Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch (1886 – June 16, 1944) was a French historian of medieval France in the period between the First and Second World Wars, a founder of the Annales school of historical thought and a French Resistance fighter.
Born in Lyons, France in 1886, Bloch studied history in Paris, Leipzig and Berlin, taught at Montpellier and Amiens and served in the infantry during World War I. In 1919, he became a professor of medieval history at Strasbourg University, and in 1929, he and his friend, historian Lucien Febvre, founded the influential journal, Annales d’histoire economique et sociale (Annals of Economic and Social History). In 1936, Bloch became a professor of economic history at the Sorbonne in Paris. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the French Army and wrote a book on his experiences, Strange Defeat, which was published after the war.
After the occupation of France by Nazi Germany, Bloch, then the father of six children, joined the French Resistance. By 1942, he was one of the leaders of a group of fighters in southern France known as the Francs-Tireurs. Formed in Lyons in 1941, the group was made up of socialists, communists and liberals committed to the idea of an independent French republic. In December 1941, the group had begun to publish an underground newspaper called Le Franc-Tireur, which Bloch worked on with others. In May 1943, the group joined forces with several other groups to form the Conseil national de la resistance. Bloch was captured by the Gestapo on June 16, 1944 and, after interrogation and torture, was executed with 27 other members of the Resistance in a field outside Lyons.
In 1941-1942, Bloch was also working on a book called The Historian’s Craft, which was published after his death (Apologie pour l’histoire ou métier d’historien, 1949). The book is one of the most important works explaining the need in history as a science about the past. It made a significant contribution to the development of theoretical problems of historical knowledge, particularly the critical approach to historical sources. To Bloch, one of the major problems of all modern civilizations was the justification of history. He defined history as “the science about people at a particular time.”
Most of Bloch’s historical research concerned medieval history and the relationship between freedom and servitude. His books include Kings and Serfs (1920), The Magic-Working Kings (1924) and Original Characteristics of French Rural History (1931).