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Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium.

This study of memory explores the ways people of all social ranks in the formerly Carolingian territories preserved the past, whether by written or non-written means. Patrick Geary is interested in the history of memory as historiography, as the "traditions within which memory was understood and cultivated," and as "how people actually remember" (9-10). He is as concerned with what was forgotten as with what was remembered. The idea, developed in the introduction, that "those who could control the past could direct the future" is itself unexceptional, but the details by which Geary shows how the eleventh-century past and present were created are full of interest (6). So also is his revisionism on a number of points, especially his weighing in against those whom he believes have misunderstood the differences between individual and collective memory and history and those who have overstressed the difference between oral and written culture. There are, however, ambiguities in his discussion of Augustine's understanding of memory.

The first chapter studies remembrance of the past in three diverse areas: the Piedmont and lower Rhone region, Neustria, and Bavaria. Geary's attack on the still common historiographical convention of radical discontinuity centered on the year 1000, which contrasts tenth-century disintegration and eleventh-century rebirth, is most helpful. As elsewhere, he reveals the traps that open for those who dichotomize memory and the written record as exclusive categories. The second chapter, which studies the effects of the disintegration of the Carolingian realm on regional and family consciousness, gives a sophisticated reading of documents that tend to obscure the ways in which women were the chief bearers of family memory. The third chapter examines archival memory. The destruction of archives is nicely illustrated by an analysis of the work of the forgers at St. Denis, who by destroying the originals of documents, altering contents, and using other original documents for writing materials, not only rewrote the history of St. Denis but made alternatives to their version of the past virtually inaccessible. The subject of the fourth chapter is the exploitation of monastic records in two regions to forge a useful past. Geary expertly analyzes the anonymous author of the Chronicon Novaliciense, who moved in the territory between Breme (near Pavia), Novalesa, and Turin, and Gottschalk of Benediktbeuern, also the author of a Rotulus historicus. This leads, through study of three early tenth-century leaders who ultimately failed, to the examination in the following chapter of the relation between memory, power, and lordship. The sixth chapter ties the earlier analyses together by looking at one monk's construction of the past. Throughout the book the occasional bold statement gives pause. Is it really true - for instance of Bede - that "the difference between hagiography and archival evidence is a modern, not a medieval, one" (159)? A concluding chapter makes the illuminating suggestion that at St. Emmeramg Arnold anticipates his more famous predecessor, Otloh.

Glenn W. Olsen University of Utah

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Author:Olsen, Glenn W.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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