- Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline: Vol. 1: History (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 15, Number 2, January 1998
- pp. 181-184
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Reviews 181 the strength of the pressures towards alteration are only sketched in. Were the sanctions of the courts more effective than the social models presented by local and national leaders? SybU M. Jack Department of History University of Sydney Damico, Helen and Joseph B. Zavadil, ed., Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline: Vol. 1: His (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 1350) N e w York and London, Garland, 1995; board; pp. xxxii, 347; 25 b / w iUustrations; R.R.P. US$60.00. Among the striking things revealed by this volume (coming to it as I do from work on the disputatious eighteenth-century antiquarians) is the atmosphere of harmony and courtesy in which so much early scholarship was conducted. In the late 1670s, the BoUandist Daniel Papebroch questioned the hitherto accepted authenticity of some early charters, in the preface to a volume of the Acta Sanctorum. The Benedictine Jean MabiUon repUed with his treatise De Re Diplomatica . .. (1681), an important work which helped estabUsh MabiUon as the 'virtual founder of the sciences of palaeography and diplomatics' (p. 15). Papebroch's response to MabiUon's work was gracious: T can teU you that the only satisfaction I have from having written on this matter is that it has given you occasion to pubUsh so accomplished a work. True, I felt some chagrin on first reading your book at seeing myself so completely refuted; but then the usefulness and beauty of so valuable a work overcame m y shortcomings.' H e went on to ask MabiUon to teU people that he was 'completely converted to your position' (p. 24). MabiUon then responded in equaUy gracious fashion, commending and hoping to emulate his correspondent's humUity. Such scholarly good wfll presumably resulted at least in part from the fact that the first scholars covered here (Jean BoUand and the early BoUandists, MabiUon, Lodovico Muratori) were aU in orders in the CathoUc church. They had institutional support, and a transcendent reason for scholarship; 'Pious and orthodox', as Susan Nicassio writes 182 Reviews of Muratori, 'he appears to have considered his faith as the wellspring of all of his work' (p. 35). The same is evidently true of the other early scholars, in very clear contrast to what is observable in the literary scholarship of a later era. It seemed to work; most of them were staggeringly prolific (but then they weren't hampered by having to f i l l out forms all the time detailing h o w proUfic they were). There are 23 biographies in this volume, in chronological order by year of birth, from Bolland (1596-1665), initiator of the gigantic Acta Sanctorum project, through to Edward Gibbon, and then, in the bulk of the book, the mostly professional historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is less clear why, in accounts of this second and quite distinct group, w e should continue to get a sense of scholarship as the disinterested and non-combative pursuit of people who, whatever their minor personal quirks, were essentiaUy saintly and devoted scholars. Naturally, some of the bigger conflicts in medieval historical writing arise as issues here, but there is, on the part of most of the biographers, a large-scale avoidance of conflict and politics. The tone is one that most of us would be happy with in our obituaries; as with the Dictionary of National Biography, you have to be dead to get into this series, and at the end of reading the volume I did have a strong sense of having been plunged, not so m u c h into lives, as into slightly too genteel memoirs, the things people want said about them when they're dead. This is in part because of the constraints of form. The biographies are in the range of ten to twelve pages, and in that space the first few pages are usually devoted to the life, before the work is appraised. This is sUghtly odd, because it does not allow much space for exploring the connections between life and work. The medievaUsts' spouses and chUdren, where they have them, usuaUy get a mention, but it is...