The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History

The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History

The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History

The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History

Excerpt

This book investigates ways of thinking in eighteenth-century France. It attempts to show not merely what people thought but how they thought--how they construed the world, invested it with meaning, and infused it with emotion. Instead of following the high road of intellectual history, the inquiry leads into the unmapped territory known in France as l'histoire des mentalités. This genre has not yet received a name in English, but it might simply be called cultural history; for it treats our own civilization in the same way that anthropologists study alien cultures. It is history in the ethnographic grain.

Most people tend to think that cultural history concerns high culture, culture with a capital c. The history of culture in the lower case goes back as far as Burckhardt, if not Herodotus; but it is still unfamiliar and full of surprises. So the reader may want a word of explanation. Where the historian of ideas traces the filiation of formal thought from philosopher to philosopher, the ethnographic historian studies the way ordinary people made sense of the world. He attempts to uncover their cosmology, to show how they organized reality in their minds and expressed it in their behavior. He does not try to make a philosopher out of the man in the street but . . .

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