Marc Bloch


Marc Bloch : biography

6 July 1886 – 16 June 1944

Primary sources

  • Bloch, Marc. Méthodologie Historique (1988); originally conceived in 1906 but not published until 1988; revised in 1996
  • Bloch, Marc. Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924), translated as The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England (1990), his doctoral dissertation
  • Bloch, Marc. La Vie d’Outre-tombe du Roi Salomon (1925)
  • Bloch, Marc. Feudal Society: Vol 1: The Growth of Ties of Dependence (1989); Feudal Society: Vol 2: Social Classes and Political Organisation(1989)
  • Bloch, Marc. French Rural History, tr. Janet Sondheimer (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966). Translation of Les caractères originaux de l’histoire rurale française, 1931. ISBN 0-520-01660-2
  • Bloch, Marc. Apologie pour l’histoire ou Métier d’historien (1949), translated as The Historian’s Craft (1953) ;
  • Bloch, Marc. Memoirs of War, 1914-1915 Cornell U. Press, 1980. 177 pp.
  • Bloch, Marc. Strange Defeat; a Statement of Evidence Written in 1940 (London: Oxford University Press, 1949) ;


Miracles and mentalities

In Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924)Translated as The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England (1990) Bloch looked at the long-standing folk belief that the king could cure scrofula by touch. The kings of France and England indeed regularly practised the ritual. Bloch was not concerned with the effectiveness of the royal touch—he acted like an anthropologist in asking why people believed it and how it shaped relations between king and commoner. The book was highly influential in introducing comparative studies (in this case France and England), as well as long-durations studies spanning a thousand years (with specific events used as illustrations). By investigating the impact of rituals, the efficacy of myths, and all the possible sources of collective behavior, he became the "father of historical anthropology." Bloch’s revolutionary charting of mentalities resonated with scholars who were reading Freud and Proust. Stirling (2007) examines this essentially stylistic trait alongside Bloch’s peculiarly quixotic idealism, which tempered and sometimes compromised his work through his hope for a truly cooperative model of historical inquiry. While humanizing and questioning him, Stirling gives credit to Bloch for helping to break through the monotonous methodological alternance between positivism and narrative history, creating a new, synthetic version of the historical practice that has since become so ingrained in the discipline that it is typically overlooked. Stirling (2007)


Youth and First World War

Born in Lyon to a Jewish family, the son of the professor of ancient history Gustave Bloch, Marc studied at the École Normale Supérieure and Fondation Thiers in Paris, then at Berlin and Leipzig. He was an officer of infantry in World War I, rising to the rank of captain and being awarded the Légion d’honneur.

After the war, he went to the university at Strasbourg, then in 1936 succeeded Henri Hauser as professor of economic history at the Sorbonne.


In 1924 he published one of his most famous works Les rois thaumaturges: étude sur le caractère surnaturel attribué à la puissance royale particulièrement en France et en Angleterre (translated in English as The magic-working kings or The royal touch: sacred monarchy and scrofula in England and France) in which he collected, described and studied the documents pertaining to the ancient tradition that the kings of the Middle Ages were able to cure the disease of scrofula simply by touching people suffering from it. This tradition has its roots in the magical role of kings in ancient societies. This work by Bloch had a great impact not only on the social history of Middle Ages but also on cultural anthropology.

Bloch’s most important work centered on the study of feudalism. He published a large work, available in a two-volume English translation as Feudal Society. In some ways, his most innovative work is his monograph French Rural History.