The Medieval Review 16.11.27

Guyot-Bachy, Isabelle, and Jean-Marie Moeglin, eds. La naissance de la médiévistique: Les historiens et leurs sources en Europe au Moyen Age (XIXe - début du XXe siècle). Actes du colloque de Nancy, 8-10 novembre 2012. Hautes Etudes médiévales et modernes, 107. Genève: Droz, 2015. pp. x, 550. €61.99 (hardback). ISBN: 978-2-600-01380-2 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Richard Utz
Georgia Institute of Technology

Over the last forty years, medieval scholars have exponentially increased our knowledge of the reception of medieval culture in postmedieval times. Cultural studies, feminism(s), medievalism studies, postmodernism(s), Rezeptionsgeschichte, Rezeptionsästhetik, and various sociological studies of intellectual and academic culture have added to our self-awareness of the constructed nature of medievalist practices and rites. La naissance de la médiévistique offers twenty-five essays that focus on the genesis and development of the discipline of medieval history at the modern university during the nineteenth- and early twentieth century, i.e., a period of intensifying nationalism. As a consequence, many of the contributions describe scholars, research projects, policies, organizations, methodologies, universities, museums, and libraries that navigate the conflicting priorities of universal scholarly paradigms and specific national contexts.

Consider, for example, the different national paths and methodologies through which historians around Europe answered the need for reliably archived and (subsequently) edited historical sources: While continental (especially German) developments focused more on exteriorizing non-academic work on medieval history when creating their Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Gerhard Schmitz, "Les Monumenta Germaniae Historica") or Chroniken der deutschen Städte (Dominique Adrian, "Les Chroniken der deutschen Städte"), the professionalization of history in Britain did not immediately extinguish the well-established antiquarian tradition in gentlemen's clubs and societies (Roxburghe Club; Camden Society; Early English Text Society). In fact, antiquaries continue to play an essential role in creating and sustaining, throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, archives such as the Public Record Office or libraries like the British Museum (Jean-Philippe Genet, "De l'antiquary au médiéviste: revolution ou transition?"). In Belgium, the creation of a national library and the royal archives can be linked directly to the birth of the nation itself (Éric Bousmar, "Inventorier, publier, étudier. Naissance de la médiévistique en Belgique, du Romantisme à Henri Pirenne"); in France, the dramatic interruption of archival activities for medieval texts in the wake of the Revolution had to be overcome and a new generation of archivists trained before historical texts could be edited and published (Julie Lavernier, "Archiver vs. éditer").

Developments at German-speaking institutions take up considerable space among numerous contributions, mainly because the institutionalization of 'history' as a discipline in 'Germany' influenced that in many other European countries. For example, German universities and historical seminaries, while themselves transforming from regional institutions into national ones, were among the first to unify around common methodologies and build an archive of editable sources, the famed Monumenta Germaniae Historica. As László Veszprémy ("Famous debates on source criticism in nineteenth-twentieth century Hungary") and Ryszard Grzesik ("The editions of Polish narrative sources in the 19th century") demonstrate, some groups of scholars in some countries followed the German foundational moves to create the Monumenta Poloniae Historica and Monumenta Hungariae Historica. More often than not, European scholars are educated and thus directly acculturated to the scholarly paradigms developed and taught at 'German' universities. For example, the leading Czech historian Josef Emler (1836-1899) received his education at the University of Vienna (Éloïse Adde-Womacka, "Le Renouveau national tchèche"); and some of the leading late-nineteenth-century Belgian medieval historians studied in Germany or were indebted to German historical paradigms: Henri Pirenne (1862-1935) was educated in Berlin and Leipzig, and Pirenne's academic teacher, Godefroid Kurth (1847-1916), modeled his practical course on the History of the Middle Ages on Leopold von Ranke's Berlin seminar (Bousmar).

The case of 'German' influence is particularly fascinating in essays treating the birth of academic medieval history in areas whose national identity remained disputed during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. While questions of 'center' and 'periphery' play an important role in the scholarly disagreements between pre-1870 medievalists in Paris and Metz, the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian war provided almost every single medieval document from the region with added political significance: Those scholars who exiled themselves to Paris used the medieval history of Metz to confirm the city's and region's French roots; many German scholars increased claims of their Germanity (Mireille Chazan, "L'historiographie messine au xixe siècle: enjeu scientifique et enjeu politique;" Laurence Bucholzer, "Écrire l'histoire des ligues urbaines et en éditer les actes"). A similarly divided identity can be seen at work in the creation of a national heritage based on medieval sources in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg which, partitioned in different ways by the Congress of Vienna (1815), the First Treaty of London (1839), and the Second Treaty of London (1867), offers a particularly complex tradition of scholarly reception (Pit Péporté, "Les debuts de la médiévistique au Luxembourg?"). Franco Francheschi ("La médiévistique dans l'Italie unifiée") and Dominique Valérian ("Louis de Mas Latrie, historien du Maghreb") discuss similarly complex cases, albeit without the otherwise preponderant German influence.

It is impossible to do justice to the wealth of valuable and meticulously researched information in each of the 25 essays. The volume is based on a colloquium held at the University of Nancy in 2012, and this may well account for the difference in detail and length among the contributions. One treats "L'invention du monument gothique" (Jean-Michel Leniaud) on 12 pages; another presents a comprehensive panoply of "The editions of Polish narrative sources in the 19th century" (Ryszard Grzesik) on almost 50 pages. Whether extensive or concise, all essays show painstaking editorial attention so that "W[h]ilhelm Meister" (p. 41) appears as the most 'tragic' among a mere handful of typos on almost 550 pages.

