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The villages du livre local identity, cultural politics, and print culture in contemporary France /

by Merfeld-Langston, Audra Lynn.

Abstract (Summary)
iii Over the past several decades, the cultural phenomenon of the villages du livre has exploded throughout the Hexagon. Taking their cue from the original book town, Hay-on-Wye, in Wales, rural French communities once in danger of disappearing have reclaimed their economic future and their heritage. Founded in 1961, Hay-on-Wye has served as a model for other towns to establish a used book trade, organize literary festivals, and promote the practice of traditional book arts that include calligraphy, binding, paper-making, and printing. In the French villages du livre of Bécherel (Bretagne), Montolieu (Languedoc), Fontenoy-la-Joûte (Lorraine), Montmorillon (Poitou-Charentes), and La Charité-sur-Loire (Bourgogne), ancillary enterprises such as museums, bookstores, cafés, and small hotels now occupy buildings that had stood vacant for years. The economies of these towns have improved concurrent with government investment in them. Residents now find it worthwhile to remain in the area instead of relocating to larger cities. As a result of these changes, the identity of these villages is evolving as well, as they become magnets for a new form of cultural tourism and de facto sites for preserving the memory of traditional print culture in France in an era of new technologies, such as the e-book. The book town movement has become an international phenomenon with a strong European dimension. To date, the research conducted on these towns in their European context has focused largely on economic and demographic benefits of their creation as well as on the role of technology in developing communication systems within and between the towns. None of these studies focuses on the French villages, nor do they address cultural issues such as identity, print culture, or collective memory. My study iv analyzes each of these issues and considers book towns as objects revelatory of themes and tensions in contemporary French society. My approach situates itself at the juncture of several fields and disciplines: book history, a field whose goal is to examine print culture as an historical agent and which has seen an explosion of interest in the past twenty years, as evidenced by the pioneering work of Robert Darnton and Roger Chartier; cultural history; and contemporary history (what in France is often called histoire du temps présent). Relying on these approaches, I address the following questions in my study: Why are there so many book towns in France? How are towns chosen to become book towns? What does the village du livre phenomenon reveal about the status of books and print culture in contemporary French society? Why does this phenomenon seem so important now, when new electronic technologies have challenged the form of the traditional codex? How do the identities of these villages change as a result of their new status as villages du livre? How do books and book arts profit from the existence of these villages and, conversely, what benefits do the villages du livre gain from adopting a new identity based on books? How and why do the villages create new collective memories? How are traditions, as the historian Eric Hobsbawm has asked, ‘invented?’ What is the role of the French state, through a cultural policy aimed at developing and sustaining these villages, in creating and perpetuating these traditions?
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School:Pennsylvania State University

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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