It is a hugely talented and rare historian who herself makes history. Natalie Zemon Davis
is...... and has. In a career that has spanned half a century, she has happily upset academic conventions. She was a pioneer in women's history. She brought Martin Guerre to the world.
And she has created new ways of knowing people who lived in the 16th and 17th century - impostors, peasants, performers and traders, people who barely had a voice when they were alive.
In the words of another historian, Margaret MacMillan
, Natalie Davis
has played a real part in expanding what we think of us as suitable
subjects for history and what we use as evidence for understanding them.
And yet this woman - now 84 - who loves nothing more than the
perfume of a rare book library, whose heart beats faster in a dusty
archive - is very much in the 21st century.
She won the 2010 Holberg Prize
, one of the world's top academic prizes,
in recognition of her unique contribution to the humanities. And a few weeks
ago, she was honoured with a 2012 National Humanities Medal,
by U.S. President Barack Obama
Natalie Zemon Davis taught at Berkeley, and for 18 years at
Princeton. But she has come back to live in Toronto - where she taught
in the 1970's - and is now at work on the story of the story of a slave
family in colonial Suriname. Dr.
Davis is still active in her work at the University of Toronto. She spoke to Michael Enright in January of 2011.