Norman historians have never been systematically studied, but the tradition of historical writing they created offers valuable insight into the nature of Latin historical writing in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This book, the first to treat the Norman tradition as a whole, considers not only what the Normans wrote and what methods and models they used, but also how history was used in Normandy and who read it.
Historical writing is one of the ways in which communities create themselves or imagine themselves into being. In the eleventh century, Norman historians wrote Normandy's history as a comedic adventure, in which Normans triumphed at home and abroad. In the twelfth century, their histories took a more pessimistic tone, depicting Norman glory as threatened or eclipsed. Such histories told the Normans who they were or might be by telling them who they had been. The need for cultural reenforcement was strongest just after periods of social disruption--when dukes claimed new powers or the elite attempted to assert their independence of ducal authority or monasteries attempted to preserve their religious autonomy. Consequently, histories were the product of power relations, and were produced where power was at stake.
The histories sponsored by Norman dukes circulated widely, while other histories were locally read or languished without readers. There was, as yet, no spontaneous audience for history, just as there were no agreed-upon conventions or methodologies for its composition. The potential audience, however, grew in the later Middle Ages as great princes and individuals alike found ways to use history, which in turn led to its wider dissemination and to increased methodological development.
Leah Shopkow presents an insightful study of the functions and meanings of history. She makes clear that historical writing is neither simply a source for data on times past nor a form of disinterested literary expression. Medieval histories were complex cultural phenomena. Her study will be of great interest to historiographers and will become a standard work for Normanists and Anglo-Normanists.
Leah Shopkow is associate professor of history at Indiana University.
""By focusing on Latin historical writing in the duchy of Normandy during the apogee of its power in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Shopkow has managed to span part of the gap between the many broad theoretical treatments of medieval historiography and the narrow examinations of single authors or works.""--Choice
""Necessary reading for anyone working with the historians whom it analyzes and deserves a place on the shelf of recent, exciting dissections of the corpus of medieval works of history.""--Albion
""This impressive work casts fresh light on a topic of the first importance: the contemporary historians of medieval Normandy. Shopkow's scholarship stands out for its interdisciplinary grasp of both historical and literary materials and for its sensitivity to new methodological techniques.""--C. Warren Hollister, University of California, Santa Barbara
Table of Contents
Introduction: Historical Writing and the Norman Community
1. History in the County of Normandy
2. The Norman Comedy
3. The Glorious Norman Past
5. Methods, Models, and Sources
6. The Purpose of History
7. Patrons and Other Readers: The Reception of Norman Histories
Conclusion: The Propagation of Historical Writing in Medieval Europe