Eyewitness and Medieval Historical Narrative

in The Medieval Chronicle 11
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Historians routinely make judgements about sources according to whether or not they are ‘eyewitness’. But this is a category that has received little scholarly attention, a surprising omission given the emergent interest in historical experientiality, as well as in light of the research undertaken into eyewitness perception and memory by cognitive and social psychologists. This paper examines the interest in autopsy demonstrated by ancient historians, and then assesses the extent to which medieval writers’ approaches to eyewitness evidence matched those of their classical predecessors. The paper concludes with an analysis of two eyewitness texts—Robert de Clari’s account of the Fourth Crusade, and Francesco Balbi di Correggio’s history of the Great Siege of Malta—in order to consider the role that eyewitnessing could play as a plot device within a narrative, and the manner in which an eyewitness author might situate his autoptic status relative to other validating strategies.

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