The Medieval Review


Bates, David and Pierre Bauduin, eds. 911-2011. Penser les mondes normands médiévaux. Actes du colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle (29 septembre-2 octobre 2011). Caen: Presses universitaires de Caen, 2016. pp. 572. ISBN: 978-2-84133-774-3 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Benjamin Pohl
benjamin.pohl@bristol.ac.uk

The volume under review here publishes the proceedings of an international colloquium held on the occasion of the eleven-hundredth anniversary of the so-called Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 2011, one of the most frequently quoted, yet also one of the most heavily debated, events in Normandy's history and historiography. Co-edited by two leading scholars of the Anglo-Norman world, David Bates and Pierre Bauduin, this book brings together twenty-three chapters (plus introduction and conclusion) arranged into four thematic sections (see below). The range of contributions is balanced very well, featuring the works of both early and mid-career scholars, which in the book are placed alongside chapters authored by more senior and established academic heavy-weights, thereby facilitating a transgenerational and interdisciplinary dialogue between researchers based in France, Italy, Germany, Russia, the US and the British Isles. The result is an impressive array of studies that can be considered authoritative at the same time as it explores new boundaries and innovative approaches. The volume is carefully produced, elegant--it is surprisingly slim despite containing well over five hundred pages--and competitively priced (retailing at a mere €35), making it an attractive and affordable addition to the collections of research libraries and individual researchers alike. Given the substantial number of thematic approaches and perspectives united in this book, the present review opts not to address individual chapters, but instead assesses the volume in toto, thereby seeking to scrutinise its ability to do what it says on the tin, that is, to "think (or re-think) the medieval Norman world(s)."

Following a brief avant propos co-authored by Bates and Bauduin, the volume opens with an introduction by Véronique Gazeau that recapitulates the historiographical context and research agenda of the 2011 conference. Gazeau's introduction does a fine job in pointing the reader to some of the key debates and ongoing discourses in the field, as well as conveniently setting out five research parameters that determine the discussions pursued across the volume's subsequent chapters:

1. The long-standing question as to whether we should conceive of the Normans' activities in different parts of medieval Europe as being determined by a shared sense of conquest, or whether the experiences and realities of these conquests (on the part of both the conquerors and the conquered) differed fundamentally between, say, Normandy, England and the Mediterranean;

2. The extent to which these various Norman enterprises during the tenth to twelfth centuries in Europe relied on existing routes and itineraries, or whether these pan-European networks represent new discoveries and/or "Norman inventions";

3. The contributions the Normans made to the various cultures and societies into which they immersed and integrated themselves, particularly the question as to whether they left behind a distinctively Norman imprint or legacy that can be traced on a national, regional or even local level;

4. The notorious bone of contention amongst modern scholars that is the subject of Norman identity, or Norman(n)itas, including important questions such as to what extent the Normans considered themselves (and were considered by others) distinct from, say, their French or English contemporaries, perhaps even uniquely so, and how this shaped their cultural and collective memory;

5. A crucial and timely reassessment of the more recently developed paradigm of the "Norman diaspora," drawing on historical as well as sociological and anthropological methods.

These five parameters, or research themes, are then developed further over the course of the volume. Rather than being separated artificially, they are combined and carefully woven into one another, the result being that each of the book's four thematic sections--Des Vikings aux Normands, IXe-Xe siècle (27-126); Expansion et diaspora (127-290); Unité et diversité (291-370); Réseaux et espaces (371-502)--succeeds in addressing several themes at once, and from a variety of perspectives. By combining the individual chapters in this way, the editors have opted for a suitable format that encourages and facilitates an active dialogue between the contributors. Whilst in a few cases this laudable decision could perhaps have been augmented further by means of more explicit cross-referencing between certain chapters, there certainly is a strong sense of discussion and intellectual exchange across the volume. As any editor will appreciate, this is not always an easy thing to achieve for an edited collection, and it lends the book a commendable feel of unity and coherence.

