Hanlon, After mentalités: Human nature under the microscope of Ancien regime judicial archives

11 Feb 2019, 17:15 to 11 Feb 2019, 19:15
IHR Past and Present Room, N202, Second Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Gregory Hanlon, Dalhousie University

One of the most exciting vectors of historical research in the 1970s was the explanation of European behaviour in pre-modern times as the expression of a mentalité specific to that time and place. Criminal archives rich in detailed testimony gave scholars an almost direct window onto emotions and situations in the past. Historians such as Yves Castan and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie cast an eye to anthropology and revealed the many similarities between rural populations in the West and a wide variety of exotic peoples studied in more recent times. The principal shortcoming of this interpretation was the weak or non-existent grounding in empirical psychology. However, in the last thirty years, a burgeoning literature in the behavioural sciences articulated around the notion of human nature enables historians to explain medieval and early modern actions in the light of the behavioural universals of the human species, using the same sources.