Animals, ecology, and the rural social system: pastoralists and their Cistercian neighbours in upland south France, 1100-1350
My DPhil project is on mountain pastoralists in medieval southern France, and it has two main angles of enquiry. First, I am interested in landscapes and ecologies. I want to know how shepherds, swineherds and cowherds interacted with their environment, and what synergies, change, or destruction can be found. When shepherds in the Languedoc matured cheese for market or ate the fresh ricotta themselves, they relied on multiple affordances of the living networks which surrounded them—Penicillin fungi, karst caves for optimal temperature and humidity, hardy sheep for the tough climate and the long walks between upland and winter pasture. Using the rich conceptual tools of environmental history, and reading archaeological, zoological, and botanical research, I want to show how human shepherding landscapes teemed with life of many kinds.
Second, and followingly, I am interested in how living within different ecologies inflected governance structures differently. Ernst Gellner has said that shepherds are hard to govern: I want to discover if this laconic dictum is borne out by the medieval evidence. My suspicion is that practices of long-distance transhumance, with summers spent in the expansive mountainous uplands, meant that at least if pastoralists were not harder to govern than their lowland arable neighbours, at least different styles, intensities, and scales of government arose.
I am grateful to be funded by the OOC AHRC DTP, Trinity College, and the Clarendon Fund.