Peiresc (1580-1637) was among the most famous scholars of his generation, and even after his death, as his fame waned, the name still conjured up an aura of authority. Despite all this, his Nachlass has never been comprehensively studied. Some small percentage of his letters have been critically used, a larger portion of which, perhaps a little less than half, has been published. So far as I can tell, none of those scholars whose names we associate with Peiresc research made use of his working notes or excerpta, even though of the 50,000 surviving pieces of paper, outgoing correspondence amounts to only 10-15% of the whole.
My focus over the years has been on his practice as a scholar. I have tried not to get caught up in a priori definfitions of terms such as "antiquarianism," and instead have worked from Peiresc’s practice—and his celebrity as an antiquary—to suggest that the meaning of the term should reflect this practice. Once we go down this road it turns out that there are some significant implications for the general understanding of the history of historical research from the Renaissance through the Twentieth Century.
The different parts of my work on Peiresc are presented on this site:
Peiresc’s Orient details Peiresc’s work in the last pre-disciplinary generation of oriental studies in Europe, and suggests the way in which the practices of the antiquarian could, as Momigliano implies, have a family resemblance to what we have come to call "cultural history." (The purpose of Cultural History Before Burckhardt [see below, in Morpohologies] is to show that this is not just an accident, but that a genetic account can be created linking early modern antiquaries and modern cultural historians.) The essays in this section, written over the course of a decade, will be collected and published by Ashgate/ Variorum in 2012.
The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Peiresc emerges from the rather obvious fact that that the Mediterranean stands between Provence and the Orient. Peiresc approached the Mediterranean with the same attentiveness that he brought to study of the Orient. In his Mediterranean studies we can see him deploying the full extent of his intellectual tools: geography and astronomy, natural history, heraldry, epigraphy, diplomatics, sigillography and genealogy. But we also see him deploying a whole other body of knowledge: that of the commercial, nautical and diplomatic worlds. It is this side of his practice that is the focus of this book. Based on the approximately 1000 letters written by Peiresc to merchants, ships captains, missionaries, diplomats and travellers, it is centered on Marseille and its Mediterranean network. This is how Peiresc was able to pursue manuscripts, artifacts, commodities and information. Peiresc and the Mediterranean is a story that can be told thematically, using the letters to illuminate categories otherwise invisible or difficult of access to us today, but also chronologically, yielding an extraordinary history of intellectual creativity and determination.
Morphologies of Antiquarianism is the working title for the umbrella project which is informed by the question: if Peiresc’s practice defines at least a possible norm for what we mean by “antiquary” and “antiquarian,” then the history of historical research from the Renaissance to the twentieth century changes a great deal. Various investigations that I am currently making are contributions towards clarifying exactly what such a new history could look like.
Archive refers to an envisioned presentation of scans of Peiresc's letters and papers, along with transcriptions, comment and tagging. These would populate the database driving Peiresc's Mediterranean but also potentially could be expanded to include the complete correspondence.