"Les Lieux de Memoire" is perhaps one of the most profound historical documents on the history and culture of the French nation. Assembled by Pierre Nora during the Mitterand years, this multi-volume series has been hailed as "a magnificent achievement" ("The New Republic") and "the grandest, most ambitious effort to dissect, interpret and celebrate the French fascination with their own past" (The Los Angeles Times"). Written during a time when French national identity was undergoing a pivotal change and the nation was struggling to define itself, this unprecedented series consists of essays by prominent historians and cultural commentators which take, as their points of departure, a "lieu de memoire": a site of memory used to order, concentrate and secure notions of France's past. The first volume in the Chicago translation, "Rethinking France", brings together works addressing the omnipresent role of the state in French life. As in the other volumes, the "lieux de memoire" serve as entries into the French past, whether they are actual sites, political traditions, rituals or even national pastimes and textbooks.
"Volume I: The State" offers a sophisticated and engaging view of the French and their past through widely diverse essays on, for example, the chateau of Versailles and the French history of absolutism; the "Code civil" and its ordering of French life; memoirs written by French statesmen; and Charlemagne and his place in French history. Nora's contributors constitute a who's who of French academia, yet they wear their erudition lightly. Taken as a whole, this extraordinary series documents how the French have come to see themselves and why.
Pierre Nora is editorial director at Editions Gallimard. Since 1977, he has been directeur d'Etudes at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales. He is the founding editor of Le DEbat and has directed the editorial work on Les Lieux de mEmoire since 1984. In 2001 he was elected to the AcadEmie Francaise. David P. Jordan is the LAS Distinguished Professor of French History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of Transforming Paris and The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre, both published by the University of Chicago Press.