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Wittenberg Professor Writes Important New Book On Medieval Life

April 16, 2010  
 Filed in Headlines, Research

Springfield, Ohio – A lifelong interest in medieval times and the lives of aristocratic families in Western Europe, has led Wittenberg University Professor of History Amy Livingstone to write an innovative new book Out of Love for My Kin: Aristocratic Family Life in the Lands of the Loire, 1000-1200.

Recently published by Cornell University Press, the book tells about life events through details gleaned from charters kept by monks and provides insights into the lives of aristocratic families that are said to challenge accepted ideas about medieval family life.

“Amy Livingstone has come to know the 11th- and 12th-century aristocratic families of the Loire region so well that she writes of them almost as though they were her own extended parentela,” writes Fredric Cheyette, a professor of history at Amherst College. “Here at last we have an account of medieval familial practices that uses the full range of available sources (and they are mountainous for this region stretching from Chartres to the Loire estuary) and that views a full range of familial activities.

“It is hardly surprising that we quickly discover that everything we thought we knew about the subject turns out to be partial or simply wrong (the supposed shift to strict patrilineage, for example). Livingstone s book is a major contribution to the current reshaping of our conceptions of 11th- and 12th-century society.”

Livingstone’s research included total immersion in the sources available, including archival collections of monasteries in France, where she employed her skills of speaking fluent French and reading Medieval Latin, in which the original parchments were written.

“The original parchment charters are filled with facts of everyday life,” Livingstone explained. “These were legal documents, but they had not yet become formulaic in the 11th and 12th centuries. The monks had connections to the families, and they would mention details, such as ‘beloved wife,’ and other descriptive phrases, giving clues to the interpersonal relationships. When they were transcribed in the 19th century, personal notations were not included in the copies of the official records, and although the materials became more readily available, they also became little more than ‘records of fact’.”

Explaining that one her biggest challenges included bringing people who died hundreds of years ago to life, Livingstone also had to try not to project, but to remain open to the material and to the unexpected opportunities to use their experiences to provide a portal to history.

“It was important to me to provide a new narrative that would inform both the scholar and the general audience,” Livingstone said. “I wanted the work to be accepted by my colleagues, to bring to light new truths about the medieval family, but I also wanted it to be interesting for anyone who wanted to explore the lives of the aristocracy of the 11th and 12th centuries.”

Teaching courses in the Department of History, the Pre-Modern and Ancient World Studies Program and the Women’s Studies Program, Livingstone’s research interests focus upon aristocratic life of the 11th and 12th centuries in the region surrounding the cathedral town of Chartres. She has authored several articles and essays on the aristocratic family, noblewomen and the ways in which medieval elites used and controlled property.

Livingstone’s interest in the lives of aristocrats of Medieval Loire continues. She has already begun research for a book that explores the life experiences of members of one noble family as a way of understanding the larger events of the Central Middle Ages.

The university’s History Club will hold a book launch for Out of Love for My Kin: Aristocratic Family Life in the Lands of the Loire, 1000-1200 from 5-6 p.m. Monday, April 19, in Founders, in the lower level of the Benham-Pence Student Center. The book is available for purchase at the Wittenberg University Bookstore, also located in the student center.

The book’s cover also has a Wittenberg connection. It was designed by Richanna Patrick, class of 1978, who works at Cornell University Press.

Written By: Phyllis Eberts

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