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Georges Duby (October 7, 1919, Parismarker - December 3, 1996) was a Frenchmarker historian specializing in the social and economic history of the Middle Ages. He ranks among the most influential medieval historians of the twentieth century and was one of France's most prominent public intellectuals from the 1970s until his death in 1996.

Born in 1919 to a family of Provençal craftsmen living in Parismarker, Duby was initially educated in the field of historical geography before moving into history. He earned an undergraduate degree at Lyon in 1942 and completed his graduate thesis at the Sorbonnemarker under Charles-Edmond Perrin in 1952. He taught first at Besançonmarker, and then at the University of Aix-en-Provence before being appointed in 1970 to the Chair of the History of Medieval Society in the Collège de Francemarker. He remained attached to the Collège until his retirement in 1991. Duby was elected to the Academie Française in 1987.

The Impact of the Mâconnais book

Although Duby authored dozens of books, articles and reviews during his prolific career -- for academic as well as popular audiences -- his reputation and legacy as a scholar will always be attached to his first monograph, a published version of his 1952 doctoral thesis entitled La société aux XIe et XIIe siècles dans la région mâconnaise (Society in the 11th and 12th centuries in the Mâconnais region). La société exerted a profound influence on medieval scholarship in the second half of the twentieth century, placing the study of medieval feudal society on an entirely new footing. Working from the extensive documentary sources surviving from the Burgundian monastery of Clunymarker, as well as the dioceses of Macon and Dijon, Duby excavated the complex social and economic relationships among the individuals and institutions of the Mâconnais region, charting a profound shift in the social structures of medieval society around the year 1000. Duby argued that in early eleventh century, governing institutions -- particularly comital courts established under the Carolingian monarchy -- that had represented public justice and order in Burgundy during the ninth and tenth centuries receded and gave way to a new feudal order wherein independent aristocratic knights wielded power over peasant communities through strong-arm tactics and threats of violence. Duby suggested that this change coincided with a shift in the way people conceived of themselves and their families in the early Middle Ages, moving away from broader notions of kinship towards a more rigid, patrilineal idea of ancestry and primogeniture inheritance. The emergence of this new, decentralized society of dynastic lords could then explain later eleventh-century phenomena as the Peace of God, the Gregorian reform movement and the Crusades.

Following upon this, Duby formulated a famous theory about the Crusades -- which more recent research has since shown to be problematic -- that the tremendous response to the idea of holy war against the Muslims can be traced to the desire of disinherited (but well-armed) second and third sons of this French parvenue aristocracy to make their fortunes by venturing abroad and settling the Levant.

Duby's intensive and rigorous examination of a local society based on archival sources and a broad understanding of the social, environmental and economic bases of daily life became a standard model for medieval historical research in France for decades after the appearance of La société. Throughout the 1970s and 80's, French doctoral students investigated their own corners of medieval France, Italy and Spain in a similar way, hoping to compare and contrast their own results with those of Duby's Mâconnais and its thesis about the transformation of European society at the end of the first millennium.

Although he was never formally a student in the circle of scholars around Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre that came to be known as the Annales School, Duby was in many ways the most visible exponent of the Annaliste tradition, emphasizing the need to place people and their daily lives at the center of historical inquiry.

Histoire des mentalités

Duby was also a pioneer in what he and other Annaliste historians in the 1970s and 80's came to call the "history of mentalities," or the study of not just what people did, but their value systems and how they imagined their world. In books like The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined and The Age of Cathedrals, Duby showed how ideals and social reality existed in dynamic relationship to one another.

Duby's interest in the idea of historical "mentalities" extended to thinking about the position of contemporary society vis-a-vis its past. In Le Dimanche de Bouvines (1973) on the pivotal 1214 battle of Bouvinesmarker, Duby chose not to analyze the battle itself, but the ways it had been represented and remembered over time and the role its memory had played in the formation of French ideas about its medieval past. The book remains a classic of Annales-style historiography, eschewing the "great man" and event-oriented theories of political history in favor of asking questions about the evolution of historical perceptions and ideas over the long term. Duby also wrote frequently in newspapers and popular journals and was a regular guest on radio and television programs promoting historical awareness and support for the arts and social sciences in France. He served as the first director of Société d'édition de programmes de télévision (aka La Sept), a French broadcast network dedicated to educational programming.

His last book, L'histoire continue (History Continues) (1991; Engl. trans. 1994), is an intellectual autobiography. In it, Duby stresses the importance of the historian as a public figure who can make the past relevant and exciting to those in the present.

Works

  • La société aux XIe et XIIe siècles dans la région mâconnaise (portions translated in The Chivalrous Society (1978; repr. 1981)
  • Le Dimanche de Bouvines (1973) (Translated in English as The Legend of Bouvines (1990) ISBN 0-520-06238-8)
  • The Year 1000 (1974).
  • The Age of the Cathedrals (1976).
  • The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined (1978).
  • The Knight, The Lady, and the Priest (1981).
  • William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry (1984).
  • L'histoire continue (1991)


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