Constance Berman

title.none: Cursente and Mousiner, Les Territoires du medieviste (Constance Berman)

identifier.other: baj9928.0709.010 07.09.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constance Berman, University of Iowa,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Cursente, Benoit and Mireille Mousnier. Les Territoires du medieviste. Histoire. Rennes: University of Rennes Press, 2005. Pp. 459. $39.95 2-7535-0180-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.09.10

Cursente, Benoit and Mireille Mousnier. Les Territoires du medieviste. Histoire. Rennes: University of Rennes Press, 2005. Pp. 459. $39.95 2-7535-0180-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Constance Berman
University of Iowa

This volume describes itself as the outcome of a consideration of the polyvalence of the term territoire in the usage of French medievalists and in the medieval documents themselves. It draws on the work directed by Mireille Mousnier at the University of Toulouse in collaboration with Benoit Cursente of CNRS, including contributions from scholars at Montpellier, Perpignan, Aix-en-Provence, le Mans, Caen, Angers, and one from Senegal. The volume is nicely produced and divided into four parts. The first is on writing about territory in the past, with considerations of French historians Marc Bloch, A. Deleage, Georges Duby, Robert Boutruche, and geographer Charles Hugounet. The second, on which I concentrate here, is a consideration of the terms about territory used in medieval sources. The third examines other disciplinary considerations of territory: looking at geographers, sociologists, archaeolists, ethnographists, and paleoenvironmentalists. Its fourth section considers questions of method, such as whether one can read backwards from the present territory to the medieval landscape--an effort at "regression" much favored by Bloch but often attacked today (primarily because it attempts to trace back many centuries rather than only short periods of time). Thus, it is the equivalent of a medieval florilegium, as the editors on page 15 call it, a bouquet of case-studies of how words describing landscape are articulated in various contexts.

The first section considers which terms were used by scholars mentioned in the previous paragraph--Bloch to Higounet--by using word- counts of the selected terms that describe landscape. Its assumption is that historians should use a set, technical vocabulary to describe the rural world--a campus is always a field, mansus is always a manse, etc. But it is not clear that the individuals surveyed, with the possible exception of Higounet, who tended to map medieval incidences of certain terms, applied technical definitions to their word-choice in writing. This is noted in particular in the case of Duby, whose word choice was more a part of his style than "systematic" or "scientific." There are some interesting insights in this section, for instance, for the history of territories is always a history of how population interacts with landscape, in movements of clearance and settlement associated with a network of roads at the center of which is the villages (Jean-Loup Abbe, Une Nouvelle lecture de l'espace rural: A. Deleage, 35-44). The same might be said for Higounet, who studied the movements that modified and transformed internally the space of territories, either by enlarging that space or regrouping dispersed habitat into agglomerations. Mousnier, touting interdisciplinarity on pages 99 and 103, remarks on the lack of much in the way of cartography among this group--with the exception of the work of Higounet, and asserts the need for a systematic vocabulary and conceptualization that was not seen in these earlier writers. I remain a little dubious. I view the vocabulary used in medieval charters as constantly changing and constantly needing to be redefined in context, and urge students to eschew relying only on dictionary definitions.

Section two, Le Territoire decrit, looks at the medieval vocabulary itself, asking how it was used in specific times and places--in the documents of a single monastery, for instance. In this section, Benoit Cursente presents Autour de Lezat: emboitements, cospatialites, territories (milieu Xe-milieu XIIIe siecle), (151- 67). Analyzing the first 532 charters of the recently published cartulary of Lezat, Cursente describes his work as un defrichement exploratoire general, plus particulierement appuye sur un travail d'analyse lexicalre systematique. Here is a discussion of the creation of new towns called sauvetes and bastides by Lezat and the beginnings of a tendency for different authorities to begin establishing territorial units with coinciding boundaries-- whether on the level of county and diocese, or parish and the villa; the spaces are increasingly identical units despite being subject to distinct authorities. Here Cursente introduces the term emboitement, the concept that descriptions of space, or more detailed localization, are in descending order, from larger to smaller units, like nesting Russian dolls, which go from the larger to the local. This is a sort of medieval "global positioning" in the reverse order of our childish descriptions of our address giving street, town, country, planet, and universe as increasingly large territorial units. The problem is to keep in mind that unlike the Russian doll with its single doll inside each larger one, there may be several dolls found in the next descending level. We use the image of peeling away the layers of an onion in the same way, but with the assumption there too that there is not a single item at each level.

Emboitement is part of what Laurent Schneider discusses in, Du pagus aux finages castraux, les mots des territories dans l'espace oriental de l'ancienne Septimanie (IXe-XIIe siecles), (109-28), which considers the words used in the scriptoria of the monastic houses of Saint-Sauveur d'Aniane and Saint-Sauveur de Gellone in the vicinity of Beziers, Lodeve, et Nimes. Here the practice described by this concept begins with words that the ancient ecclesiastical center, (pagus, territorium, comitatus, episcopatus, or cite) as the outer layer of description, that then descends in level of importance by way of suburbium or vicaria to the villa or village. Schneider traces how vocabulary denoting location of holdings changes as well as settlement patterns change, particularly with the process of incastellamento, the regrouping of settlement that had once been dispersed into hilltop castles. The author notes not only that monastic immunities act in much the same ways as castles in creating territories, and that such territories are in fact a mental image or spacial projection of power.

Aymat Catafau, Le vocabulaire du territoire dans les comtes Catalans nord-pyreneens (IXe-XIIe siecles), (129-49), similarly concentrates his gaze on the documentation from a single monastery, that of Saint Michael of Cuxa, but includes a fairly large group of published texts for neighboring sites, such as the charters for the abbey of la Grasse. For this region that straddles the eastern Pyrenees there are three major and related trends: (a) emboitement, (b) increasing localization of the various levels (castles, parishes) and (c) the fixing of boundaries between political authorities, this last a process that resulted in specific sorts of documentation. Particularly interesting are his remarks on the geographical unit of the valley as a territorial unit and his observation that whereas in the deepest past land was described by its boundaries, over the course of the middle ages, it comes to be described by the units of its "development," such contents of a territory as villas, mills, castles, etc.

Pierre-Yves Laffont, Les mots du territoire: le cas du Vivarais IXe-XIIe siecle, (169-86); is perhaps the most insightful of the entire section, particularly in showing how in the earliest times, emboitement is not exactly present, insofar as territories belonging to a jurisdictional authority (a county), might not be totally contained within a single larger territory (a pagus)--a county might hold property (not even adjoining) in more than one pagus, and the same is true of the vicaria and villa. This article includes a useful discussion of vicaria or viguerie, in which Laffont discusses the vicaria as not always a territorial jurisdiction, but sometimes a tax-- a confusion of territory and fiscal power over it.

Laure Verdon, Le territoire avoue. Usages et implications de l'enquete dans la definition et la delimination du territoire seigneurial en Catalogne et en Provence au XIIIe siecle, (207-21), is a brilliant exposition on how laying out boundaries is an assertion of authority, how "powers" when they perambulate boundaries with their heirs in view of the community assert power by personally walking or riding the perambulations of a holding.

The overview of this section by Anne Mailloux, Le territoire dans les sources medievales: perception, culture et experience de l'espace social, (223-35), clarifies how these particular studies fit into a larger whole, with reference to studies from northern France and Italy, for example. She underlines the problem of "time" over which all definitions and translations experience both slippage and rupture and outlines the inherent problems of such work: Le probleme epineux de la polysemie correlative a la superposition en un seul terme et un seul espace, de plusieurs structures et realites.