Historian Jacques Le Goff dies
babelmed - 02/04/2014
Frenchman Jacques Le Goff, one of the most influential medieval historians of modern times, died in Paris on April 1 in Paris at age 90.
Le Goff breathed life into the Middle Ages, rendering them accessible and fascinating to the common reader. Over a long career in academia and public broadcasting, Le Goff transformed views of the Middle Ages from a dark and backward time to a period that laid the foundations for modern Western civilisation.
He was a leading proponent of "New History", the shift in historical research from emphasis on political figures and events to mentality and anthropology.
Born in 1924, he was one of the leading figures in the French Annales School movement, which included such legendary historiographers as Ferdinand Braudel and Maurice Lombard and focused on social life and not only political and diplomatic events, bringing together history, geography, sociology and anthropology in dynamic historical reconstructions that looked closely at the birth of ideas, habits, and changes in economic models.
In ''Les Intellectuels au Moyen âge'' (1957, translated into a dozen languages), his second work after ''Merchants and Bankers of the Middle Ages'', he studied the formation of an intellectual class in the 12th century alongside the rebirth of cities and the rise of universities in the 13th century, their evolution, the creation of an academic aristocracy, and the relations between universities and politics.
The ''long'' Middle Ages, the ''other'' Middle Ages, the ''daily'' Middle Ages'', the ''wonderful'' Middle Ages and attention to the ''collective imagination'' were all expressions he coined - some of which appeared in the title of his books - in an attempt to shed light on those centuries left in obscurity.
After getting his degree at the Ecole Normale Superieure, Le Goff became an associate professor of history at the University of Paris in 1950. He later taught at the University of Lille in northern France, followed by a research position at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, when he also took on the role of co-director of the Annales journal. In 1972 he replaced Braudel at the head of the sixth section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, which in 1975 became the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.
Le Goff had a great many essays and books to his name, including such well-known works as ''La Civilisation de l'Occident Médiéval'' (1964); ''Pour un autre Moyen Age'' (1978); ''La Naissance du Purgatoire'' (1981); ''L'Apogée de la Chrétienté'' (1982); ''L'Imaginaire Médiéval'' (1985); ''Saint Louis' (1996); ''Saint François d'Assise'' (1999); ''L'Europe est-elle née au Moyen Age? (2003); ''Le Moyen Age et l'Argent'', and the iconographic study ''Un Moyen Ấge en Images'' (2000), an analysis of the mentality, spirituality, and daily life of medieval man through the artworks of the era. He also authored a number of children's books.
Outside the halls of academia, Le Goff hosted a weekly history programme on the public radio station France Culture, and even acted as a historical advisor on films, including the 1986 adaption of Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" starring Sean Connery.
"By transforming our view of the Middle Ages, you have changed the way we deal with history," Le Goff was told when awarded the prestigious Dr. A.H. Heineken prize for history in 2004, whose jury described him as "without doubt the most influential French historian alive today".