Monday, July 21, 2008

Vive Le Roy (Ladurie)

Happy 79th birthday, Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie, historian of the world's climate a generation before the subject became fashionable. By counting the harvest dates of vineyards and tallying records of Alpine monasteries confronted by glaciers that came and went over the centuries, he laid down persuasive evidence that climate, like all else, has a history. His climate history was more Eurocentric than global, sure, but the message was there.

His doctoral dissertation, The Peasants of Languedoc, is as good a regional history as has been written. And his Montaillou, the history of an Pyreneen village from 1294-1324... well, if it's not the best history book of the twentieth century, I don't know what is.

Ladurie's father was a Petainist minister in Vichy France turned resistance worker. Ladurie himself was a youthful communist turned democrat. He once described his childhood in rural Normandy as so traditional as to have been "almost Quebecois."

I met him once, and he was full of interest in the genealogies of these Toronto Canadians he was meeting. I said my own Canadian heritage was short, but my wife's family had come from Ireland around 1845. Ah, he said, la famine des patates!" delighted at finding a new historical story before him.
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