[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Author Index][Search Archives]

FW: TMR 99.01.12, Shopkow, History and Community (Greenway)

Poster: "Garrett, William" <WGarrett@sierrahealth.com>

> Leah Shopkow.  <i>History and Community:  Norman Historical 
> Writing in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries</i>.  Washington:  
> Catholic University of America Press, 1997.   Pp. 327.  $39.95 
> (hb), 24.95 (pb).  ISBN 0813208823 (hb), 0813208831 (pb).
>    Reviewed by Diana Greenway
>         Institute of Historical Research, University of London
>         greenway@sas.ac.uk
> Since communities are the repository of memory for their 
> members and history was more directly the expression of a 
> community in the middle ages than it is today, Leah Shopkow has 
> selected for study the histories produced in a particular 
> community--the county of Normandy--at a formative period in its 
> social, political and cultural development.  Members of the 
> Norman community shared a belief that their Viking origins were 
> important in creating their unique identity.  Although for 150 
> of 200 years covered in the book, Normandy and England were 
> linked and shared a ruler, strong cultural rapprochement lasted 
> for only a short period and the two remained politically 
> separate.  After 1204, when Normandy was absorbed into the 
> kingdom of France, it was still a geographic, religious and 
> ethno-regional community, but its political heart had been torn 
> out.  Writing history in 11th and 12th century Normandy was 
> different from elsewhere because Normandy's community was so 
> coherent, but in some ways Norman historians struggled with the 
> same questions and arrived at similar solutions as their 
> contemporaries in other parts of Europe.
> Given that the geographical area of Normandy is so small, it is 
> perhaps not hyperbolic to describe the output of its historians 
> between 1000 and the late 12th century as "a burst of 
> historical writing", with six substantial Latin histories and 
> several minor pieces.  Of the six major writers, five wrote or 
> continued histories of Normandy's rulers (Dudo of Saint-
> Quentin, William of Jumieges, William of Poitiers, Orderic 
> Vitalis, Stephen of Rouen) while two placed the story of 
> Normandy's past against the backdrop of universal history 
> (Orderic and Robert of Torigny).  Four were members of powerful 
> monastic communities--William of Jumieges was a monk of the 
> abbey of Jumieges, Orderic a monk of Saint-Evroul, Robert of 
> Torigny a monk of Bec and later abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel and 
> Stephen of Rouen also a monk of Bec (who actually spent much of 
> his life at the priory of Notre-Dame-du-Pre, a ducal foundation 
> near Rouen).  The other two were seculars--Dudo a canon of 
> Saint-Quentin in Vermandois, outside Normandy, but for a time a 
> member of the Norman ducal entourage, and William of Poitiers, 
> another non-Norman, the archdeacon of Lisieux in Normandy.
> Drawing on a monograph by Hayden White (<i>Metahistory; The 
> Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe</i>, 
> Baltimore, 1973), who discerns four possible emplotments for 
> history--comedy, tragedy, satire and romance--Shopkow sees 
> 11th-century Norman histories as essentially comedic 
> adventures, in which Normans triumphed at home and abroad, 
> while those from the 12th century were more pessimistic, 
> touched by tragedy, depicting Norman glory as threatened or 
> eclipsed.
> In Dudo's narrative Norman history is a triumphant progression. 
> He creates a powerful founding myth in the Trojan descent of 
> the Normans, and traces their conversion from paganism to 
> Christianity.  In this story the lives of the rulers of 
> Normandy culminate in the reign of Richard, the ideal ruler, 
> whom he describes as the embodiment of the Beatitudes of the 
> Sermon on the Mount.
> William of Jumieges, writing at a time when Norman political 
> institutions were becoming more formalized, continues the theme 
> of the lives of the dukes, but tells a story not of religious 
> but of political triumph, emphasizing the legitimacy of the 
> ducal succession and thus justifying the Conquest of England, 
> the apogee of Norman glory.
> Like his predecessors, William of Poitiers saw Norman history 
> as comedy. His portrait of the virtuous Conqueror was much 
> influenced both by classical models and by Augustinian theory 
> of a Christian ruler's moral responsibility.  Shopkow did not 
> have the benefit of Marjorie Chibnall's recent edition of the 
> <i>Gesta Guillelmi</i> (Oxford Medieval Texts 1998); possibly 
> if she had she might have modified her interpretation of the 
> incompleteness of the book, which Chibnall regards as 
> accidental rather than evasive.
> In contrast to the optimistic moralism of William of Poitiers, 
> Orderic Vitalis has a dark moral view of human history.  He 
> depicts Norman history as a process of rise and fall, in which 
> cycles of well-being were followed by tragic and painful 
> periods of decline, a pattern in which the Normans seemingly 
> could not escape the consequences of their arrogance and 
> unwillingness to learn from others.
> In assessing Robert of Torigny, Shopkow runs into more problems 
> than with her other Norman writers.  Partly this is because she 
> regards the original part of his chronicle as beginning in 
> 1100, whereas in fact he continues to be heavily dependent on 
> verbatim quotations from Henry of Huntingdon down to 1147.  
> Partly it is because Robert's scissors-and-paste technique 
> makes him genuinely difficult to classify.  But Shopkow's 
> discussion of this rather neglected historian is valuable, 
> pointing up the international context in which he saw Norman 
> history and the element of nostalgia in his work.  Perhaps this 
> book will inspire a young scholar to embark on the new edition 
> and commentary that Robert's chronicle so badly needs.
> Stephen of Rouen's, "Draco normannicus", entirely in verse, 
