Marc Bloch and the early modernist Lucien Febvre (they stressed Total history during the 1930s and 1940s) that insisted on considering all levels of society and focused on the collective nature of mentalities. 

Fernand Braudel was the dominant figure in the next generation of Annales historians who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 1950s (they gave the concept of Notion of Historical time). They emphasise global history and social and economic history. 

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World History; Picture Source: @CANVA

The third generation scholar is Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, who provided the idea of History of Mentality and Question of Narrative in the 1970s when Young Annales—- Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and others. The last generation, led by Roger Chartier focused on the cultural and linguistic approach emphasising the social history of cultural practices rather than mentalities.

Marc Bloch connected history and social science in an imaginative manner, his work was ‘The Feudal Society’ and ‘Life of Rural France’, made use of new material like as topographical and historical maps, in addition to old sources.

He analyzes European feudal history without focusing on the elite elements of feudalism, but rather on how ordinary medieval people saw the world around them; what common people thought of life and death: it probed into their minds. He insisted on the new path of historical research by arguing that the form of inquiry was defined by the issue themselves.

World History; Picture Source: @CANVA

This work was a result of ‘total history’ and made use of mentalities and an interdisciplinary approach. Thus examined the Feudal society rather than Feudal history, with an aim to unearth the hidden causes of long term society change.

Another work ‘The Royal Touch’ (1924) is based on wartime observations. The study investigated the medieval and early modern French and English idea that the monarch could heal a skin ailment known as Scrofula merely by touching patients. Indeed, the Royal Touch was a weapon of propaganda from the ruler’s point of view, all the more so since this heavenly gift was restricted to the legitimate successor, on whom it was bestowed on the occasion of the consecration.

Bloch approached it in a way that blended social-historical eradication with new and exciting questions about the symbolic impact of rituals, the efficacy of myths, and the potential motor of collective questions. Bloch examined public views about kingship, religion, and miracles over a lengthy period of time (C13th-18th) and compared belief in the holy monarchy in France and England in the book.

The Royal Touch is a unique mix of medical, psychological, and anthropological study of Medieval monarchs’ healing powers. It may have been the first real history of Mentalities.

World History; Picture Source: @CANVA

Bloch’s other work ‘French Rural history’ (1931) study of the development of the rural institution in France and looked at the role of peasants and closely linked to the wartime experiences. Peasants are active players in their own lives who fight the attempts by the upper classes to usurp their perceived rights in the courts and through sabotage and rebellion.

He used non-traditional sources and travelled around France talking to farmers, inspecting their fields by using the sense of sight, hearing and smell.

Lucien Febvre’s work emphasized the importance of geography in history. Febvre’s view of history was centred on people, their methods of life, and their attitudes and ideas, rather than geography. 

Total History was coined by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre as a holistic method to studying society as a whole and determining the impact of several areas of existence in writing history; their focus is on the interconnections between different aspects of society.

For the field of history, a holistic approach implies interaction between various disciplines or an interdisciplinary approach:  So history creates its subjects via interaction with sociology, economics, psychology, and other disciplines. One cannot write history in isolation and the concept of total history is based on specific ideas of causation.

World History; Picture Source: @CANVA

However, the causes influencing political events should be derived from a study of the whole structure of society or from the interplay of many aspects in society such as social, economic, and cultural, among others. Total History is primarily a new method of writing history that focuses on the entirety of sources used to collect knowledge.

These new sources of history included films, advertisements, regionally produced books, tale books, novels, newspapers and political party manifestos etc. The limitation of total history as a totality cannot be achieved in a short time.

Braudel carried on the Annales Historians’ goal of integrating various kinds of history in his most well-known work, ‘The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillips II.’ He created a work that blended a broad chronological and historical sweep with a plethora of minute details, spanning the whole Mediterranean world from the Renaissance to the sixteenth century.

For him, the historical value of events (battles) and individual (action) is insignificant, but long-term political, social, economic, and geography are important.    

Lucien Febvre investigated the issue of disbelief in Rabeiaic’s writings and questioned the religious beliefs of the period.  He believed the 16th century was dominated by religion, with Christian belief pervading all aspects of life.

They were not necessarily aware of their Christian identity, but they were affected by Christian concepts in their self-concept. The twentieth century represents reason, whereas the sixteenth century represents religion.

The second phase of mind corresponded to the third period of Annals. Ladurie revived the history of mind in the 1960s. History of Mentality characterized as rather of concentrating only on elite mindset, they began researching common mentality. There was a focus on studying the interconnectedness of the classes and their mentalities.

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie studied the French village called Montaillau in the 14th century and used interrogation records to narrate history. He wrote on peasants and rural history of the early modern era and also climate history of the past.


This approach gives a new dimension for historical research on analysing any political upheavals in the Pacific or around the world, by breaking the limited nationalistic and disciplinary boundaries, expanding historians’ investigations to current events, and covering a wide variety of social, economic, and cultural phenomena.

It had a socio-economic perspective centred around ordinary people’s history; the acceptance and implementation of theoretical models of models from anthropology, geography, economics, and sociology. This was known as ‘total history’. 

Author: Dr Sakul Kundra, A.HOD Department of Social Science, College of Humanities and Education, Fiji National University.

Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied
Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied

Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of The Australia Today or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. dr.sakulkundra@gmail.com