As is usual for an edited volume, it is, of course, possible to find points for critique on the level of the individual contributions themselves, some of whose arguments and conclusions certain readers may find more (or less) compelling than others. It is beyond the remit of this review to go into any amount of depth here, which is why I will limit my comments to Jacques La Maho's reassessment of Dudo of Saint-Quentin's Historia Normannorum (29-52), which to me, as a fellow scholar of Dudo, seems rather unconvincing. Building upon a series of related studies Le Maho himself has published since 2001, this chapter proposes the rather radical idea that Normandy's first dynastic historian was in reality little more than a redactor. The primary basis for this bold claim is a lost mid-tenth-century Historia or Gesta that Le Maho believes to have been written by a chaplain of William Longsword, and whose distant traces he identifies not only in Dudo's work, but also in other texts from the period. As elegant and eloquent as the author's reasoning may be at times, it does not, however, compensate for the fact that the argument is essentially developed ex nihilo. The similarities Le Maho observes between Dudo's work and other contemporary texts, and the fact that he shows Dudo to have been misinformed about certain events in Normandy's early history, do not, in my opinion, point towards an obscure shared source in the shape of a now lost Gesta, but might well be due to different circumstances, some of which scholars have discussed at length during recent years (a fact to which Le Maho does not allude in his chapter or notes; but then again, the latter can probably be explained by means of the book's production schedule, see below). Methodologically speaking, relying primarily (if not exclusively) on a lost text of which there is no concrete trace in order to posit a complete revision and negation of the scholarly status quo seems a little risky. To then go on to suggest, as Le Maho does in his résumé, that Dudo's work "was nothing more than a rewriting" (ne serait rien d'autre qu'un réécriture, 553) is almost certainly a claim too far in the face of the extant evidence (or rather the lack thereof). A more tentative and nuanced approach was needed here.

Besides the chapter-specific comments made in the previous paragraph, there is only a single point of criticism that affects the book as a whole, given that it concerns the chronology of the production process and its effect on the currency of some of the arguments presented throughout the volume. Being no fewer than five years in the making, one might perhaps have expected that contributors would have been given the opportunity to update their notes and bibliographies closer to the eventual publication, thus bringing them into line with more recent scholarly developments. As it stands, the book, despite being published as recently as 2016, in some instances seems to reflect the state of scholarship as it was about five years ago. In the majority of cases, this is, of course, fairly unproblematic, given that many of the arguments presented maintain their validity regardless. In a few instances, however, this delay leads to a number of claims that appear at odds with the ways in which discussions in the field have developed more recently.

In terms of the book's format, the only feature that is missing and might have been worth adding is a bibliography, either as a single combined list at the end of the volume or in the shape of chapter-specific bibliographies. At present, the reader is obliged to search manually through the footnotes in order to identify relevant readings, something which might impede the book's usability in university classrooms. What the book does offer, though, is an extremely comprehensive and user-friendly index des noms de lieux (517-29), as well as an equally extensive index des noms de personnes (531-46), which together allow for easy navigation across different chapters, as well as a helpful list of résumés that summarise the chapters' main arguments in both French and English (547-60). I have no doubt that readers will find these various navigation aids extremely useful.

My rather specific points of criticism are not meant to cast a negative light on the volume, and neither do they impair my overall appreciation and indeed admiration for the book's achievement as a whole. Indeed, what promises to render the volume reviewed here extremely useful to scholars and students alike is precisely that it does not seek to provide the proverbial "last word" on any one subject, but instead offers a wide range of opinions and debates without attempting to streamline them artificially, thereby greatly facilitating future discussion and debate.

In conclusion, the volume delivers on its promise of offering a multi-faceted reappraisal and reconceptualization of the mondes normands médiévaux that is not only thoroughly researched and highly informative, but also, and equally important, extremely thought-provoking. Successfully marketing itself as neither a simple proceedings volume nor a companion/textbook, the book fills a crucial gap in the market and will no doubt prove a popular resource for years to come. Both the editors and their contributors must be congratulated for having produced such a fine and well-conceptualised piece of work.



Copyright (c) 2017 Benjamin Pohl



Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login