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Q: Robert Darnton and Peter Burke have both emphasized the distance of the modern historian from the

early modem period. How do you think 'a history of mentalities' and 'historical anthropology' become important historiographical tools for studying that period in European history? While crafting historical prose the historian must always keep in mind that common law or common knowledge is never an absolute quantity and varies from society to society in different time periods. Therefore there are always two contexts that come into play while attempting the study of history; the historians own context, and the context of the subject matter being written upon. As Robert Darnton in his book The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History puts it they do not think the way we do. And if we want to understand their way of thinking, we should set out with the idea of capturing otherness. Darnton goes on to argue that there is a false sense of familiarity with the past which has to be dispensed with. As an example, he cites an eighteenth century proverb which reads He who is snotty, let him blow his nose. According to Darnton, when we cannot follow a joke, proverb, ritual and so on set in a different context, there is scope to unravel an alien system of meaning. Darnton refers to a context which is not ones own as a foreign mental world which he believes a historian able to negotiate through. In an essay titled Workers Revolt: the Great Cat Massacre of Rue Saint Severin, Darnton demonstrates this very concept. A small sketch of the life of a worker in a printing house in 18th century France shows them highly dissatisfied with general working conditions as well as the poor standards of food old cat food, which were mostly old rotten bits of meat which they could not stomach. As a prank one of the workers (Leveille) who has an extraordinary talent in mimicking, took to howling and meowing up on the masters roof so that the bourgeoisie and his wife did not sleep one bit. As a result, the master commands the workers to kill all the cats in the house (it so happened that the wife adored them). The men proceed to kill and then dump sack loads of half dead cats in the courtyard. When the mistress of the house views this episode she is horrified. To the men however, it seems ridiculously funny and the entire episode is narrated several times over by Leville provoking great amounts of hilarity among the working class in the printing houses. From this episode, Darnton writes: Yet it strikes the modern reader as unfunny, if not downright repulsive. Where is the humour in a group of grown men bleating like goats and banging with their tools while an adolescent reenacts the ritual slaughter of a defenseless animal? Or own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of preindustrial Europe.

He goes onto add that we must therefore use anthropological techniques as they can penetrate and alien culture...where it seems to be most opaque. Peter Burke points out that the consciousness of the distance of a historian from an event occurring in an earlier time and space existed even during the 18 th Century. Burke picks up the example of Thomas Warton whose methods as per Burke are relevant even today (Burke, 2008). Warton, while commenting on the rise of romantic fiction in Europe wrote: In reading the works of an author, who lived in a remote age, it is necessary thatwe should place ourselves in his situation and circumstances; that we may be better enabled to judge and discern how his turn of thinking and manner of composing were biased, influenced and as it were tinctured by very familiar and reigning appearances, which were utterly different from those which we are at present surrounded. (Quoted from Burke, 2008) Hence it becomes obvious that we must rely on alternate tools of history to capture this otherness. Both history of mentalities and historical anthropology are tools which can help the historian place himself in the context of the contemporary. The history of mentalities or mentalite as the French have enigmatically termed it is not an easy subject to define. Carlo Ginzburg and Richard Cobb are seen as the leading practitioners of this approach, despite their own denial of doing the same. Peter Burke defines the history of mentalities using three distinctive features. Firstly there is a stress on collective attitudes as opposed to individual ones. Secondly the emphasis is not so much on conscious theories but on unspoken or unconscious assumptions. Lastly there is the assertion that the difference in mentalities between two groups will make a far stronger statement than difference in attitudes. The approach however did not appear suddenly but was cultivated through historical development of historiography as well as the interaction of disciplines. From Emile Durkheim onwards, sociologists and social anthropologists have been concerned with collective representations, modes of thought and cognitive systems of various cultures. Durkheims follower Levy Bruhl put the term mentality into circulation arguing that primitive people thought in a pre - logical manner. A systematic approach began with the Annales School and its founders Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch who were very much concerned with what was called historical psychology, collective mentalities and conceptual apparatus. What they were doing however was not exclusive to France as the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga whos Waning of the middle Ages looked at collective attitudes alongside the history of feelings and importantly what the author termed forms of thought.

