One thought on “Natalie Zemon Davis

  1. Bowen Ran

    Natalie Zemon Davis died at the age of 95, marking a significant loss for all those interested in understanding our human history. She was not only one of the most extraordinary scholars of our time, but also a remarkable teacher, a dedicated feminist, and a true comrade who had a long and intellectually prosperous life till the end. Despite her world-renowned reputation in the subfield of early modern French history, history of gender, microhistory, and cultural history, it’s regrettable that her historiographical text received less attention among theorists and philosophers of history on its own merits. Her exploration of the possibility that the past lends to the present, the hermeneutical dialect between the source, the author, and the audience, the boundaries between actuality, imagination, and fiction, the construction and fluidity of identity, the political implications of and the rhetoric employed in historical writing, all reside at the forefront of theoretical discussions on historical narrative. Here are some personal notes: Natalie Zemon Davis is one of the research subjects of my PhD thesis on the configuration of distance in historiography and the political implication thereof. While I was a little uncertain about the other research subjects, Davis was my very first and most confident choice. Last December, shortly after Chandler Davis’s passing, I conducted a preliminary interview with her, at the encouragement of my supervisors. To my absolute astonishment, she replied within half an hour, offering a concise (still more than 1,000 words) yet profoundly insightful response, all delivered with a humble and supportive tone. Roughly two weeks later, still remembering our previous exchanges, she came back to me with the most up-to-date bibliography of hers (please find below). The sheer vigor and dedication of a 94-year-old scholar left me in awe: “A life of learning” is the only phrase that truly captures it.Finally, two quotes from Davis that have kept inspiring me, both intellectually and spiritually, for the past few months:“Especially I want to show that it [the past] could be different, that it was different, and that there are alternatives. That’s very, very important to me.”     MARHO: The Radical Historians Organization ed., Visions of History, New York: Pantheon Books, 1983: 114-5.“In their own way, each woman appreciated or embraced a marginal place, reconstituting it as a locally defined center… In each case, the individual freed herself somewhat from the constrictions of European hierarchies by sidestepping them.”     Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995: 210.

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