While I think this volume presents a wealth of new information about how the study of medieval history evolved, there is one issue that troubles me. It is a truism that asking a research question in a certain way will define what kinds of answers one can receive. La naissance de la médiévistique is no exception. Reading through the volume, anyone uneducated in the development of the modern academy would assume that the formation of the discipline of (medieval) history was done by men, and men alone. There were women, Jean-Phillipe Genet mentions in a footnote, who "avaient...pratiqué avec competence l'histoire médiévale scientifique," but they were unable to find inclusion, "faute de postes" (p. 49). This is not an incorrect statement per se. However, when comparing the genesis of the discipline of history to a "birth" in the book's title, the editors and the publisher (unsuspectingly) continue the nineteenth-century tradition of linguistically feminizing nation building and discipline building while assigning reproduction as a woman's major social and cultural task. Women, as Bonnie G. Smith (The Gender of History, 1998) and more recently Falko Schnicke (Die männliche Disziplin, 2015) have demonstrated, were constantly sexualized during and long after the foundational phase of academic history. Founding father Leopold von Ranke himself, when expressing to his brother, Ferdinand, in heterosexual complicity, his excitement about accessing certain archived documents for the first time, wrote: "The local archive is a complete virgin. I long for the moment when I will be granted entry to declare my love to her."

This is, of course, not at all something the contributors to La naissance intend to continue, but by limiting their definition of "médiévistique" to the narrowly defined academic study of medieval history and equating "naissance" with the archiving/editing/publishing of nation-building 'monuments', they exclude most of the roles in which women were allowed at least a modicum of participation in the founding of medieval studies: the hands-on transcription of manuscripts (we know that Jenny Marx, daughter of Karl, was among Frederick James Furnivall's female collaborators to do such auxiliary work); translation; illustration; teaching; children's narratives, etc. In addition, as Jane Chance's groundbreaking Women Medievalists in the Academy (2005) or Renate Haas' work (e.g., "Women and the Development of English Studies in Germany," 1994) show, there were numerous women who researched and worked as independent (and thus unrecognized) scholars. Thus, while the exteriorizing of (male) antiquaries during the process of institutionalization and professionalization of 'history' is rightly and compassionately described as a descent into "l'enfer de l'amateurisme" (p. 50), too little effort was made to dig deeper and reveal some of the auxiliary, extra-academic, and pedagogical pursuits left to women. Perhaps if the volume had defined "médiévistique" as one branch of the overarching cultural phenomenon of "médiévalisme" (Mediävalismus/Mittelalter-Rezeption; medievalism; medievalismo), the outcome would have been different?

As things are, even some known women medievalist historians and their work either get short shrift (Eileen Power's name appears twice) or are absent: Mary Bateson (1865-1906; Newnham College, Cambridge University); Helen Maud Cam (1885-1968; Girton College, Cambridge University); Maude Violet Clarke (1892-1935; Somerville College, Oxford University); Doris Mary Stenton (1894-1971; Oxford University); Marie-Thérèse d'Alverny (1903-1991; Bibliothèque nationale de France in Poitiers); Régine Pernoud (1908-1988; Curator at the Museum of French History). The list of women scholars in art history would be five times as long.

And just imagine, to give but two examples, how a chapter on Hildegard Schaeder (1902-1984) or Helene Wieruszowski (1893-1978; footnoted on p. 175) would have enhanced the volume: Schaeder, who studied at Breslau and Hamburg, archived thousands of original historical sources in Berlin-Dahlem's Prussian State Archives for eight years; wrote book-length studies on the politicial theories in the Slavic world and the politics of the German Empire from the medieval Luxemburg monarchs through the Holy Alliance, as well as essays on the political relations between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the medieval German-Lithuanian alliances; as a member of Pastor Martin Niemöller's church, she actively resisted Nazi pressure by assisting German Jews, ending up in the Ravensbrück concentration camp (liberated in 1945). Wieruszowski received her doctorate in Bonn with a thesis on the Treaty of Verdun in 1918, then worked as a research assistant with the Gesellschaft für Rheinische Geschichtskunde in Cologne and later at the Preussisches Historisches Institut in Rome. The University of Cologne declined accepting her application to work on her Habilitation (perhaps reason no. 1 why she never made it among the 'founders' of médiévistique). Of Jewish descent, she was later dismissed from her position as university librarian at the University of Bonn. Highly qualified, she offered the colleagues at the Monumenta Germaniae Historica to work for and with them (for free!), but they would not have her. Via Spain and Italy she emigrated to the United States in 1949 (perhaps reason no. 2 for not making it into La naissance; the volume focuses on a "couverture topographique des communications à l'échelle européenne," p. 505). Wieruszowski returned to Europe, continued to publish scholarly essays (collected in Politics and Culture in Medieval Spain and Italy, 1971) and wrote two learned historical studies on Charlemagne and on the emergence of medieval universities also accessible to non-academic readers (perhaps reason no. 3 to make her ineligible; Emil J. Polak edited an entire volume on Wieruszowski's life and work in 2004: A Medievalist's Odyssey). I realize both these women scholars would have inhabited the final stretch of the time frame the volume set out to investigate (the subtitle speaks of the 19th and the "debut" of the 20th century), but the editors made several exceptions to this: Menjot/Magron's essay on Spain is inclusive of the period up to 1964; and Lázló Veszprémy takes his survey of "Famous debates on source criticism" in Hungary up to 1947.

Considering how much I learned from the essays included in La naissance, I would hope a future companion volume would complete this effort so that we have a comprehensive picture of how the discipline of medieval history evolved.

Copyright (c) 2016 Richard Utz

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