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Rethinking France: Les Lieux de mémoire, Volume 2: Space
edited by Pierre Nora and David P. Jordan
University of Chicago Press, 2006
Cloth: 978-0-226-59133-9

How do we visualize a state or a nation? Some might imagine territory—the borders that divide countries, that mark the space where power is exercised and history evolves. Others might picture natural aspects like mountains, rivers, and landscapes that make their own country distinct. For Pierre Nora, these are historical and geographical conceptions of “space.” And, in the case of the French, these conceptions are not separate but instead uniquely linked. They are key to understanding French national identity.

In Space, the second volume in the University of Chicago Press’s translation of Nora’s ambitious Les Lieux de mémoire, a group of France’s leading historians and cultural commentators call attention to the meaning of space for the French and the firm connection between the nation’s history and its geography. The essays gathered here cover the most essential approaches to French space: external and internal boundaries, the base unit of local space, and the mental construction that gives a general idea of the concept of landscape. The analyses focus on three aspects of natural boundaries: the forest, the north and the south, and the coastline. Each region of France, they show, is a space of memory that is the fruit of all the knowledge that gives it shape: statistical, cartographical, geological, and historical.

A crucial piece in Nora’s profound historical project on the way the French understand themselves, this volume will be appreciated by any critical thinker with an interest in French history, politics, culture, or philosophy.

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