Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Position Paper # 12 Fernand Braudel


The Three Time Span

Personally, I am quite impressed by Fernand Braudel’s vision on History. I am able to notice that he has quite different view point with other Historians. While other Historians seek significance of some special events which are dramatic and exciting and which took place mostly in a short time, he would like to take a long and wide view on History which focuses on long duration events that are not really exciting and interesting. I am not insisting that his work is way better than any other philosophers of History. Rather I would want to point out the value of his work in establishing unbiased and not narrow view on History.

Danto, who advocates narrative form of account and interpretation of History willingly or unwillingly, focuses more on short-term events (Which Braudel calls History of event) than long duration events. Although Braudel idea challenges Danto’s view, I still admit Danto advocating narrative account because this sort of analysis can give us emphasis and important teachings from certain noticeable events. I believe that Danto’s narrative account and Braudel’s long duration events are the two big pillars required in building up proper and unbiased view on History.

Fernand Braudel is much interested in different types of time span and rhythm. He believes that historians must not only consider the relations of coexisting elements (for example, cultural, geographic, economic and political developments) but also those over different periods of time (for instance, long-term and short-term developments). (Marie Hughes Warrington, 2009) The three types of time span Braudel proposes are: history of event, history of conjucture, and history of Long duration.

First, history of event may be 5 years, 7 years or around 10 years. This time span is suited to the study of things like major events (Staloff, 1995). The sort of events which is noticeable like wars and revolutions take place in relation with individual time span. I would say that individual time span and the events took place during that time span is where the most of narrativists focus on because the events of individual time span are generally absorbed with dramatic development with exciting revelation.

Second, history of conjucture may be measured in decades. The events of social time span generally take place cyclically in 20 to 50 years duration. The sort of events during social time span is generally referring to business cycle, technological development and so on.

Third, and last, history of Long duration which is Braudel is interested in most. It is not measured in decades but in centuries. Ecological, geographical history and rise and fall of civilization are the sort of events which take place in long duration time span. Those changes and developments are extremely slow and gradual.

Braudel uses metaphor in his account on time span. According to him, history of event is surface of the water, history of conjucture is the wave, and history of long duration is the tidal force. What does that imply? The events the most of us and specially narrativist interested in are like surface of water which occurs as a result of movement of wave. And the deeper cause of moving wave is tidal force.

Braudel actually wants to concentrate on Historical events which refer to tidal force rather than surface events. He insists that long duration time span is actually deeper study of History. That is why he sometimes criticizes narrativists like Danto who are generally focusing on surface of History. I believe that his point is that while we are too much focusing on surface of water we might overlook the importance of wave and tidal force which are actually fundamental cause or factor of surface of water.

Braudel wants us to consider the ‘deeper waters’ of the style of history as well as its content and boundaries. (Marie Hughes Warrington, 2009)


Braudel’s Structuralism

So what part of History in particular is Braudel interested in? Actually, his study is rarely dealing with dramatic event but structure which exists beneath the surface of events and with the conjuctural comprises what he calls unconscious History. (Staloff, 1995)

Structuralism is defined as a method of analyzing phenomena, as in anthropology, linguistics, psychology, or literature, chiefly characterized by contrasting the elemental structures of the phenomena in a system of binary opposition. We can see structure as a distinct pattern of relationship between persons, institutions and entities within a society. Therefore, I would say Braudel’s study profoundly looks into social changes with regards to the structures.

Braudel is considered as Historian who revolutionized 20th century study of his discipline by considering the effects of such outside disciplines as economics, anthropology, and geography on global History. (Wikipedia) In order to precisely look into the structure of History, Braudel chooses to study economics, anthropology and geography which require wide and long view to study because the events of such studies take place in long duration time span. He believes that once we know deeper level of time (tidal force) then we can with them why we have the wave and surface we see.

I would like to support Braudel’s idea. I strongly believe that Historians must cultivate widened and deepened perspective on History. In order to understand History properly, we must not stay at surface of the sea of History but must go deeper to see waves and tidal force which move the sea of History. Knowing events of long duration time span give us profound and precise understanding of events of short time span. So I would want to say that narrativists need to cultivate their knowledge of long duration event also rather to much focus on the dramatic events in order for them to improve their account of their studies.

I would like to highly value Braudel for pointing out the fact that fundamental causes and factors of the events like wars and revolutions (which are dramatic) which the most of students who study History are mainly dealing with are found in long duration time span that is boring, too ordinary and seeming not important. His idea suggests us to avert our eyes to ordinary people and their lives rather to focus only on dramatic and exciting events. Braudel insists that our lives must be recovered structurally.

Braudel’s idea promises us to recover the experiences of ordinary people and treat their lives as integral part of History. (Staloff, 1995) While Hegel is insisting History that of Great man, Braudel suggests us to look into the ordinary people’s lives and experiences. While Danto and other analytic narrativist are absorbed in dramatic and exciting like surface of the sea which flows fast, Braudel suggests us to look into the events that are not dramatic and exciting but really important like deep water of the sea which flows slow without any sound but which is strong force that is moving whole sea.

For recent people who are pursuing incentive, dramatic and exciting Historical events, Braudel’s theory would be great challenge. His theory helps us to have unbiased and balanced view. He sharply points out what are not really noticeable and we easily pass by without any impression in studying History. I am quite impressed by his work on History.


Staloff, D. (1995) The search for a meaningful past philosophies, theories, and
interpretations [Audiobook]. The Teaching Company.

Hegel, G.W.F. (2001). The philosophy of history (J. Sibree, Trans.). Kitchener, Ontario:
Batoche Books.

Danto, A.C. (1985). Narration and knowledge. Columbia University.

Braudel, F. (1982). On history. (S. Matthews, Trans.). University of Chicago. (Original
work published 1969).

Marie Hughes Warrington (2009). 50 Key Thinker on History New York: Routlege

Fernand Braudel (September 25, 2009). In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia Retrieved 18:11 September 25, 2009 from

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