Marc Bloch once wrote, ‘The good historian resembles the ogre of legend. Wherever he senses human flesh, he knows that there lies his prey’.1 For nothing animates the historian so much as the sense of human presence. Where ogres of legend smell or hear their prey, historians track their subjects down from a distance, following traces left in documents, objects, on the environment. Historians are always at work in their present, its activities and feelings, all freighted with memories of the past and hopes for the future. That present establishes the historian’s conditions of work and observation, and so it is always within historical work in this ‘weak’ sense.2 The present can also shape historical work in a ‘strong’ sense, as its concerns become the avowed point of departure, that which sets the historical problem (histoire-problème) and formulates...

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