Monday, November 7, 2011

Natalie Zemon Davis (November 8, 1928)

Natalie Zemon Davis is a historian who changed history as we see it. Instead of writing about boring powerful white rich men, she looked at the lives of highly ordinary people -- before that became the norm. Or to put it another way "she has been especially concerned to get at the lives and values of peasants, artisans, and women, and to analyze their relation to other social groups and to power, property, and authority." *

I've really enjoyed several of Davis's books about a variety of topics, especially Women on the Margins, which includes a chapter on Gluckl of Hamlin, the first Jewish woman to write an autobiography. Davis's book The Return of Martin Guerre, which she wrote in the 1980s, was made into a well-known French movie with Gérard Depardieu. Besides writing, she has been a feminist activist and an advocate for women in academia.

The Jewish Women's archive characterizes Davis as what I would think of as an ideal secular Jew: "While Davis’s work has not been centered on Jewish issues, she has explored Jewish subjects in her research and cited her Jewish background as a factor shaping her identity as a historian. She recalled that feelings of being an outsider in the majority culture prompted her curiosity about social construction and identity. As a Jew and a woman, Davis gravitated toward exposing and bringing to life the histories of those groups often suppressed in traditional historical narratives."

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