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Voices of the People in Nineteenth-Century France


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Part of Cambridge Social and Cultural Histories

  • Date Published: February 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316635568

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About the Authors
  • This innovative study of the lives of ordinary people – peasants, fishermen, textile workers – in nineteenth-century France demonstrates how folklore collections can be used to shed new light on the socially marginalized. David Hopkin explores the ways in which people used traditional genres such as stories, songs and riddles to highlight problems in their daily lives and give vent to their desires without undermining the two key institutions of their social world – the family and the community. The book addresses recognized problems in social history such as the division of power within the peasant family, the maintenance of communal bonds in competitive environments, and marriage strategies in unequal societies, showing how social and cultural history can be reconnected through the study of individual voices recorded by folklorists. Above all, it reveals how oral culture provided mechanisms for the poor to assert some control over their own destinies.

    • Explains how historians can approach folkloric material as historical sources
    • Shows how the voices of individual peasants, usually condemned to historical silence, can be preserved in oral history
    • Each chapter is a microstudy showing how a particular problem in social history can be clarified through the study of folklore collections
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    • Winner of the 2013 Katharine Briggs Folklore Award

    Reviews & endorsements

    'David Hopkin forcefully, sensitively, and effectively, points towards 'oral literature', the folkloric evidence of tales and songs as means of enhancing our understanding of popular culture.' French History

    'Essential reading for historians of women, gender, and the family; scholars of social relations, hierarchies, and power dynamics in small communities; students of popular culture and religious practices; researchers of national identity and historical memory; and many others. This book richly deserves a broad and thoughtful reading.' H-France

    'Hopkin's very readable study manages to convince over large areas of interest, and posits an important, though not unique counterpoint to established studies dealing with the confrontation between the French provincial population and modernisation and modernity.' translated from H-Soz-u-Kult

    'This marvellously imaginative and original study eavesdrops on a wide spectrum of 'ordinary' people in nineteenth-century France through their folk songs and stories, written down by more educated contemporaries … Experts and undergraduates alike will find this book difficult to put down. It should be on every BA and MA social history bibliography. It is also sufficiently engaging to hold a general reader enthralled.' Pamela Pilbeam, History

    'Hopkin's book is rich and provocative; he invites the reader into a conversation about methods and sources. His analyses of folklore offer ways of rethinking the relationship between the social and the cultural.' Mary Jo Maynes, The Journal of Modern History

    'This thought-provoking book deserves a wide audience and I am keen to read the fruits of Hopkin's 'exhortation to historians'.' Alison Carrol, European History Quarterly

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316635568
    • length: 312 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.46kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus. 3 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: folklore and the historian
    1. Storytelling in a maritime community: Saint-Cast, 1879–82
    2. The sailor's tale: storytelling on board the North Atlantic fishing fleet
    3. Love riddles and family strategies: the Dâyemans of Lorraine
    4. Storytelling and family dynamics in an extended household: the Briffaults of Montigny-aux-Amognes
    5. Work songs and peasant visions of the social order
    6. The visionary world of the Vellave lacemaker
    Conclusion: between the micro and the macro

  • Author

    David Hopkin, University of Oxford
    David Hopkin is Fellow and Tutor in History at Hertford College, Oxford. His research concentrates on the oral and popular cultures of nineteenth-century Europe. He is editor of the journal Cultural and Social History.


    • Winner of the 2013 Katharine Briggs Folklore Award

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