- Writing History in the Anglo-Norman World: Manuscripts, Makers, and Readers, c. 1066–c. 1250ed. by Laura Cleaver and Andrea Worm
Manuscript studies, history, historiography, anglo-norman
T his collection of essaysfocuses on the material aspects of "historical writing," redefining this phrase to denote not a particular kind of text, but rather, an activity and the physical artifacts it produces. Emerging from a conference held at Trinity College, Dublin, as part of the [End Page 425]"History Books in the Anglo-Norman World c. 1100–c. 1300" project, the volume assembles research by historians and art historians on the production and circulation of manuscripts of narrative histories during the Anglo-Norman period. By focusing on manuscripts rather than texts, it aims to counteract the false impression that Anglo-Norman historical writing was a fairly homogenous enterprise. As the editors note in their introduction, modern scholarly editions often impose a certain degree of standardization on medieval texts, which can mislead readers into thinking that all medieval historiography is essentially the same. This collection uses the diversity of medieval books to return some complexity to our understanding of Anglo-Norman historical writing, and it succeeds in creating a strong sense of the variety of the narrative histories produced in this period.
Despite this collection's expressed focus on manuscripts and materiality, however, it begins with an essay by Michael Staunton that returns to textual (rather than material) considerations. Posing the question "Did the Purpose of History Change in England in the Twelfth Century?" Staunton argues that historians in late twelfth-century England were less concerned with teaching morality and forwarding specific political agendas than their counterparts in the earlier decades of the twelfth century. Although Staunton's contribution does not share the same methodology as the rest of the essays in this collection, it provides a useful reminder of the changing circumstances affecting historiographical production throughout the twelfth century, and it initiates a dialogue, sustained throughout the volume, about the reasons for reading and writing history in this period. For example, Caoimhe Whelan finds that the moral and political framing of Gerald of Wales's Expugnatio Hibernicalikely contributed to its translation into Hiberno-Middle English in the fifteenth century, as Gerald's text could be used both to support the agendas of specific families and to help the broader English colony in Ireland maintain its identity. Stephen Church examines a different set of goals for reading history: he argues that while King John turned to books on sacramental theology for practical guidance in the wake of the papal interdict, he also sought out the rousing anecdotes of Valerius Maximus's Memorabiliato pluck up his spirits in preparation for the struggle ahead. Meanwhile, other contributions provide evidence of interest in history for its own sake in the earlier twelfth century. Tracing [End Page 426]the dissemination of Paul the Deacon's Historia Langobardum, Laura Pani suggests that ecclesiastical institutions in post-Conquest England were interested in acquiring manuscripts on a wide variety of subjects, even those lacking a clear political connection to the politics of late eleventh-and early twelfth-century England. Similarly, Charles Rozier's study of "Durham Cathedral Priory and its Library of History, c. 1090–c. 1150" shows that the monks of Durham, in addition to collecting histories supporting their own institution's status, accumulated a wide range of annals, shorter chronicles, classical histories about distant times and places, and medieval histories about contemporary events taking place outside northern England. Together, the essays in this volume thus explore many reasons why an individual or a community might produce historical narratives or acquire books about history (or both), and they offer an important reminder of the diversity of historical writing produced and copied during the long twelfth century.
Diversity is a key theme within individual essays as well as across the whole collection. In particular, several contributions discuss the...