The first point that needs to be made about the history of mentalities as per Burke is that something needed to occupy the conceptual space between the history of ideas and social history. For instance, the social history of ideas practiced by Enlightenment historian Darnton who takes very seriously ideas that emerged in the everyday social life was very much akin to a history of mentalities. Burke puts forward two critical problems of cultural history that seemingly require the approach of mentalities to resolve. Firstly he asks why individuals from different cultures often find communication difficult. Secondly he questions why what one group finds absurd is fairly normal to a second group of persons. Therefore he goes on to further this premise in asking why it is possible to translate word to word a text from one script to another and yet not decipher exact meanings. Burkes answer, which can be adopted for both the present and the past is that there is a difference in mentalities between two or more cultures and thus this aspect must indeed be examined in order to make full sense of the past. In various fields such as economic history, history of sciences etc scholars have found it impossible to solve such a problematic without invoking the concept of mentality as opposed to a rationality that is devoid of both time and space and instead defined ethnocentrically. For instance in the case of the economy, the Polish historian Witold Kula in account of the working of the feudal system in 17th and 18th century Poland has demonstrated that it cannot be fully explained without taking into account the attitudes, values or modes of thought of the magnates who gained fully from it. Even EP Thompsons famous Moral Economy of the English crowd suggested that food riots cannot be seen as a simplistic response to hunger but an expression of collective moral assumptions of the working class. A third example to show how history of mentalities has further the study of early modern Europe can be found in Cardinal Berulles somewhat puzzling statement the state of childhood is the most vile and abject state of human nature, after that of death. Is the oddness in the statement itself or is it revealing of a mentality where childishness has become acceptable to adults far more in the modern age as opposed to the 17 th Century. A fourth example can be drawn from Huizingas conclusion that several statements made in the early modern age should not be taken literally or metaphorically but has its logical status somewhere in between. A rebel band from Brittany, France expressed their demands in a document as follows it is forbidden to give refuge to the gabelle (salt tax) and her childrenon the contrary everyone is ordered to fire on her as one would on a mad dog. It becomes critical in this context to study the mentality of this particular rebel group in order to understand the exact personification of gabelle or salt tax which is being treated as a live entity. Faced with examples of trying to understand the other, historians need a concept like mentality in order to avoid twin dangers. The first danger is dismissing the above discussed examples as unworthy, or faulty historical evidence unworthy of consideration. If a particular

early modern attitude strikes us as being odd, we must remember that it was part of an entirely differently belief system. The second danger is what can be termed premature empathy. Levy Bruhl had diagnosed this illness in historians which is a tendency to place oneself in the arena of the subjects being studied and making them think as we do if we were in their place. Therefore it is not sufficient to imagine oneself in the subjects shoes, but also necessary to imagine their definition of the situation itself. There are however at least four serious objections to the mentalities approach to intellectual history; the first serious objection is that of homogenization. The broad differences that lie in mentalities encourage historians to treat certain attitudes they find alien as if they were homogenous. For instance, if were to say talk of the legal mentality in 17 th Century England, we cannot assume that all lawyers, courts and other such structures possessed the same attitudes. Secondly there also exists the problem of change or variation over time. In the words of Roger Chartier the problem on which all histories of mentalities stumbles, that of the reasons for the modalities of the passage from one system to another. The idea here is that there would be a system of thought in which if each part supports another would make the system impervious to any outside intrusion in theory. A pertinent example is Marc Blochs study about the belief that rulers in France and England could cure skin disease by touching the sufferer. Bloch points out that if a sufferer returned to the king after having the ritual performed, indicating that it had not worked, but it having not worked had not affected the belief of the patient in the ritual. The third objection is that the history of mentalities treats belief systems as autonomous. In other words, it concerns itself overly with the relationship of one belief to another that is misses out the overarching relationship of a belief to society. However, neither Marc Blochs Royal Touch nor Febvres Problem of Unbelief treated belief systems as independent of society and thus this criticism has been answered. A fourth criticism is that the mentalities approach is built on Levy-Bruhls contrast between pre logical and logical thought, the foundations of which have been undermined by later research. The second task before us is to analyse historical anthropology as a tool to better understand early modern Europe. Firstly however we must understand what exactly we mean by the term historical anthropology. Is historical anthropology anything more than a fashionable term for social history? According to Peter Burke we can delineate five specific features of historical anthropology which describe a distinctive approach to history. Firstly, social history has attempted to describe trends on the basis of qualitative evidence; historical anthropology on the other hand is deliberately qualitative in nature, focusing on causation. Secondly works of social history focus on the lives of millions of people or the mass.

