From Memory to Written Record England 1066-1307 Paperback – 1 Dec 2009
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When Michael Clanchy’s book From Memory to Written Record was first published in 1979, it was the most important book on English Royal administration in the middle ages that had appeared in a general…. The second edition takes full cognizance of the extensive literature on the subject of morality and literacy, which has been one of the half dozen most discussed aspects of the medieval European world during the past two decades. Clanchy has significantly deepened and enriched his classic study. It is indispensable for not only political, legal and socialhistorians, but also for students of medieval literature and religion. From Memory to Written Record is one of those seminal works that shape the direction of the next generation of historical and social thought. This second edition will remain of the major works on the medieval world for many decades to come. Norman F. Cantor, New York University Reviews of the first edition: "A tour–de–force, a scholarly work which is genuinely hard to put down, and which breaks new ground in its approach." Journal of Legal History <!––end––>"Thought–provoking and wide–ranging . . . one can assert confidently that it is one of the most exciting books on medieval English history to appear in recent years." History "Many familiar assumptions about the medieval world will have to be reconsidered in the light of this book. It is impossible to convey its range or the variety of its implications, but it is possible to insist on its importance." History Today "Clanchy′s work will stand as a remarkable piece of scholarship and as a massive contribution to our understanding of the medieval world." Journal of Library History
The second edition of Michael Clanchy's widely-acclaimed study of the history of the written word in the Middle Ages is now, after a much lamented absence, republished in an entirely new and revised edition. The text of the original has been revised throughout to take account of the enormous amount of new research following publication of the first edition. The introduction discusses the history of literacy up to the present day: the guide to further reading brings together over 300 new titles up to 1992. In this second edition there are substantially new sections on bureaucracy, sacred books, writing materials, the art of memory, ways of reading (particularly for women), the writing of French, and the relationship of script, imagery and seals. Publication of the new edition also represents the book's first appearance in the United States in paperback.See all Product description
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Clanchy begins Part I with an examination of the uses of memory in English legal proceedings, concentrating on memories of the Norman Conquest and the division of property afterwards. Here Clanchy summarizes the use of writing in Anglo-Saxon England, and concludes with the "quo warranto" proceedings of Edward I.
From here Clanchy explains the proliferation of documents that would ultimately replace memory. The abundance of records at the village level in the second half of his period indicates the proliferation of documents and a gradual acceptance of writing as means of keeping records. Clanchy portrays the royal bureaucrats at work creating and using documents, with a focus on archbishop Hubert Walter, a prominent administrator under Richard I and John. Walter, Clanchy claims, was responsible for many of the innovations in the keeping and use of records in England.
The last three chapters in this half deal with the documents themselves. Clanchy organizes documents into four categories: statements issued by individuals, memoranda kept by institutions, literary works, and liturgical books. Clanchy further divides each of these categories into subcategories. Next, Clanchy turns to how medieval scribes created documents. Clanchy describes the various materials and tools used in the physical act of writing, but also discusses the conceptual decisions that went into the creation of medieval records. Finally, Clanchy turns to the keeping, organizing, and use of written records. Monastic records were meant primarily for posterity, and therefore sought to record what ought to have happened, Clanchy claims, while secular records were designed for daily use, and so recorded specific facts. The last sections of Part I treat the organization of written records in libraries and archives and also the organization of the material within the documents.
In Part II, Clanchy traces the development of a literate mentality, a difficult task for scholars whose own mentality has been shaped their own modern literate mentality. Clanchy believes, though, that enough evidence exists to trace a broad outline of developments. "Literate habits and assumptions," Clanchy writes, "had to take root in diverse social groups and areas of activity before literacy could grow or spread beyond a small class of clerical writers."
Clanchy begins his explanation by examining the complicated use of language in high-medieval England. The inhabitants of England spoke English or French as a primary language; French was the language of the court, but the lower classes spoke English. The aristocrats would have spoken both languages, and many of the lower classes would have understood French. English had its own history as a written language, being the official language of the pre-Conquest kings. French had none, because Latin was used for writing. Here Clanchy wrestles with the proposition that written French originated in England because the Norman and French conquerors were exposed to the idea that a vernacular language could be written when they encountered the English literary tradition.
Finally, Clanchy shows that while Latin remained the official language for writing, most documents would have had a basis in English or French, in that they often recorded spoken words or were intended to be read aloud to those who would not have understood the Latin.
Next, Clanchy moves to a discussion of the terms "literate" and "illiterate." Clanchy demonstrates that the terms "literatus" and "illiterates" were synonymous with "clericus" and "laicus." Only clerics could be literate. Yet, he does address the issue of whether laypeople could and did read Latin, citing many examples in which laypersons clearly did, and also arguing that the laypeople writing in vernacular French must have had a foundation in Latin. Additionally, Clanchy shows that clergy did teach Latin, at least the alphabet, to children and so most people would have had the ability to read rudimentary Latin. Finally, the biography of William the Marshal and the emergence of knightly jurists to show that knights were educated in the use of reading and writing.
Fundamental to the medieval literate mentality was the notion that writing recorded sound. Clanchy presents evidence that the acceptance of written records versus oral memory was slow, even among clergy. In particular, Clanchy points to the investiture controversy between Henry I and Anselm, in which the argument was essentially about whether written documents or oral testimony was more trustworthy. Even as the use of written records increased, and even among clergy, language was sill meant to be heard, not read, and texts were generally read aloud.
Although moderns inherently trust documents, especially over oral recollection, medieval people did not. Indeed, documents were regarded with suspicion early in Clanchy's period. To a modern, a document cannot be deemed authentic unless it is dated and signed, an idea that developed in the medieval period, but was not immediately obvious. Simply dating something by the year, month, and date, did develop, but alternative dating methods persisted for some time. Rather than develop a uniform system by which documents were notarized, authenticity focused on the presence of seals. Writers often forged documents they thought should have existed but were missing from their records. Essentially, institutions forged documents as a means of replacing oral tradition with a written record, and in a way the prevalence of forged documents indicates a shift to a literate mentality.
Clanchy argues persuasively for the reciprocal development of writing and a literate mentality. From Memory to Written Record addresses every issue of writing and reading, from the physical production of a document to the method of reception. Clanchy's work is necessarily defined by his own literate mentality and by the use of written records, but he does everything that one could to overcome these limitations. Clanchy has drawn on written evidence of all types, from charters to chronicles to instruction books, and in every language spoken and written in England during his period. To supplement this, Clanchy has used physical evidence, such as epigraphy and seals. From Memory to Written Record is a work of excellent scholarship that examines the medieval mentality and medieval social and political change from a new perspective.
The development of a written culture of everyday affairs covers many sorts of artifacts and concepts. Tally sticks as bills and receipts, personal seals functioning as signatures, why we began signing with an "x", and the number of pounds of sealing wax used by the King's Chancery over time are all explored in this book. The development of heraldry as part of the shift from memory to written record is also commented on briefly.
The author carefully studies the question "Were laymen literate?" and tries hard to make the reader understand what being literate meant in this period. Our modern concept of someone who can read AND write simply doesn't fit with concepts held at the time about literacy. The author's conclusions on the pervasiveness of literacy in this period are surprising.
Throughout the book, the very different reasons for and processes surrounding the making of a record, the keeping of a record, and the using of a record are carefully differentiated. This is an outstanding work of history for the student of literacy, of medieval history, and of legal history.
This book does a fine job of describing the shifting notion of what is proof and what counts legally in society. There are points where the reader will need background, such as some basic notions of the feudal system (a notion which itself has come under attack as inaccurate of late), but overall it is quite a readable text