Between a Social Strategy and a Scholarly Quest: The Norman Notables and the Making of Normandy in the 19th Century

By François Guillet

In the history of the process of the making of regional representations in France in the 19th century, the Norman example is very different from Brittany studied by Catherine Bertho. The Revolution did not only mean reforms which ended the notion of the province as a juridical and institutional entity, but it also entailed social transformations for the elites of the province, modifying their relations to the Norman “homeland” and shifting it now towards the past. The exile suffered by some of them (an essential break in the life of a number of noblemen and priests) accompanied a renewal and a widening which sustained the development of an erudite sociability. The latter from the 1800s would explore what from then on constituted “a referential memory.” This scholarly quest was an instrument of social domination for the notables whose regionalism was based on a very thick network of scholarly societies. This erudite quest aimed at showing the natural and historical foundations of the province and was at the origin of a school of medieval archeology whose importance is highlighted by the influence of Arcisse de Caumont. This intellectual construction which fed the works of French and English romantic writers and artists spread among a growing audience. Norman antiquarians answered by writing travel guides.


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