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  • The Pride of Place: Local Memories and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century France
  • Louis J. Iandoli
Gerson, Stéphane. The Pride of Place: Local Memories and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century France. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003. Pp. 344, 24 illustrations. ISBN0-8014-8873-7

The Pride of Place is a bold and successful attempt to analyze the commemoration of the pays, small provincial districts, of nineteenth-century France. Gerson treats the dynamic and tense relationship between local memories and national memories. He distinguishes his field of study from the "national and official memory" or "collective memory" (15) of Pierre Nora's Lieux de mémoire. The work limits itself for the most part to the field of local memories in north-western France, in areas such as Amiens, Douai, and Cambrai. The richest periods of analysis are the July Monarchy, the Second Empire, and the early Third Republic. However, the author draws valuable conclusions that should resonate with the modern historian and scholar of French society.

Gerson treats representations of the local in state-sponsored festivals, provincial and national scholarly reviews, meetings of local and national learned societies, and in the writings of Guizot, de Caumont, and other figures important in the rise of awareness of national patrimony in the nineteenth century. From beginning to end, he treats in depth the tensions between the great and growing power of the national state and the diminishing powers of the provincial towns. The dynamics of elite, bourgeois, and popular relationships to the preservation of individual local mem-ories are treated in great detail.

The Pride of Place demonstrates impressive, voluminous research in local and national archives, nineteenth-century reviews, government reports and modern scholarly publications on cultural heritage. The book contains charts, maps and fig-ures of importance to researchers of nineteenth-century French patrimoine. For example, in Table 1 (48), Gerson shows the organization and presidents of the Comité des Travaux Historiques from 1834 to 1858. The Comité des Travaux Historiques is referenced frequently, for it supported and directed chosen areas of patrimoine of concern to the French government. The chart, and other tables like it, are of illustrative value to historians in the field for they allow researchers to gain a clearer perspective on attitudes towards local memories. The author maintains this type of concern for detail across the eight chapters of the book. Gerson offers a rich [End Page 399] compendium of sources, both in the text and in notes and bibliography, of use to scholars of the movement to preserve nineteenth-century patrimoine.

Offsetting the intense and sometimes dry attention to minutia is the drawing of pertinent conclusions and analogies. Gerson points out the inherent need behind the "cult of local mémoire" to bring the order, of say a Balzac or Linnaeus (84), to the seemingly disparate collection of memories in the nineteenth century. The strife of the revolutions of the prior decades could be countered by the seeming permanence of local traditions. In the ordering as well is the desire of the conservative governments to bring stability to the "new national edifice" (101). Yet the author points out that the great diversity of interpretation of the local past depends on the politics of the interpreter. The study brings to light the multifaceted efforts to bring shape and consistency to post-revolutionary France.

In the epilogue, "Return to the Local," Gerson neatly connects his studies to the current cult of memories both local and national. In twenty-first century France the same tensions exist between the national and the local. The debates continue whether France should foster local traditions and languages and to what extent pluralism upsets national unity. The importance of this very issue is further heightened now that France can no longer stand alone in the European community. France refused to ratify the European charter on regional and Minority Languages in 1999. As Gerson points out "France must remain one and indivisible, ruled the Conseil con-stitutionnel" (289). Thus the tensions remain today as they did in the nineteenth century. Yet, the need to return to local memories, or national memories in general, seems all the more prevalent as seen in the...


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