Oral History Center - UC Berkeley Library

Natalie Zemon Davis: Historian of Early Modern Europe, Professor at Berkeley, 1971-1978.

Davis, Natalie Zemon
Lage, Ann
Natalie Zemon Davis: Historian of Early Modern Europe, Professor at Berkeley, 1971-1978.
Natalie Davis, historian of early modern France, and member of the Department of History at Berkeley from 1971-1978, was interviewed while on a brief visit to Berkeley in 2003. With less than three hours for our interview, we determined to focus primarily on the Berkeley years, with some limited personal background crucial to understanding the historian who arrived here, first in 1968 as a visiting professor and then for a tenured appointment from 1971-1978. The focus, then, is her observations of the department and the campus during her years here, her involvement with women’s issues, and her reflections on what the Berkeley experience meant to her intellectual life. When Natalie Davis came to Berkeley she was the only woman in the department. Partly as a result of her efforts, three other women were hired in the next three years, and the slow growth toward greater gender equity in History had begun. She describes the department in those years as welcoming and warm, an “egalitarian brotherhood,” which on at least one occasion failed to properly handle new problems involving women faculty. On the campus at large she was a key member of formal and informal groups of women faculty who met to support one another, foster the appointment and promotion of women, and promote women’s studies. In her teaching, she pursued her interest in the study of women and gender, developing a course in Society and the Sexes in Early Modern Europe and incorporating women’s roles and women’s lives as subjects in her teaching of traditional history classes. Several of Natalie Davis’s historical projects grew out of the Berkeley experience. Two of her most important essays, “Rites of Violence” and “The Reasons of Misrule” are tied with the tumult of the antiwar protests she observed and took part in in1968-1969. She found the sense of openness and intellectual discovery in Berkeley conducive to her interests in interdisciplinary approaches and in the incorporation of new topics, posing of new questions, and finding new ways of “doing history.” Her study of The Return of Martin Guerre, in both film and book, she describes as a major legacy of her Berkeley years.
Subject area(s):
Education and University of California
Interview date(s):
History Department, UC Berkeley
Davis, Natalie Zemon. "Natalie Zemon Davis: Historian of Early Modern Europe, Professor at Berkeley, 1971-1978." Interview by Ann Lage in 2003. Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2010.