Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reading for inspiration

The first of the new stack I've tackled is Barbara Rosenwein's To Be the Neighbor of St. Peter. I'd already read it, but a commenter's recommendation last week reminded me that it might be worth another look. 

Rosenwein emphasizes that the meaning of acts may change even though the forms (such as gifts, sales, etc.) remain the same. This point could serve as a caution against finding parallels between the phenomena she describes and other societies and periods--yet I certainly see a lot of common elements which I think I could meaningfully draw on.

Differences: Rosenwein and I are looking at different regions and, perhaps even more importantly, different periods (she at the 10th and 11th centuries, I at the 13th and 14th). I am looking primarily at women, not at all donors; the female donors and testators I'm looking at lived under a different legal and institutional framework than the men and women of 10th-century Cluny.

But Rosenwein's major themes deal with how gifts and exchanges of property create and reinforce bonds between Cluny and its donors. Those sorts of social relationships seem to me to also exist in the later period, and to be of importance in determining who gives gifts to institutions and why.

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