Robert Tombs

  • Le Monde retrouvó de Louis-François Pinagot: Sur let Traces d’un Inconnu, 1798-1876 by Alain Corbin
    Flammarion, 344 pp, frs 135.00, November 1998, ISBN 2 08 212520 3

The encounter between Alain Corbin and François-Louis Pinagot was at one level fortuitous. The historian picked the dead peasant’s name from the register of births in a provincial archive. He set out to bring him back from oblivion by following the meagre traces left in the bureaucratic records of the French state when the most subordinate of its agents – mayors, foresters, tax collectors – made fleeting contact with, or more often narrowly missed, one of their humblest and least troublesome administrés.

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[*] Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the 19th Century French Countryside, translated by Martin Thom (Macmillan, 418 pp., £12, 11 June, 0 333 75280 50).