As I was browsing the website of The New Republic today I came across a review of a book about the life and career of historian Natalie Zemon Davis. It is entitled A Passion for History: Conversations with Denis Crouzet.
Though I am an American historian, I have learned a lot from Davis’s work in European history, especially as it relates to the field of microhistory.
From what I have been able to glean from the review, this book is a series of interviews, conducted by Crouzet, chronicling Davis’s interesting life. Here is a taste:
But there is another factor that comes through from the conversations (and Crouzet deserves great credit for eliciting such frank and fascinating responses). In the middle of a serious discussion of her early political commitments, Davis cannot resist mentioning that at Smith she was also an accomplished composer of satirical (but non-political) college songs, including a ditty entitled “You Can’t Get a Man with Your Brains.” (“You can’t cram for a man / As you can an exam”.) While the song has an obvious edge, foreshadowing Davis’s future role in feminist history-writing, it also highlights the sense of playfulness and the imagination which has arguably been central to her success. It is no accident that so many of Davis’s subjects have been play-actors, tricksters, and impostors of one sort or another (“I think I’ve acquired a sort of style…of always looking for questions about self-fashioning, of fashioning one’s inner and outer self, and even of imposture.”) The story of Martin Guerre was one of multiple, overlapping impostures, including (Davis argued controversially) the decision of Martin’s wife Bertrande to knowingly accept the con-man Arnaud du Tilh as her long-lost husband, because of the benefits and the security that it brought her and her children.