Randomly flicking through my battered paperback copy of Age of Extremes a few hours ago I stumbled across the paragraph that convinced me to become either a historian or at least a passable pastiche of one:
‘The destruction of the past, or rather of the social mechanisms that link one’s contemporary experience to that of earlier generations, is one of the most characteristic and eerie phenomena of the late twentieth century. Most young men and women at the century’s end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in. This makes historians, whose business it is to remember what others forget, more essential at the end of the second millennium than ever before. But for that very reason they must be more than simply chroniclers, remembrancers and compilers, though this is also the historians’ necessary function. In 1989 all governments, and especially all Foreign Ministries, in the world would have benefited from a seminar on the peace settlements after the two world wars, which most of them had apparently forgotten.’
It will probably not come as a great shock to learn that I’ve completed a (very pretty if I don’t say so myself) map of the French Presidential election already:
As I finished this thing of wonder and pondered its unusual pattern (for Hollande was triumphant across vast swathes of previously rock-solid conservative territory in the Massif Central, obliterating the traditional Catholic/Anti-Clerical divide), I suddenly realised that this apparently new and unexpected pattern looked… familiar. I had seen it before:
The above maps are taken from the great French historian Fernand Braudel’s last work, The Identity of France. They show the patterns of French family structures in the early 1970s. A – farming households, B – rural households, C – urban households.
I’m not sure what (if any) conclusions can be drawn from this, but it’s interesting and unlikely to be a complete coincidence. Elections, after all, reflect the societies in which they happen.