Last year Mack Holt, Professor Emeritus of French history, published his most recent book, The Politics of Wine in Early Modern France: Religion and Popular Culture in Burgundy, 1477-1630 (Cambridge University Press). Since its publication the book has received two major accolades. The first is the David H. Pinkney Prize, which the Society for French Historical Studies awards annually to the most distinguished book in French history by a North American scholar. In addition, French scholars have initiated a translation of the book and have successfully received funding from three sources: the UNESCO Chair of the Culture and Traditions of Wine at the University of Burgundy , the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, and the cultural office of the mayor of Dijon.
Brian Platt, the department chair, remarked on these accolades. “It is hard to overstate the significance of these distinctions. The Pinkney Prize is probably the most visible and competitive book prize in the field of French history. French history is an enormous field, and scores of books are published in it each year; to have your book identified as the very best is a singular accomplishment. The list of previous winners is chock full of the greatest scholars and the most influential books in the field.” Platt also stressed the significance of the translation. “In some fields a translation is not necessarily a mark of great distinction. But in French history it is. Francophone scholarship on French history is voluminous and comparatively insular. French scholars usually aren’t inclined to think that English-language scholarship on their country’s history is worthy of serious consideration. The fact that French scholars thought highly enough of Dr. Holt’s book to initiate a translation—and that three distinguished institutions have agreed to fund it—is striking evidence of the quality of this book."
The book begins with the integration of the province of Burgundy into the kingdom of France in the 15th century. This, coupled with the advent of Protestantism in the early sixteenth century, opened up new avenues for participation in public life by ordinary Burgundians and led to considerably greater interaction between the elites and the ordinary people. Holt’s book examines the relationship between the ruling and popular classes during this period by focusing on the local wine industry. Holt reveals, for example, that vineyard workers were crucial in turning back the tide of Protestantism in the province until the early 17th century, when ruling elites attempted to reduce the level of popular participation in public affairs. More than just a local study, this book shows how the popular classes often worked together with local elites to shape policies that affected them.
This book’s success is no surprise to those who are familiar with his past scholarly achievements and his stature in the field of French history. He has written two influential books in the field and has published four others as editor. In 1998-1999 he was Co-President of the Society for French Historical Studies, and in 2009-2011 he was President of the Society for Reformation Research. He was also a Visiting Professor of History at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris in Spring 2005 and in Spring 2014, and a Visiting Fellow Commoner at Trinity College, University of Cambridge in Fall 2018. He has held fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation—three of the most esteemed and competitive fellowships in academia. Platt remarks, “Dr. Holt is easily one of the most accomplished and visible scholars in our department’s history. Indeed, he was instrumental in helping to build a culture of scholarly achievement in the department. These accolades are a fitting capstone to his contributions at Mason.”
Even as he completed his work on this book in recent years. Holt was already busy at work on his next project, “Reading the Bible in Reformation France.” The new book project is a study of how French lay Protestants and Catholics read their Bibles in the sixteenth century, and how we can use their textual markings in their own Bibles to understand what they made of the texts they read.
May 29, 2019