Between Fait-divers and Grand récit: The French Wars of Religion and the Genres of Historiography in the Sixteenth Century

Wednesday, December 2, 2020
12:00 pm PST – 1:30 pm PST

Early Modern Cosmopolitanisms Lecture

–Andrea Frisch (University of Maryland)

Online event via Zoom.

This event is free of charge, but you must register to attend in advance. All registrants will receive instructions via email after registering. Click he following link to register directly with Zoom: https://ucla.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_XNsdI9SWS8eJtgvDZWHufQ

As was the case with many events of the European sixteenth century, the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598) were registered in a number of different media and across a wide range of genres simultaneously, both within and without the French kingdom.  This proliferation of documents yielded a large and diffuse record of the conflicts that did not easily lend itself to a consensual account of any aspect of the period.

This talk will address the phenomena of “remediation”–the shaping of material across media–, and “regeneration” –the shaping of material across genres–with respect to specific events of the French Wars of Religion, with the aim of situating elite French historiography within the complex web of discourses about the wars from which it explicitly sought to distinguish itself. At the center of Frisch’s reflections is the histoire mémorable, since in 16th- and 17th-century France–in contrast to her European neighbors–some form of this label was regularly applied to accounts of current events. As a generic indicator, the category is deeply ambiguous: On the one hand, the term “mémorable” implied a shared inheritance of consensually venerated material traditionally associated with a unifying History; on the other, in the glut of printed matter in the age of confessional conflict, the epithet “mémorable” was repeatedly attached to divisive accounts of current events directly linked to contemporary political debates.

Andrea Frisch received her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from UC Berkeley in 1996. Her research focuses on literary and historiographical works in the social, cultural, and political context of the Protestant Reformation, with special attention to Francophone material.

The Invention of the Eyewitness: Witnessing and Testimony in Early Modern France (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) is an examination of the links between the witness of the French law courts, the figure of the witness in theological writings, the eyewitness narrator of Francophone travel literature, and the witness-as-narrator in French literary and philosophical texts in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The book’s analyses highlight the tense coexistence between traditional ethical models of witnessing inherited from medieval precedents, on the one hand, and an epistemic conception of witnessing, according to which eyewitnessing gained special prestige as a depersonalized, quasi-objective form of testimony, on the other.

Forgetting Differences: Tragedy, Historiography and the French Wars of Religion (Edinburgh University Press, 2015) is a study of the rhetoric of reconciliation in the wake of France’s civil wars (1562–1598). Taking contemporaneous juridical and theological conceptions of pardon, amnesty, and reconciliation as a point of departure, the book identifies parallels between historiographical method and tragic aesthetics in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France. The tandem evolution of these discourses was centrally conditioned by the challenge of representing civil war in a way that would be perceived simultaneously as truthful and as non-polemical.

Current projects include Dispassionate Truths: The Rise of Unmemorable History, which tracks the relationship between the “memorable” and the “true” in the larger body of early modern European historiography, and The Library of the Enlightened Ethnographer, which examines the reception of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century European travel literature in eighteenth-century anthropology and ethnography.

This lecture is presented as part of Early Modern Cosmopolitanisms, a lecture series hosted by Barbara Fuchs (University of California, Los Angeles) and Andrew Devereux (University of California, San Diego) and sponsored by the UCLA Center for 17th- & 18th-Century Studies.