Historical Research

Description: Peiresc and the history of historical research

Beginning from Peiresc’s oriental studies, it became clear that the second part of my initial interest in him, ie how he worked, was at least equally important. Connecting it to the development of “cultural history” was interesting, but I soon realized that making even a form of this argument successfully would require actually following out the history of his practices up to the present, rather than simply arguing by juxtaposition that there had to have been a connection.

But this realization implied two further lines of inquiry. One would require a much broader survey of Peiresc’s practices, looking beyond the realm of his oriental studies, no matter how exemplary it might in fact be. This is discussed immediately below. The second would entail a diachronically-driven inquiry that would follow the history of antiquarian practices, to be discussed in “Morphologies of Antiquarianism.”

Peiresc’s practice as a researcher is itself approached in two different ways. The first works from a taxonomy of typical antiquarian modes of work as collecting, describing and comparing. This was first announced in Peiresc’s Europe (p.30). I studied Peiresc’s work on collecting mostly through establishing the shape of his numismatic materials. (note: this essay has not yet been published). Description, which is what Peiresc performed on objects, events, or processes that he had in some way brought into his collection or came into his acquaintance, was described using examples drawn from his studies of the past, nature, and peoples. Comparing, which is the final step in this process, and which could only be done after an object had been properly described, was examined through a close study of Peiresc’s study of a particular kind of gnostic gem, the "Abraxas".

Peiresc’s interest in ritual and ceremony—mores et instituta—bridged material culture and living evidence. Ancient religion that he encountered as a student of the ancient Mediterranean provided him with the categories with which to analyze religious evidence from contemporary Africa and to use this to refine the terms with which he analyzed ancient religion. An interest in artifacts, like the Abraxas, led him directly to questions of anthropology: ritual, Alltag and religion.

The second approach is monographic: Peiresc at work studying the Mediterranean. This includes studies of its natural history (geology, currents, volcanoes, fossils, cataclysms). It also takes in attempts to map the Mediterranean and his understanding of the history of earlier efforts to study its geography, including those which preceded his own efforts to do this through astronomical observation. History in the Mediterranean is another category in which we can see Peiresc working. Writing the history of Provence his whole life, Peiresc came directly to the question of Provence in the medieval Mediterranean,and he studied it: from relations with the House of Barcelona, to the Crusades, the Angevin almost-empire, and the Provençal families who made their fortunes. Looking at Peiresc's practice as a medievalist - studying inscriptions, charters, seals, coats of arms and family histories - makes us aware of the key role of the antiquary in mediating between the already-developed study of the ancient world and the developing study of the modern one. Genealogy, in particular, was a much more robust and flexible historical tool than we credit it today. But it was not only the objects of evidence themselves that interested Peiresc, and us today.

The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Peiresc emerges out of this research rubric and by demoonstration ties together the how Peiresc worked withe why, where, and when.

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