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Making Local: The Politics of Place in Anglo-Norman Hagiography


This dissertation considers the category of the local in Anglo-Norman hagiography. More specifically, this project asks how a consideration of local space informs our knowledge of ideologies of power in twelfth-century England? In considering this question, I attend to representations of power and space in an archive of saints’ lives and secular hagiography that have strong connections to local, intranational places. Such a consideration of the local complicates the established discourses of power and identity in the High Middle Ages.

When discussing the use of space in hagiography, I employ the term local to refer to a category that includes but also extends beyond the physical, geometrical boundaries of a given area. The local encompasses the sum of a place’s culture, community, practices, and ideological investments. In this way, the local is dynamic and relational category where geographical space and socio-cultural ideologies of power intersect. Further, my use of the term local is yoked to larger methodological discourses on the nation in postcolonial studies. In this project, I use this term to reflect recent shifts in postcolonial theory and build on how medieval studies addresses prenational identities. I am indebted to previous scholars whose work has cleared the way for my use of the category of the local, as the past two decades have witnessed a dramatic shift in how academia views medievalist studies’ use of postcolonial theory. My project’s attention to the dynamics of space and collective identities in postcolonial studies is timely and participates in what I see to be a third generation of postcolonial medievalist scholarship. This third generation of postcolonial medieval scholarship moves from a theorization of the nation to the theorization of the local.

This dissertation also stresses the primacy of hagiography in theorizing the category of the local in Medieval Studies. As a genre, saints’ lives have very intimate relationships with space. The site-specific location of an English saint’s birth, deeds, and his or her bodily remains are key features of these texts and important knowledge for their devotional communities. Hagiography’s relationship between the regional and the national that make saints’ lives particularly rich texts for exploring how communities identify (or disidentify) with larger geopolitical affiliations. In this way, hagiography has a special advantage when considering spatial formulations of power. More specifically, the project examines Matthew Paris’s Vie de seint Auban and L’Estoire de Aedward le rei, Gaimar’s L’Estoire des Engleis, and the Middle English Havelok the Dane as texts that theorize and complicate our understanding of local and its relationship to power. Together, these texts offer three distinct approaches to the local that include the exercises of power over spaces of private land, monastic land, and sovereign land.

The following chapters seek to demonstrate the primacy of hagiography in theorizing the space of the local. The chapters below examine how figures of authority use space in saint’s lives to create and maintain ideologies of power, but there is still much more research to be done on this topic. While Making Local shows how hagiography was used as a tool to exert control over space and communities, not all saints’ lives from the period were recruited for such goals. This project’s discussions of the local and the ideologies they serve rely on a limited archive; I hope that Making Local invites further discussion on the intersection of hagiography, power, and place in Anglo-Norman England.

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