The Great Cat Massacre Summary

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Cultural history emerged as a discipline in an endeavor to examine popular cultural traditions within its historical context. Concerning methods of anthropology and history, cultural history allows for an understanding of specific clusters of people’s attitudes towards everyday life. Historians in this field regularly observe accounts of past customs, arts, and knowledge of the era in question. Robert Darnton’s The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History uses this “anthropological mode of history” (Chartier, 683) in order to probe the different ways of thinking in eighteenth century France. Darnton’s ethnographic angle attempts an interpretation of the mentalities and worldviews of ordinary people during this time period. The subjects used within Darnton’s writing ranges from the peasant’s folklore to a bourgeois observer of Rousseau, which highlights the characteristic features of French rural and urban culture. The Great Cat Massacre is an interesting approach to history because it does not look at an expansive structure of historical events, rather it closely interprets a…show more content…
The ideologies, predispositions, and beliefs that are present within the author’s words offer a framework to how these people thought. Interestingly, these accounts are provided by the primary text written by those being discussed, unlike the first two accounts. This distinction represents the differing positions within society, and how different groups coped with the world around them, whether with action, storytelling, or the act of writing down what one thought. What is common amongst this book is the conception of reading, which Darnton suggests could be done in the same way whether one was reading a folktale, ritual, city, or philosophical text, “the modes of exegesis may vary, but in each case one reads for meaning.” (Darnton,

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