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History of mentalities

The history of mentalities is a calque of the French term histoire des mentalités, which might also be translated as "history of attitudes", "mindsets" or "world-views". The term describes a particular manner of doing history associated with the "critical turn" (tournant critique) of the latter generation of the Annales School (in particular, the historian of books and reading Roger Chartier).

The history of mentalities focuses on the wider mindsets of past cultural and social groups. In keeping with the Annales' interest in the longue durée (long-term), it tends to focus on gradual developments rather than short-term events. The term can also be seen as an equivalent to, or a form of, cultural history or historical anthropology

The history of mentalities, or histoire des mentalités, is a term used to describe works of history aimed at describing and analyzing the ways in which people of a given time period thought about, interacted with, and classified the world around them. The history of mentalities has been used as a historical tool by several historians and scholars from various schools of history. Notably, the historians of the Annales School helped to develop the history of mentalities and construct a methodology from which to operate. In establishing this methodology, they sought to limit their analysis to a particular place and a particular time. This approach lends itself to the intensive study that characterizes microhistory, another field which adopted the history of mentalities as a tool of historical analysis.

The origin of the term history of mentalities lies in the writings of the Annales historians such as Georges Duby and Roger Chartier. In seeking to create works of total history, Annales historians tended not to simply rely on the political or event oriented history of past generations. Michael Harsgor points out in that the challenge of the Annales historians was not to create this deterministic history that appeared to rely heavily on teleological conclusions, such as the Marxist forms of history being written at the time. Rather, Harsgor writes that the Annales historians tasked themselves with the creation of social structures, "which means covering the skeleton of the basic economic analysis with the flesh of demographic, cultural, mental, and event psychoanalytical data." It has also been said that Annales historians, in their attempts at the creation of total history, considered the history of mentalities a single aspect in the creation of that history. Simply put, they were attempting to reconstruct the world of whatever time period they were examining. In his works, such as The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined and his work on William Marshal, Duby focused on the development of ideologies within the structures that permeated the various aspects of an individual's life.

  • Burguiere, A. "The Fate of the History of Mentalities in the Annales," Comparative Studies in Society and History (1982) 24#3, pp 424–437.
  • Burke, Peter (1997). "'Strengths and Weaknesses in the History of Mentalities'". In Burke, Peter. Varieties of Cultural History (Digital ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. 162–82. ISBN . ; revised from original publication in History of European Ideas, 7 (1986), 439-51.
  • Chartier, Roger (1988). Cultural History: Between Practices and Representations (in English trans. edition) (1st ed.). Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN . 
  • Hutton, Patrick. "Mentalities" in Kelly Boyd, ed. (1999). Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing vol 2. Taylor & Francis. pp. 800–3. 
  • Poirrier, Philippe (2004). Les enjeux de l'histoire culturelle (New ed.). Paris: Éd. du Seuil. ISBN . 


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