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From Memory to Written Record: England 1066 - 1307 2nd Edition

4 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0631168577
ISBN-10: 0631168575
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Editorial Reviews


When Michael Clanchy’s book From Memory to Written Record was first published in 1979, it was the most important book on English Royal administration in the middle ages that had appeared in a general…. The second edition takes full cognizance of the extensive literature on the subject of morality and literacy, which has been one of the half dozen most discussed aspects of the medieval European world during the past two decades. Clanchy has significantly deepened and enriched his classic study. It is indispensable for not only political, legal and socialhistorians, but also for students of medieval literature and religion. From Memory to Written Record is one of those seminal works that shape the direction of the next generation of historical and social thought. This second edition will remain of the major works on the medieval world for many decades to come. Norman F. Cantor, New York University

Reviews of the first edition:
"A tour-de-force, a scholarly work which is genuinely hard to put down, and which breaks new ground in its approach." Journal of Legal History

<!--end-->"Thought-provoking and wide-ranging . . . one can assert confidently that it is one of the most exciting books on medieval English history to appear in recent years." History

"Many familiar assumptions about the medieval world will have to be reconsidered in the light of this book. It is impossible to convey its range or the variety of its implications, but it is possible to insist on its importance." History Today

"Clanchy's work will stand as a remarkable piece of scholarship and as a massive contribution to our understanding of the medieval world." Journal of Library History

From the Back Cover

The second edition of Michael Clanchy's widely-acclaimed study of the history of the written word in the Middle Ages is now, after a much lamented absence, republished in an entirely new and revised edition. The text of the original has been revised throughout to take account of the enormous amount of new research following publication of the first edition. The introduction discusses the history of literacy up to the present day; the guide to further reading brings together over 300 new titles up to 1992. In this second edition there are substantially new sections on bureaucracy, sacred books, writing materials, the art of memory, ways of reading (particularly for women), the writing of French, and the relationship of script, imagery and seals. Publication of the new edition also represents the book's first appearance in the United States in paperback.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (March 10, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631168575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631168577
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #917,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Moving from reliance on human memory to the written word was a long and interesting process which is fully explored by this book. Prior to Edward I's reign, the assumption was that "time out of mind" was about a century prior to the present. The date before which legal proof of rights was not required had previously been moved forward in time as required: the date of Henry I's death followed by Henry II's coronation followed by Richard I's coronation. But there it stayed fixed by Edward I's statutes. Time out of mind was prior to September 3, 1189. After that date, it was expected that written records rather than human memory would confirm legally valid grants of rights.
The development of a written culture of everyday affairs covers many sorts of artifacts and concepts. Tally sticks as bills and receipts, personal seals functioning as signatures, why we began signing with an "x", and the number of pounds of sealing wax used by the King's Chancery over time are all explored in this book. The development of heraldry as part of the shift from memory to written record is also commented on briefly.
The author carefully studies the question "Were laymen literate?" and tries hard to make the reader understand what being literate meant in this period. Our modern concept of someone who can read AND write simply doesn't fit with concepts held at the time about literacy. The author's conclusions on the pervasiveness of literacy in this period are surprising.
Throughout the book, the very different reasons for and processes surrounding the making of a record, the keeping of a record, and the using of a record are carefully differentiated. This is an outstanding work of history for the student of literacy, of medieval history, and of legal history.
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Format: Paperback
Clanchy takes on a fascinating topic, but one which might well seem unfathomable to a modern audience -- the rise of legalism. In the early Middle Ages (prior to the 12th century), most matters were handled on the basis of a public promise -- shake hands in front of people, place your hands on a relic, etc. In the 12th century there is a massive shift away from this towards getting things down in writing. Where before ideas had been "from the beginning of time" (i.e. as far back as anyone could remember, at best a couple of generations), now there was the rise of tangible recordings of events, which might also lead to tangible forgeries. Still the concept of taking a man at his word did not die away altogether or quickly.
This book does a fine job of describing the shifting notion of what is proof and what counts legally in society. There are points where the reader will need background, such as some basic notions of the feudal system (a notion which itself has come under attack as inaccurate of late), but overall it is quite a readable text
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Format: Paperback
This book is focused on providing an overview of the growth of literacy "for practical purposes" (p 328) from the 11th century to the 13th century. The author divides the book into two parts. Part I, The Making of Records, describes the exponential increase in documents, their use in charters, business and personal transactions, as well as the challenges of both producing and storing of documents and records, during this period. Part II, The Literate Mentality, provides an overview of some of the difficulties with the acceptance of written documents over oral traditions and the linguistic tribulations extant.

Clanchy establishes early on in his book that there were two types of literacy: ability to read and ability to read Latin. He chooses 1006 as a starting point for this analysis as a result of the Norman Conquest, when William the Conqueror invaded the Kingdom of England at the Battle of Hastings. This date is significant as William brings Latin to England, which the author suggests "brought England into the mainstream of medieval literate communication" (p 27). The introduction of Latin to England initially increased the one type of literacy - reading Latin, but potentially reduced the other - ability to read anything, as this was the beginning of the end of Old English and its written form, which subsequently went out of favor. Michael Clanchy introduces the reader to the Domesday Book, (a written record of a survey in the 11th century, meant to capture the details on land and property holdings, in order to tax and show ownership of such properties), and then references how documents matured in creation and usage from this initial record.
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