Must We Divide History Into Periods?


Product Details

Columbia University Press
Publish Date
5.5 X 0.9 X 7.1 inches | 0.6 pounds
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About the Author

Jacques Le Goff (1924-2014), for many years director of studies at the Γ‰cole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, was a highly influential member of the Annales School. Among his other works are Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages and Constructing the Past: Essays in Historical Methodology.

M. B. DeBevoise translates from the French and Italian in every branch of scholarship.


The value of this work lies in its consideration of Western early modern history and its reflection on how we perceive and try to control time. It is a memoir of intellectual landscape by a man who lived with his subject for half a century. Le Goff evokes how the naming of a new period entails the rejection of what precedes; when we decide 'this was the Renaissance, ' we cast off a thing called the Middle Ages. Le Goff encourages us to avoid such partitions and appreciate time's continuum--Andrea Tarnowski, Dartmouth College
Time occupied Le Goff throughout his long and immensely fruitful career. The qualities of time--liturgical time, market time, peasant time--intrigued him, as did the ways it has been divided, measured, and represented. In Must We Divide History Into Periods?, Le Goff delights his readers with the suggestion that the Renaissance was but one of a series of creative episodes within Europe's long 'Middle Ages, ' an epoch whose end is best found in the eighteenth century.--Miri Rubin, Queen Mary University of London
Le Goff was one of the truly great historians of our time, and his final reflections on the nature and responsibilities of our craft are lucid, profound, and humane.--R. I. Moore, Newcastle University
Acknowledging both the arbitrary nature of historical periodization and its necessity, Jacques Le Goff argued until his death for an appreciation of the fundamental unity of what is normally divided into the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This final formulation of his arguments will be useful to generations of those who seek to understand the paradox of continuity and change in European history--Patrick J. Geary, Institute for Advanced Study
A good book that leaves the reader with interesting questions.--Scott McLemee "Inside Higher Ed "
Richly informative and thought-provoking.--Walter Kaiser "New York Review of Books "
[A] thought-provoking and eminently readable book.--Helen Fulton "Times Higher Education "
This is a valuable book, grounded in a lifetime's scholarship, accessibly written and well translated by DeBevoise. It is potentially unintimidating for students looking for a sweeping framework of European history in which to situate more specialist studies, and an engaging introduction to the ideas underpinning periodization. While it is useful in providing insights into a whole world of French historiography which is often lost to anglophone readers, perhaps its greatest strength is in forcing readers to think about the way in which historians play with and cut up time. As a means of getting students to consider different ways of thinking about the past, not as a succession of fixed pieces, but as something far more contingent and complex, it is a lively introduction to the question of why historians divide history into periods.--Becky Taylor "History: Journal of the Historical Association "