On the other hand historical anthropology deals with microscopic history i.e. of either individuals or small communities, to achieve greater depth. Thirdly social historians tend to offer causal explanations of various trends over time, trends which they are often unaware off. Historical anthropologists offer what, following Clifford Geertz (1973) is often called thick description or the interpretation of social interaction in a given society in terms of that societys own norms and categories. Fourth, we can point to the place of symbolism which in everyday life has been neglected by both cultural historians (who are primarily concerned with works of art) and social historians (who are concerned with social reality). Historical anthropologists buck this trend and make it one of their central concerns to show how apparently trivial rituals and routines have an important role in maintaining and enforcing a certain world view. Hence they pay attention to the clothes that people wear, the food they eat, the ways in which they address each other and the manner in which they hold themselves, gesture or walk. Finally, as far as theoretical influences are concerned, social history tends to be informed by the works of Karl Marx and Max Weber. Historical anthropology on the other hand while acknowledging theory, serves its own great tradition with the works of Durkheim and Geertz taking precedence. From the 1960s to the 90s, the distinctive historiographical feature of cultural history has been the turn to anthropology. The anthropologist who perhaps inspired the most in terms of numbers and effect from a previous generation is Clifford Geertz, whose interpretive theory of culture is often juxtaposed with Levi Strausss theory of structuralism. Geertz criticizes Edward Taylors definition of culture - knowledge, art, morals, law and custom on the grounds that it obscured a great deal more than it revealed. Geertz stresses on the importance of what he calls thick description labeling culture as a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols. His study of the Bali culture and in particular the Balinese cockfight where he treats the sport as a philosophical drama is according to him key in understanding the Balinese culture. Geertz believed that there was a story the Balinese people tell through this game. Thus it was through Geertz that historians, in a systemic manner began to enter the mental world of a society via the study of symbols, texts and representations, which while they may not be implied directly are left to be deciphered. The impact of Geertzs work on cultural historians may be best illustrated through revisiting Robert Darntons book, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Essays (1984). Darnton in this text emphasizes that one can read a ritual or a city just as one reads a folk tale or a philosophical text. Darnton places the incident of the cat massacre (which has already been discussed above) in a series of contexts, from labour relations to popular rituals and from attitudes of cats to

views of violence. In this way he not only helps the reader appreciate why the apprentices did what they did but also makes the incident a point of entry into an alien world. A growing interest in the subject of rituals saw the emergence of the drama analogy originating in Erving Goffmans work The presentation of the self in everyday life. The tradition of studying official rituals dates back to the 1920s, but in the 1960s and 70s historians like Natalie Davis and EP Thompson discovered various popular rituals such as charivaris among others. Rhys Isaac even suggested that every culture has a distinctive dramaturgical kit or repertoire. Anthropology as an alternative mode of linking culture to society in an age where there was growing interest in popular culture saw anthropology become even more relevant to historians. Therefore symbolism of everyday life began playing a greater role in the works of historians. As LP Hartley put it, cultural history achieves most coherence and makes the most sense when views as retrospective ethnography as the past is a foreign country where things are done differently. In the 1970s another trend emerging from the fusion with anthropology was that of micro history. Anthropologists offered an alternative model that of an extended case study in which there was space for culture and freedom from economic or social determinism and for individual faces in the crowd. The microscope seemingly offered an attractive alternative to the telescope, allowing concrete individuals or local experience to re-enter history. The two major works of this kind are Le Roy Laduries Montaillou which analyzes a small village for a period of thirty years and Carlo Ginzburgs Cheese and Worms (1976).