Memory and Identity: The Huguenots in France and the Atlantic Diaspora

By Alderson, Robert | South Carolina Historical Magazine, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Memory and Identity: The Huguenots in France and the Atlantic Diaspora


Alderson, Robert, South Carolina Historical Magazine


Memory and Identity: The Huguenots in France and the Atlantic Diaspora. Edited by Bertrand Van Ruymbeke and Randy J. Sparks. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003. Pp. xvi, 352; $39.95, cloth.)

Memory and Identity is a collection of essays, most of which were presented at the 1997 symposium "Out of New Babylon: The Huguenots and their Diaspora" sponsored by the Lowcountry and Atlantic Studies Program of the College of Charleston. The number of essays (sixteen including the introduction) precludes a discussion that would do them justice. This review will mention all the essays, but comment on a select few.

Memory and Identity is an excellent example of recent trends in Atlantic history. In the introduction, Van Ruymbeke states that the volume "offers a novel comparative perspective on Huguenot communities" throughout the Atlantic world (p. 1). Major themes connecting the essays are: the Huguenot experience as a minority; their efforts to preserve their identity; and the Huguenot revival of the late nineteenth century. The French Protestants who emigrated did so in two waves: the Premier (ca. 1530s-ca. 1660s) and the Second (ca. 1670s-ca. 1710s) Refuges. The Premier Refuge was largely made up of Walloons, French-speaking natives of the Low Countries. In response to increasing religious intolerance that culminated in the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which had granted the Huguenots freedom of worship), the Second Refuge "was the third-largest one-shot migration in early modern Europe" and led to "the creation of a Huguenot Atlantic world" (p. 6, 11). The organization of this Huguenot Atlantic is not "the usual Europe/colonies dichotomy," but rather an Atlantic and continental "refugee space." The dividing line between the two spaces "is not in the middle of the Atlantic, but in the middle of the Netherlands" (p. 12). Although the Huguenots quickly integrated into their host societies (usually within three generations), they did not disappear completely. During the nineteenth century, various heritage groups "preserved an embellished individual and collective memory" (p. 18). Thus, "Huguenot identity, in France and in the Refuge, is rooted in the gray area where memory and history overlap" (p. 18).

The first chapters deal with the Huguenot experience on the Continent. Diane C. Margolf examines how the Huguenots litigated to protect the privileges granted to them under the Edict of Nantes. Margolf includes an excellent discussion of the Edict, which serves as a useful adjunct to the information in the introduction. Raymond A. Mentzer considers how French Huguenots relied on mediation to avoid the royal legal system and encourage harmony. Keith P. Luria looks at how different patterns of burial-shared Protestant/Catholic cemeteries, separate cemeteries, or something in between-affected relations between Catholics and Huguenots. Timothy Fehler's church history chronicles the struggle between the French church and indigenous institutions in Emden, Germany, over such issues as poor relief. The French church eventually gained acceptance and survived until 1896.

The next chapters transition into the Atlantic world. In contrast to the French church in Emden, Charles Littleton shows that the London church's hold on its congregation was weak; members felt free to "move easily back and forth between the native English and the immigrant "French, worlds they inhabited" (p. …

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