A Swallow Press Book
“An enthralling picture of the locality in its broader Swiss and international context. Birmingham’s mastery of the minutiae is coupled with an experienced understanding of the development of rural societies and of the complicated cultural, linguistic and political mix which was and is Switzerland. Vivid and delightful.”
English Historical Review
Switzerland: A Village History is an account of an Alpine village that illuminates the broader history of Switzerland and its rural, local underpinnings. It begins with the colonization of the Alps by Romanized Celtic peoples who came from the plain to clear the wilderness, establish a tiny monastic house, and create a dairy economy that became famous for its cheeses. Over ten centuries the village, like the rest of Switzerland, went through the traumas of religious reformation and political revolution. A single currency, a unified postal service, and eventually an integrated army brought improved stability and prosperity to the union of two dozen small republics.
Yet Switzerland’s enduring foundation remains the three thousand boroughs to which the Swiss people feel they truly belong. In Switzerland: A Village History, distinguished scholar David Birmingham tells the story of his childhood village-Château-d’Oex-where records of cheesemaking date to 1328. The evolution of this ancient grazing and forest economy included the rise of the legal profession to keep track of complex deeds, grazing allotments, and animal rights-of-way. Switzerland’s eventual privatization of communal grazing land drove many highlanders to emigrate to the European plains and overseas to the Americas. The twentieth century brought wealth from foreign tourism to Switzerland, punctuated by austerities imposed by Europe’s wars. Alpine peasants were integrated into Swiss union society and began at last to share in some of the prosperity flowing from urban industry.
Switzerland: A Village History replaces the mythology and patriotic propaganda that too often have passed for Swiss history with a rigorous, insightful, and charming account of the daily life, small-scale rivalries, and local loyalties that actually make up Swiss history.
David Birmingham lived in Switzerland from 1947 to 1954 as a child and returned there in the 1990s as a visiting historian. From 1980 to 2001 he held the chair of Modern History in the University of Kent at Canterbury in England. He is the author of many books, including Portugal and Africa. More info →
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