Human Agency in Medieval Society, 1100-1450
Title Details

316 Pages

23.4 x 15.6 cm

3 b/w, 2 line illus.

Imprint: Boydell Press

Human Agency in Medieval Society, 1100-1450

by Ionuț Epurescu-Pascovici

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  • Author
  • Reviews
Argues the case for the individual as autonomous moral agent in the later Middle Ages.

"Of fundamental importance for any discipline dealing with past societies and cultures. One of the most wide-ranging, sophisticated and imaginative books on medieval history that I have read in a very long time. The way in which the author defines, traces and analyses agency is stunningly original. It will make an immensely important contribution to our understanding of high and late medieval Europe." Professor Björn Weiler, University of Aberystwyth

What did it mean to be an autonomous agent in European medieval society? This book aims to answer that fundamental question, via an examination of a mosaic of case studies drawn from the literate urban middle strata and the lower and middle-rank aristocracy.

The social imaginary that informs individual conduct, the patterns of strategic action, and the individuals' sense of effectiveness in the world are reconstructed from "ego-documents", a broad category that includes first-person charters, autobiographical insertions in chronicles, private registers, and memoirs. These range from the better-known, such as the Ménagier de Paris and the histories of Galbert of Bruges and Salimbene of Parma, to the equally fascinating but more seldom explored French livres de raison and Italian ricordanze.

The book's larger aim is to historicise the autonomous moral agent. Neither belief in divine intervention nor feudal relations inhibited individuals' social agency. The emphasis on hierarchy and order in medieval normative texts is shown in a different light, as part of the effort to restrain social subalterns, whose potential for agency caused anxiety. Whereas power is often structural, an effect of institutions which, however, were only just developing, the book argues that agency is a more apposite construct for capturing the salient medieval concerns with the possibilities and effects of individual and collective action.
Introduction
Articulating Human and Divine Agency: Histories and Self-Narratives
Lordship and Local Politics: The Cartulary of an Aristocratic Family
To Render an Account of One's Deeds: The Livres de Raison
The Social Uses of Life-Writing: The Tuscan Ricordanze
A Gendered Social Imaginary: The Vernacular Literature on Social Conduct
Conclusion

I. EPURESCU-PASCOVICI received his PhD in medieval studies from Cornell University. He is a researcher in the Humanities Division of the Research Institute of the University of Bucharest.

"[This book] points the way to further studies of social change that do not depend on class and institutions as explanatory devices. It will especially interest social and economic historians, as well as those medievalists
studying gender and autobiographical writing." MEDIUM AEVUM
"The evidence assembled in this book supports persuasive arguments about the varieties of individual agency and religious experiences [...] One of the features of modernity may well be the burgeoning of collective agency, alongside the self-agency so ably charted in this fine book." JOURNAL OF INTERDISCIPLINARY HISTORY
"Epurescu-Pascovici has written an unusual book covering some fascinating case studies. I expect that this will be well appreciated in anthropological circles." CANADIAN JOURNAL OF HISTORY
"This study consists of several studies of medieval ego-documents intended to recapture the subjective sense of agency experienced by their authors. Epurescu-Pascovici teases out in a number of different contexts how these authors conceived of their own choices and made their decisions to act. The result is a rich and rewarding exploration of medieval subjectivity in an unusually broad source-base." THE MEDIEVAL REVIEW
"Il faut reconnaître à l'auteur d'aborder un sujet majeur et difficile, qu'il serait impossible de considérer in abstracto. L'accumulation des cas et des formes complémentaires d'action permet de réfléchir aux différentes façons d'agir, et à ce qu'il y a de propre à la période médiévale. L'ouvrage permet ainsi d'intégrer le Moyen Âge à un débat fondamental des sciences sociales.


We must recognize the author for tackling a major and difficult subject, which it would be impossible to consider in abstracto. The accumulation of cases and complementary forms of action allows us to reflect on the different ways of acting, and on what is specific to the medieval period. The work thus makes it possible to integrate the Middle Ages into a fundamental debate in the social sciences." CAHIERS DE CIVILISATION MÉDIÉVALE

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June 2024

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Title Details

316 Pages

2.34 x 1.56 cm

3 b/w, 2 line illus.

Imprint: Boydell Press