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Remembering Peasants: A Personal History of a Vanished World (Hardcover)
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A landmark new history of the peasant experience, exploring a now neglected way of life that once encompassed most of humanity but is vanishing in our time.
“What the skeleton is to anatomy, the peasant is to history, its essential hidden support.” For over the past century and a half, and still more rapidly in the last seventy years, the world has become increasingly urban, and the peasant way of life—the dominant way of life for humanity since agriculture began well over 6,000 years ago—is disappearing. In this new history of peasantry, social historian Patrick Joyce aims to tell the story of this lost world and its people, and how we can commemorate their way of life. In one sense, this is a global history, ambitious in scope, taking us from the urbanization of the early 19th century to the present day. But more specifically, Joyce’s focus is the demise of the European peasantry and of their rites, traditions, and beliefs.
Alongside this he brings in stories of individuals as well as places, including his own family, and looks at how peasants and their ways of life have been memorialized in photographs, literature, and in museums. Joyce explores a people whose voice is vastly underrepresented in human history and is usually mediated through others. And now peasants are vanishing in one of the greatest historical transformations of our time.
Written with the skill and authority of a great historian, Remembering Peasants is a landmark work, a richly complex and passionate history written with exquisite care. It is also deeply resonant, as Joyce shines a light on people whose knowledge of the land is being irretrievably lost during our critical time of climate crisis and the rise of industrial agriculture. Enlightening, timely, and vitally important, this book commemorates an extraordinary culture whose impact on history—and the future—remains profoundly relevant.
About the Author
Patrick Joyce is Emeritus Professor of History, University of Manchester. He is a leading British social historian and has written and edited numerous books of social and political history, including The Rule of Freedom, Visions of the People, and The State of Freedom. Joyce is also the author of the memoir Going to My Father’s House, a meditation on the complex questions of immigration, home, and nation. The son of Irish immigrants, he was raised in London and resides beside the Peak District in England.
“A dozen pages in I realized that I had been waiting for much of my life to read this extraordinary book. Anyone who has ever tried to unravel the intertwined skeins of ancestry, sociology, music, geography and history will gape at Joyce’s skill. On almost every page the reader gets a jolt, a palpable sensation of immersion in the disappeared world of peasantry. A central part of the book is Joyce’s own family’s peasant past. I too, like many people, am only two generations and one language away from these ancestors. Because the time of the peasants is still palpable there are clues and messages here for every fortunate reader who picks up this book.” —Annie Proulx
“[A] moving and sensitive rumination... Joyce shows how the supreme value of the peasant is generational survival: The great task is to hand on to the child the land the peasant has inherited, making one’s own existence a kind of interlude between past and future. His beautifully written book is equally in-between, haunted by the ghosts of the dead but also full of the warmth of human sympathy.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A first-class work combining social history and ethnohistory with an unerring sense for a good story.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“An insightful and evocative homage to the peasant way of life… Readers will be enthralled.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Joyce] rages against the amnesia hardwired into today's 'all consuming' present... A loving and unconventional work of genealogy, and a melancholic elegy for bygone ways of being.” —Booklist
Praise for Patrick Joyce and Going to My Father’s House:
Observer Book of the Year 2021
“An immensely readable, thoroughly enjoyable book... Hegel would have admired the way Joyce lets a sharply individualised life distil a whole socal history.”
—Terry Eagleton, author of Why Marx was Right
“A haunting meditation on Ireland and England, war and migration, Derry and Manchester. I admired the originality of his observations and his tone of melancholy, calm wisdom.”
—Colm Tóibín, (Books of the Year 2021), Guardian
“This is a rare kind of writing, a form of meditation on the societies that are forming and melting around us in the present. Only a voice such as this can alert us to these historical worlds.”
“I can't think of another historian around who could write something so suggestive and profound, so much on both a minor and major scale, constantly tracing the connections between the two.” —Paul Ginsborg
“Merges personal stories with large political moments. Joyce's family came to England from Mayo and Wexford. His account of his life in London, of the legacy of war and of his experiences in Ireland is written with wisdom and grace.”
—Colm Tóibín, (Authors' and Critics' 2021 Favourites), Irish Times