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Discussion #2: Material Interpretations ~ Marxism (class-based history) & the Annales School (Social History)
This week we ramp up the reading level, as well as the sophistication of the approaches that historians use to interpret and make sense of the historical past. The first grouping we are going to look at are called material interpretations. These different interpretive approaches include Marxism (also known as Historical Materialism, or class-based history), and the Annales School (also known as Social History). These two approaches look at how structures shape historical understanding. In other words, structures within societies are the framework in which historical change happens – for the Annalists/Social Historians, it would be things like geography, the political relationship between kings and their subjects, the power of larger State or Church institutions, work, school/education, social relationships (like the family). For Marxists, it is economic structures/material conditions and one’s place within these structures (their class) that is the prime mover. It is the structures within which people operate – so they both argue that people have agency – they are active members in the story, so to speak – but it is within their participation in structures that larger historical change happens.
The readings for this discussion are as follows: “Marxism and Radical History” (Palmer); “The Annales Paradigm” (Burke) –> these will give you a solid understanding of the approaches themselves; “The Machine Breakers (Hobsbawm – Marxism/class-based history)”; “Urban Society in the Orleanais (Lefebvre – The Annales School/Social History)” –> these two are examples of the interpretive approaches in action; or how historians would use them.
Once you have read and reflected on the readings about the materialist approach, answer the following questions in your initial post (a paragraph for each question will suffice):
-What is the common factor that links together all materialist approaches?
-Do you see any differences between the Annales approach (Social History), and the class-based approach of Marxists (Historical Materialists) in how they interpret the historical past?
-All historical approaches are a response to earlier approaches, so how did these materialist approaches challenged the political history narrative used by the Empiricists? Also, what trend from the Empiricists did they continue? (think about dependence on factual material)
-What strengths and/or weaknesses do you see in the use of the materialist approach, as you read in the articles by Hobsbawm and Lefebvre? Think about what in History the materialist approaches will illuminate (that is show us) that another approach might miss as well as what do you see as not covered or explained through the use of a materialist interpretive framework.
Post your initial post here. Then come back and respond to at least two more of your peers’ initial posts along with any questions addressed to you. Do you agree with their ideas, can you expand their ideas, or do you just have questions for them? Remember that peer responses are designed to help us gain a deeper understanding of the course material. Remember to try to make your initial post about 2-3 paragraphs in length and your peer responses around a full paragraph. Avoid the single sentence peer response as they don’t add much to our discussion.
Also try to provide an in-depth demonstration of your understanding of these materialist interpretations through both your initial post and peer responses.
If you have any questions, please ask me.
***One last point, while what is called the Marxist approach is one of the materialist approaches, the Marxist interpretive approach in History is not socialism and/or communism. So don’t go off topic into some political editorial about these political/economic ideologies. What we are studying here are not Marx’s political ideas or philosophies – rather, we are learning about how he argued we should understand the historical past. Think about how Marxism (Historical Materialism) is a class-based interpretation of History and the value in thinking about historical actors in terms of their class backgrounds (which all historical actors have).
It must be in Chicago style format.
I have atteched all nessecary reading material and included a link as well.