Fragment 2

Peiresc and Foucault?

"To that end, he [Peiresc] took so much care—and what did he not do?—in order to pull out a history from the ashes and dust of our Counts and give light to its most noble families using to this end not bare tradition, slight arguments, uncertain authorities, but authentic records, such as wills, marriage contracts, transactions of business, law-deeds, privileges and also statues, tombs, inscriptions, pictures, scutcheons, coins, seals and other things of this sort. Which, that he might discover and get into his hands, he spared no cost, effort or industry; perusing himself, or causing to be persued, all acts and monuments which could be found in the treasuries and records of the princes, bishops, abbots, chapters, monasteries, nunneries, nobles, gentry, and private persons whomseover. Also in the statutes of churches, their registers of burials, and calenders. Causing to be sketched whatever thing of great antiquity, was shadowed, portrayed, engraved, or expressed in books, clothing, glass windows, and buildings, whether sacred or profane."[Gassendi, Viri Illustris Nicolai Claudii Fabricii de Peiresc Senatoris Aquisextiensis Vita in Opera Omnia, 6 vols (Lyon, 1658), V, 337; Pierre Gassendi, The Mirrour of True Nobility and Gentility (Haverford, PA, 2003 [1657]), bk.6, 277. (I have lightly modernized Rand’s 1657 translation.]

"History is the work expended on material documentation (books, texts, accounts, registers, acts, buildings, institutions, laws, techniques, objects, customs, etc.) that exists, in every time and place, in every society, either in a spontaneous or in a consciously organized form. The document is not the fortunate tool of a history that is primarily and fundamentally memory; history is one way in which a society recognizes and develops a mass of documentation with which it is inextricably linked. "[Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, [Eng. trad] (New York, 1972), 7]

When we think about the history of Peiresc we are inevitably thinking about the ways in which Europeans have tried to study the past. That there has been such an extraordinary return-after Foucault, if not with him-to the realm of scholarly practices and non-linear fragments of information, suggests one of the ways in which antiquarianism may constitute a counter-history. That this counter-history persisted from the Renaissance to the present, and often as mainstream, aside from a brief century from Gibbon to Burckhardt, suggests that the value of studying Peiresc is not merely on conceptual grounds. Antiquarianism may-and this is why paying attention to antiquarianism elsewhere, such as China, is important—be a distinctively European form of historical practice, or it may be a form found in many places, but always with slight differences, and these, in turn, can help us understand what is really distinctive about a particular time and place.


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