Jul 05, David rated it really liked it Given the peculiarities of the Irish educational system, at the end of 10th grade there was a forced choice between physics and history, so my formal study of history ended when I was
He proposes to bring an ethnographic perspective to bear on historical research, attempting to arrive at nuanced interpretation of the mentalities and worldviews of ordinary folk in early modern France.
Significantly, Darnton collaborated with Clifford Geertz at Princeton, and the influences seem to have run in both directions. Darnton attempts to tease out some of the distinguishing elements of French rural and urban culture—through folklore, through documented collective behavior, or through obscure documents authored by police inspectors and bourgeois observers.
And he is more interested in the singular revealing incident than in the large structural narrative of change; he demonstrates that careful historical interpretation of a single puzzling event can result in greater illumination about a historical period than from more sweeping descriptions and narratives.
Our distance from the French peasant is great—conceptually as well as materially. So the challenges of uncovering these features of agency and mentality based on very limited historical data are great.
In the title essay of the volume Darnton goes into a single incident in detail: So the essay is a paradigm of interpretative cultural history. Darnton describes his work in these terms: It might simply be called cultural history; for it treats our own civilization in the same way that anthropologists study alien cultures.
It is history in the ethnographic grain. It attempts to show not merely what people thought but how they thought—how they construed the world, invested it with meaning, and infused it with emotion.
And his general perspective is that such a reading would be reductionist and anachronistic. There is resistance in this incident; there is sharp hostility between shop workers and the master and his family; but the resistance and the resentment are thematized around more specific grievances and patterns than the class struggle story would suggest.
The notion of reading runs through all the chapters, for Darnton suggests that one can read a ritual or a city just as one can read a folktale or a philosophic text. The analysis of folk tales is just as rewarding.
Darnton offers a content analysis of the folk tales collected by several generations of folklorists. He disputes the psychological interpretations offered by Fromm, Bettelheim, and others—most convincingly on the grounds that they fail to pay close enough attention to the narrative content and known historical context of the stories.
Instead, Darnton offers an interpretation of the world and worldview of the peasant storytellers who invented and repeated these tales: First, it exemplifies a different model of historical knowledge: The facts matter to the interpretations that Darnton offers—the facts of the multiple versions of folk stories, the facts of what we know about the changing circumstances in the printing trades, the facts of peasant hunger at several periods in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The motives that Darnton discerns among the printers are sometimes goal-directed; but sometimes emotional, and sometimes related to the simple recklessness of young men in constraining circumstances.
Darnton shows that it is possible to make significant headway in the project of figuring out how distant and illiterate people thought about the world around them, the social relations in which they found themselves, the natural world, and much else.
The documents available to us in the archives have a richness that speaks to these ways of thinking the world; it is therefore a valuable task for the historian to engage in piecing together the details of daily life and experience that the documents reveal and conceal.The great cat massacre that never was The great cat massacre that never was.
Why we should be reassured by the moral panic over the Croydon Cat Killer. Why we should be reassured by the moral panic over the Croydon Cat Killer. Tim Smith-Laing | October 5th On September 20th, the Metropolitan police finally closed their investigation.
The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History Robert Darnton Snippet view - The great cat massacre and other episodes in French cultural history Robert Darnton Snippet view 3/5(2).
WORKERS REVOLT: THE GREAT CAT MASSACRE OF THE RUE SAINT-SEVERIN.
THE FUNNIEST THING that ever happened in the printing shop of Jacques Vincent, according to a worker who witnessed it, was a riotous massacre of cats.
The Great Cat Massacre is the fourth and the most popular scholarly book written by the American cultural historian, academic librarian, and specialist of eighteenth-century France, Robert Darnton (b. ). The book is a neat compilation of six, chapter-length case-studies that Darnton calls “Episodes.”.
Darnton's history Twenty-five years ago, Robert Darnton offered a highly original perspective on historical understanding in his The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History (), and the book still warrants close attention.
THE GREAT CAT MASSACRE is a study of the French mentality some two and a half centuries ago. The ‘method’ is to take documents/events that make little sense to us (why would individuals massacre cats?) and then burrow into the subject, contextualize the events and, in the process, acquire a greater understanding of how the French mind /5(29).