> belongs to another genre of historical writing and sits rather 
> uneasily in company with the other historians whose work is 
> discussed in this book.  He was closer to the fabulous, his 
> theme growing out of the <i>Historia Regum Britannie</i> of 
> Geoffrey of Monmouth. Nor did he attempt serious history, but 
> had a polemical purpose, exhorting Henry II to abandon 
> reconciliation with Louis VII and adhere to the imperial 
> position in the papal schism of 1159, even using history to 
> argue for a conquest of France and urging the king-duke to take 
> a new opportunity for Norman glory.  His work exhibits strong 
> vein of nostalgia for the glorious Norman past. (Incidentally, 
> Shopkow translates "draco" as "dragon", but does not explore 
> the resonances of the double meaning, as "draco" also means 
> "standard" or "banner".)
> A better-known verse history, the "Carmen de Hastingae 
> Proelio", is excluded from consideration by Shopkow on the 
> grounds that "it seems to be a 12th-century English text, 
> rather than an 11th-century French one" (p. 230 n. 55).  On 
> this question the balance of opinion is probably against 
> Shopkow, but the jury is still out.  The forthcoming edition by 
> Frank Barlow for Oxford Medieval Texts is eagerly awaited.
> In an interesting chapter on "Truth", Shopkow uncovers several 
> strands in medieval notions of historical veracity and rightly 
> stresses that there was no uniform method of ensuring history's 
> truth.  But she perhaps underestimates the formulaic element in 
> her authors' disclaimers and statements of intent and pays too 
> much attention to their opposition of "truth" and "rhetoric".  
> This area has been mapped by Ruth Morse, <i>Truth and 
> Convention in the Middle Ages: Rhetoric, Representation and 
> Reality</i> (Cambridge 1991), which does not appear in the 
> Shopkow's bibliography.
> The long chapter on "The Purpose of History" is the heart of 
> the book, pulsing with ideas on the functions of historical 
> writing in the central middle ages. A period of rapid 
> political, social and religious change creates "social dramas" 
> (a term borrowed from social anthropology) in which individuals 
> or groups are conscious of a disruption of traditions that 
> threatens their place within a group or society.  History 
> written in such circumstances can mediate, naturalize and 
> explain experience, either as it is or as it ought to be.  The 
> 11th-century Norman histories are eloquent testimonials to 
> Norman anxieties, with their emphasis on the legitimacy of 
> ducal power and their justifying of war and conquest.  In the 
> same way, English histories written after the Conquest were a 
> way of resolving some of the tensions of cultural conflict.  
> Another genre of historical writing consisted of works that 
> were intended to be adjuncts to legal or quasi-legal 
> controversies and were aimed at advancing very specific 
> arguments about property (including rights and relics), in the 
> course of which they were likely to introduce texts of 
> charters.  The <i>Ecclesiastical History</i> of Orderic Vitalis 
> was a meeting-ground between the pragmatic style--the local, 
> charter-oriented history--and the more abstract--the universal 
> history, fuelled on characterizations and moral lessons.  In 
> common with many contemporaries Orderic felt convinced that the 
> history of the more remote periods of the past must have been 
> committed to writing in texts since lost.  Shopkow reflects on 
> the way in which the fashion for rediscovery of texts and 
> relics in the 12th century was a result of the perceived 
> discontinuities of history.
> One of the more mysterious aspects of Latin histories is the 
> question of readership.  If history satisfied so many social 
> needs, why did these texts reach so few?  From the manuscript 
> evidence, the works of William of Poitiers, Orderic Vitalis and 
> Stephen of Rouen hardly circulated at all.  Even the 
> manuscripts of the more widely disseminated texts--Dudo of 
> Saint-Quentin, William of Jumieges and Robert of Torigny--
> suggest they were little used, and even though they contained 
> stories that would seem to have been attractive to the secular 
> nobility, there no evidence of their readership beyond monastic 
> houses.
> In a final chapter, on "The Propagation of Historical Writing 
> in Medieval Europe", Shopkow offers some answers to this 
> puzzle.  The chief reason for history's failure to penetrate 
> was the incompatibility between the laity, which was the 
> audience that had the most use for history, and the Latin 
> language in which history was presented.  In the monasteries 
> the theological use of histories was limited, and 
> hagiographies, rather than chronicles, were more readily 
> adopted for use in <i>lectio</i> and <i>meditatio</i>. History 
> had a quasi-public place in court culture, where it could be 
> read by only a few, and a private place in ecclesiastical 
> culture, where it was more readily accessible but where it was 
> apparently not much more commonly read. 
> It was not until later that changes would come about that would 
> give history an audience. The French vernacular was used 
> increasingly as a literary language from the beginning of the 
> 13th century, both for original histories and for translations 
> of Latin works. History was not to be part of the scholastic 
> curriculum until the 19th century, and consequently there was 
> no disciplined body of practice. But humanist training, which 
> revived the habit of framing questions and answers about 
> society historically, had an important part to play in 
> fostering the reading and writing of Latin history in the later 
> medieval period.
> Leah Shopkow is to be congratulated on giving us an absorbing, 
> thoughtful and thought-provoking study, which deserves a wide 
> and enthusiastic reception.
List Archives, FAQ, FTP:  http://merryrose.atlantia.sca.org/
            Submissions:  atlantia@atlantia.sca.org
        Admin. requests:  majordomo@atlantia.sca.org