27 January 2008

How the Caged Historian Wrote

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), p. 205:
Books were written in captivity. Fernand Braudel's thesis on The Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II (which was to revolutionize historiography when it was published) was written in Oflag XIIB in Mayence and then at Oflag XC at Lübeck. Braudel sent chapters, handwritten in school exercise books, to his supervisor Lucien Febvre in Paris. It is interesting to speculate on how captivity marked this work. Was Braudel's approach influenced by the access to German history books, brought to him from the town library by a sympathetic German guard? Was it the chance to escape from academic routines that turned Braudel away from what had previously been orthodox historical writing? Was Braudel's determinism and emphasis on the longue durée characteristic of one who was leading a life of enforced passivity controlled by inscrutable forces? Does the vividness with which the material richness of the Mediterranean is evoked owe something to the deprivations of a German winter?

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