Marc Bloch

French historian (1886–1944)

Marc Bloch (6 July 1886 – 16 June 1944) was a French historian, soldier and resistance fighter who, together with Lucien Febvre and Henri Hauser, was the co-founder of the enormously influential Annales School of historiography. The author of a variety of books, including his magnum opus The Historian's Craft, which he wrote as a political prisoner prior to his execution by the Gestapo for his work in the French Resistance, Bloch was instrumental to the foundation of the Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales journal, and its introduction of interdisciplinary history to twentieth century historiography.

The good historian is like the giant of the fairy tale


  • "The good historian is like the giant of the fairy tale. He knows that wherever he catches the scent of human flesh, there his quarry lies."
    • The Historian's Craft, pg.26
  • "Thenceforth they thought that, rationally concluded, doubt could become an instrument of knowledge."
  • "Successive technological revolutions have immeasurably widened the psychological gap between generations. With some reason, perhaps, the man of the age of electricity and of the airplane feels himself removed from his masters."
    • The Historian's Craft, pg.36
  • "But history is neither watchmaking nor cabinet construction. It is an endeavour toward better understanding."
  • "There is no true understanding without a certain range of comparison."
    • The Historian's Craft, pg.42
  • "Misunderstanding of the present is the inevitable consequence of ignorance of the past. But a man may wear himself out just as fruitlessly in seeking to understand the past, if he is totally ignorant of the present...This faculty of understanding the living is, in very truth, the master quality of the historian."
    • The Historian's Craft, pg.43
  • "The historian is, by definition, absolutely incapable of observing the facts which he examines."
  • For in the last analysis it is human consciousness which is the subject matter of history.
    • The Historian's Craft, pg.151


  • The Poles had fought courageously, but they were outnumbered and outgunned. The most striking thing about the war in the West the following year was that the opposite was true. It was perhaps predictable that the Dutch and Belgians would succumb to superior German forces, but the fall of France within a matter of just six weeks was, as the historian Marc Bloch said, a 'strange defeat'. Even without the support of the British Expeditionary Force, the French forces were superior on paper, an advantage that ought to have been magnified by their fighting a defensive campaign. They had twice the number of wheeled vehicles and 4,638 tanks to the German 4,060. Moreover, French tanks had thicker armour and bigger guns. Yet when the German offensive was launched on May 10, 1940, many units put up only token resistance.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), pp. 387-388
  • Marc Bloch agreed that the débâcle was due at least in part to the abysmal quality of French generalship. A decisive factor was the German decision to switch the direction of their main attack from Luxembourg and the Low Countries, as Hitler had originally planned, to the line running between Liège and Namur, through the supposedly impenetrable forests of the Ardennes. The French would have fared better against the original strategy; they were wholly taken by surprise when five panzer divisions thrust their way through the Ardennes and captured the bridges over the River Meuse. Thereafter, their reactions were culpably slow or inept. Yet what happened in 1940 was more than just a military failure. At root, as Bloch argued, it was a collapse of morale.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. 389
  • "Marc Bloch has been a source of way to give some indicaion of my reaction to his work is to provide my thoughts in different decades to his work for...he meant something different to me in different phases of my work and my understanding of what he was saying has shifted considerably."



"Marc Bloch and the Historian's Craft," by Alan Macfarlane

  •   Encyclopedic article on Marc Bloch on Wikipedia
  •   Media related to Marc Bloch on Wikimedia Commons