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Authoring the Past

History, Autobiography, and Politics in Medieval Catalonia

Authoring the Past surveys medieval Catalan historiography, shedding light on the emergence and evolution of historical writing and autobiography in the Middle Ages, on questions of authority and authorship, and on the links between history and politics during the period. Jaume Aurell examines texts from the late twelfth to the late fourteenth century—including the Latin Gesta comitum Barcinonensium and four texts in medieval Catalan: James I’s Llibre dels fets, the Crònica of Bernat Desclot, the Crònica of Ramon Muntaner, and the Crònica of Peter the Ceremonious—and outlines the different motivations for the writing of each. 

For Aurell, these chronicles are not mere archaeological artifacts but rather documents that speak to their writers’ specific contemporary social and political purposes. He argues that these Catalonian counts and Aragonese kings were attempting to use their role as authors to legitimize their monarchical status, their growing political and economic power, and their aggressive expansionist policies in the Mediterranean. By analyzing these texts alongside one another, Aurell demonstrates the shifting contexts in which chronicles were conceived, written, and read throughout the Middle Ages.

The first study of its kind to make medieval Catalonian writings available to English-speaking audiences, Authoring the Past will be of interest to scholars of history and comparative literature, students of Hispanic and Romance medieval studies, and medievalists who study the chronicle tradition in other languages.

328 pages | 2 maps, 1 table | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2012

History: European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages


Authoring the Past is a most thoughtful and engaging book, one that reflects Aurell’s deep knowledge not only of the texts discussed but also of the previous studies they have inspired. His readings are original, and his contextualization of the works in a European framework is most welcome. Aurell provides many engaging excerpts from the texts, which he renders in English (and the shorter ones also in Catalan). . . . [T]his book will hold an appeal for medievalists, historians, and literary scholars alike, particularly those who focus on historiography, medieval culture, courtly literature, and monarchical power and ideology.”

Nuria Silleras-Fernandez, University of Colorado at Boulder | American Historical Review

"A thoroughly enjoyable book, which finally brings to the fore documents that need to be discussed within a broader European framework of historical discourse. This study is not only a must for historians of the Crown of Aragon but should also prove useful to all of those interested in the development of medieval historiography in Europe as well as to scholars of medieval literature and culture and literary historians."

Montserrat Piera, Temple University | Speculum

"Aurell has produced a remarkably lucid and beautifully argued study, which will undoubtedly be of enormous benefit to scholar and student alike."

Damian J. Smith, Saint Louis University | The Medieval Review

“This is a very important and indispensable book, one in which the author opens new ways of research not only for historians but also for literary critics and art historians. . . . Beyond the innovations that this book provides to understand the history of medieval Catalonia, the book will be also used broadly because of its ability to enlighten the emergence and evolution of the medieval historical writing, the practice of the royal autobiography, the idea of authorship, and the relationships between history and politics.”

Xavier Barral i Altet, Université of Rennes | El Punt Avui

“No study of Catalan medieval history is complete without reference to the rare autobiographical materials written by monarchs of the Crown of Aragon and their faithful servants. Aurell examines these texts to understand the relationship between history and fiction and to track the development of historical genres from genealogies to chronicles, and chivalric to political autobiographies. . . . Recommended.”

L. C. Attreed, College of the Holy Cross | Choice

“With its fresh material and insights, this elegantly produced, thought-provoking, and long overdue book will stimulate the debate over medieval historiography among historians and textual critics alike.”


“Combining a mastery of Catalonia’s medieval chronicle tradition with sophisticated insight into recent theoretical and methodological innovations, Aurell’s Authoring the Past provides a compelling vision of how Catalan late medieval writers—and by implication other Western medieval authors—constructed the past. This is a thoughtful and engaging book.”

Teofilo F. Ruiz, University of California, Los Angeles

“In Authoring the Past, Jaume Aurell presents an overview of the development of historical writing in medieval Catalonia by selecting five exemplary texts emblematic of its stages of development—from genealogical history and chronicle to royal history and autobiography. He shows how, at each stage of its development, the texts analyzed are generated and shaped by the needs of social and political legitimation and authoritative self-representation. Moreover, by focusing on authors and their historical situations, he seeks to rehabilitate notions of authorial intentionality in light of what he calls ‘the authorial logic of the historical text.’ This is a work that is both deeply learned and theoretically sophisticated, a must read for everyone interested in medieval historical writing, and a book that presents these important texts for the first time to an English-speaking audience.”

Gabrielle M. Spiegel, Johns Hopkins University

“The strength of Jaume Aurell’s book lies in its double vision. He re-places Catalan chroniclers in both their local and their European context, and he analyzes their texts with literary skills as well as historical ones.”

Peter Burke, University of Cambridge

“An original and important work, based on solid research and an impressively sophisticated methodological approach. Jaume Aurell’s analysis of medieval historical genres will be an excellent vehicle for bringing the rich Catalan literary tradition to the attention of scholars in the English-speaking world.”

Brian Catlos, University of Colorado at Boulder and University of California, Santa Cruz

“Jaume Aurell has provided the English-speaking world with a vivid and authoritative introduction to the grand tradition of medieval Catalan histories. He demonstrates their varied rhetorical styles and strategies. This is a brilliant and suggestive book about how the past has been reported and enshrined.”

Paul Freedman, Yale University

“With his nuanced readings of these fascinating texts, Jaume Aurell makes the writings of Catalan kings relevant not just to scholars of medieval studies but to anyone interested in the genres of historical writing. A superb work.”

Robert A. Rosenstone, California Institute of Technology

Table of Contents

Part One: Historical Writings and Historical Authors
1. Gesta Comitum Barchinonensium as Genealogy
2. King James I and His Chivalric Autobiography
3. Bernat Desclot: The Historian and His Chronicle
4. Ramon Muntaner: Ruler, Knight, and Chronicler
5. King Peter’s Llibre and Royal Self-Representation
Part Two: Theories and Interpretations
6. The Shift in Historical Genres
7. The Dawn of Catalan Autobiography as Chronicle
8. The Authorial Logic of the Historical Text
9. Catalan Chroniclers and Poetic License: History, Epic, Fiction
10. The Emergence of Political Realism

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