Projects · research

OH NO, EVERYTHING’S MOSTLY OK: Challenges in Studying a Stable Period

Humans are storytellers.  We thrive on stories of conflict and change.  All stories have that in common.  There’s a cast, a problem, a conflict over the problem, then a solution.  History lovers (and I include myself in this group) are drawn to periods where things are happening.  It’s half the reason we have so many books about WWII and not as many about WWI (as the social and political changes, at least in the United States, were not as vast.  It sets the stage for WWII).  It’s interesting when war happens or massive political change or social change happens.  We can easily look from point A (Before conflict)  to point B (after conflict) to see differences.

Unfortunately, I’m interested in a relatively stable bit of history in a relatively stable bit of the world during the period.  1490s France was ruled by a stable monarch (not particularly good or bad, but apparently not very good looking, which seems irrelevant) and relatively stable political situation.  It was prosperous.  It was agrarian.  It didn’t really have huge conflicts.   There’s the steady rise of the middle class, but it’s not the huge upset it was elsewhere due to the three estates (Clergy, Nobility, Everyone Else), which were already well established and in France, at least at the time, were flexible enough to allow for the rise of the bourgeoisie without as much conflict.   Also, without a serious local mercenary population, there wasn’t a break down of the nobility (those who fight and went off to be mercenaries elsewhere rather than create their own bands).  The introduction of noblesse de chancelleri (Nobles by way of office) and noblesse de lettres (Nobles by way of paying for letters patent) starting in late 15th century France probably also accounted for some of the stability.

So, how do you research a time period when everything is just fine?

The same way you research everything else: you scream into the research abyss until something happens.  This means looking for crumbs.  Sometimes that means reading widely.    I am currently digging through a bunch of stuff that surrounds 1480-1510.  I have found one book that specifically deals with my area and my area only ( Kings, Queens, and Courtiers: Art in Early Renaissance France ).   I am currently looking at everything each author has written regarding Early Renaissance France.  Some of it is in French.   I’m slowly but surely building up a library of articles that may be related.  It is slow going.

But wait, you say, don’t you do the French Papal states during the time period?

Again, I am stymied by a too narrow area in a small period.  So to get sources, I, by necessity, need to broaden my horizons to France in general and try to drill down to southern France or Provence, if possible.

That being said, what am I looking for?

Names, dates, places, authors, artists, names of people who have written on the subject.  Citations from articles about the region and period.  I’m pulling out all the stops/tricks with this one. The net is wide, broad and sadly, catching the big research fish, not the smaller ones I want.  But as I go through, I learn more and more about how to get at the information I need and want.

I’m not there yet. But the net is narrowing slightly.

On the bright side, my reading ability in Academic French has improved for the first time since college.

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