DAVIS, NATALIE ZEMON
DAVIS, NATALIE ZEMON (1928– ), U.S. historian of early modern France, scholar of women, gender, and film studies, academic leader and lecturer. Davis was born in Detroit, Michigan, daughter of Julian and Helen Lamport Zemon, both American-born children of immigrants from Eastern Europe. She grew up in a non-Jewish neighborhood and attended a private high school with few other Jewish students. Davis has suggested that this experience of mediating between two worlds may have contributed to her scholarly interest in issues of multiple and uncertain identities, fiction and storytelling, and the interplay between margins and center. After receiving her B.A. from Smith College and her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Davis taught at Brown University, the University of Toronto, the University of California at Berkeley, and was the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University from 1981 until her retirement in 1996. She received numerous honors and awards and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and corresponding fellow of the British Academy. In 1987, she became the second woman to serve as president of the American Historical Association.
Davis expanded the boundaries of social history through her use of nontraditional archival sources and examinations of previously under-studied populations. She was a pioneer in cultural history and the incorporation of interdisciplinary approaches from anthropology and literature into historical scholarship. A prolific scholar, her books include Society and Culture in Early Modern France (1975); The Return of Martin Guerre (1983); Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (1987); The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France (2000); and Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (2000). Davis also served as historical consultant for the successful film Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982).
In the 1980s, Davis became increasingly interested in Jewish history. As in her investigations of women and gender, she wished to incorporate Jews into the broader historical narrative while demonstrating how doing so necessarily changes understandings of the past. Her insightful work on the autobiographical writings of Glikl bas Judah Leib in Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth Century Lives (1995), as well as her collaboration on a volume devoted to the autobiography of Leon *Modena (The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena's Life of Judah, ed. Mark Cohen (1988)), brought together her interests in the Jewish experience and in narratives of self-fashioning.
N.Z. Davis, A Life of Learning, American Council of Learned Societies Occasional Paper 39 (1997; http://www.acls.org/op39.htm); D. Snowman, "Natalie Zemon Davis," in: History Today, 52 (October 2002), 18–21; B. Wenger, "Davis, Natalie Zemon," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, 1 (1997), 315–17.
[Jennifer Sartori (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.