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Thursday, February 21, 2008

What I Want to Know About

posted by on February 21 at 13:29 PM

Wikipedia is failing me, mostly.

I just finished Graham Robb’s excellent The Discovery of France, which—to put it broadly—describes how the incredible cultural diversity of medieval France was funneled into a single national identity. (Here’s a googly-eyed New York Times review; here’s a pursed-lipped critique from The New Republic.) There’s a tantalizing section in the book about the cagots, a persecuted minority (probably more caste than race) whose origins were variously attributed to leper colonies, Saracens, or Visigoths; whose looks were usually described as tall and blond, but sometimes short and dark; and whose population was long ago absorbed by the general French and Spanish peasantry. But traces of their existence still persist, in cagot-only church entrances and baptismal fonts, in birth records, and in slang insults. Who knew?

I’d love to read more on the subject, but SPL doesn’t recognize the word and the UW is almost as unhelpful. Is there really no English-language book on the cagots?


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Uh, try Google, I guess.

Posted by gillsans | February 21, 2008 1:46 PM

Very interesting! I'd never heard about this either.

Posted by Justin | February 21, 2008 1:49 PM

There isn't one in the Bibliothèque nationale here in Paris, and the BnF tends to have everything available on French history, no matter the language. What with English being the language of academia and the BnF having books in Spanish and French on les cagots, it's a pretty safe bet that nothing's been published.

Posted by Zannah | February 21, 2008 1:49 PM

My guess is that you'll be looking in antiquarian book stores for this one.

Here's a clue:

Posted by apttitle | February 21, 2008 1:49 PM

I think I remember something about them from the "Basque History of the Wold" by Mark Kurlansky. It's been a while since I read it, though.

The book might have some more info, and it's a good read.

Posted by kmonkey | February 21, 2008 1:50 PM

@5 Oops, I mean "The Basque History of the World"

Posted by kmonkey | February 21, 2008 1:52 PM

If you get can into JSTOR there's an article called The Cagots by a Dr. Hack Tuke.

If you know someone going to the UW, you can ask to use their netID to log into the library databases, and use JSTOR to get into it. It's not a whole book, but at a glance, it looks like what you might want.

Posted by Davida | February 21, 2008 1:53 PM

A search of the Library of Congress' catalog yields only titles in foreign languages.

Posted by Heidi | February 21, 2008 1:55 PM

The Basque suggestion seems to hold some water. Here's some more:

Posted by apttitle | February 21, 2008 1:56 PM
Posted by Jiberish | February 21, 2008 1:58 PM

Have you looked at the Summit catalog at the UW, as well as their own? That'll get you a broader range of libraries. If you have a UW account you can look at OCLC WorldCat, which covers just about anything.

I think a better bet, since any English book solely about Cagots is by definition obscure and probably old, is to hit up a librarian, ideally one specializing in French and or medieval culture and history, for help finding more general books with sections on Cagots. You're going to have better luck at the UW on this, but even at SPL any encounter with a reference librarian is bound to be a good experience.

Librarians rock, and, contrary to widespread belief, helping people find stuff is like crack cocaine to them -- and the harder the search the bigger the rush.

It's not real clear to me after a casual search just WHAT the Cagots are -- are they really even an ethnic group? Are they Goths? Are the lepers? Are they Basques?

The only real interesting English link I can find quickly is at the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He says the standard reference is Les cagots du Béarn (The Cagots of Béarn, Minerve, Paris,
1988) by A. Guerreau and Yves Guy. Maybe there are English histories of Bearn.

Posted by Fnarf | February 21, 2008 2:04 PM

Try doing a search using Basque instead of France.

But I read most of my French history books, other than a few popular English ones, in the original French, if I can.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 21, 2008 2:23 PM

Librarians are sexy. Asking one is a good idea.

Posted by SDizzle | February 21, 2008 2:46 PM

@13 - true, they are. Drop by Suzallo at the UW.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 21, 2008 2:54 PM
Posted by Postureduck | February 21, 2008 3:18 PM

I want the book that started off this search of yours. Sounds totally awesome. Once I finish my Slavic history...

Posted by Abby | February 21, 2008 3:29 PM

Sure you do, Will. Sure you do.

Posted by Fnarf | February 21, 2008 3:57 PM

this is really interesting. i will say that the leper and descendent of leper theory sounds more plausible than the arian or goth descendent version.

Posted by Jiberish | February 21, 2008 4:02 PM

Well, I used to write French plays and short SF stories, it's only the economics texts that slow me down.

(sigh, Americans who don't speak four languages are sooooo boring)

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 21, 2008 8:30 PM

i can only agree that librarians are sexy (being one myself), but i just looked up the library of congress subject heading, and all of the materials in OCLC are in french, spanish or basque....(OCLC searches a large majority of holdings not only in the US, but around the world)...

But I did turn up a masters thesis from the history and government dept at Mississippi on Medieval French leprosy:

Medieval French Leprosies

There's also a pamphlet at Oxford that's undated and non-circulating, but the next time you're there....


Posted by kathleen | February 22, 2008 6:40 AM

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