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The Impostor

Peter Burke, 19 April 1984

Le Retour de Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis, Jean-Claude Carrière and Daniel Vigne.
Robert Laffont, 269 pp.
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The Return of Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis.
Harvard, 162 pp., £12.75, October 1983, 0 674 76690 3
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... to the last. Before his film was made, Daniel Vigne discovered that the Princeton historian Natalie Davis was also interested in the drama of the Guerres, and he enlisted her services as an adviser. ‘Watching Gérard Depardieu feel his way into the role of the false Martin Guerre’ made Professor Davis want to ...

In Scheherezade’s shoes

Colin Jones, 23 November 1989

Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and their Tellers in 16th-century France 
by Natalie Zemon Davis.
Polity, 217 pp., £22.50, March 1988, 0 7456 0531 1
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... Like good detective novels, the letters of remission which are the subject of Natalie Zemon Davis’s most recent book usually start with a corpse which requires to be explained. Other offences – tax riot, heresy, the defloration of a virgin – could be the occasion for the ‘pardon tales’ such letters contained, but the procedure was most often resorted to by someone who had been the cause of someone else’s death ...

Using the Heavens

John Bossy: Renaissance Astrology, 1 June 2000

Cardano’s Cosmos: The Worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer 
by Anthony Grafton.
Harvard, 284 pp., £21.95, February 2000, 0 674 09555 3
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... by the late Lawrence Stone, and next to another chair once occupied by the happily not late Natalie Davis. As against both of them, he has pursued a roughly Warburgian path of investigating the 16th-century intellect. That may suggest Foucauldian overtones, and indeed we can find him juggling with the master’s Renaissance episteme, the cosmos of ...

They were less depressed in the Middle Ages

John Bossy: Suicide, 11 November 1999

Marx on Suicide 
edited by Eric Plaut and Kevin Anderson, translated by Gabrielle Edgcomb.
Northwestern, 152 pp., £11.20, May 1999, 0 8101 1632 4
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Suicide in the Middle Ages, Vol I: The Violent Against Themselves 
by Alexander Murray.
Oxford, 510 pp., £30, January 1999, 0 19 820539 2
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A History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture 
by Georges Minois, translated by Lydia Cochrane.
Johns Hopkins, 420 pp., £30, December 1998, 0 8018 5919 0
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... or alleged suicides or to the living people connected with them – the source that provided Natalie Davis with rich narrative material for her Fiction in the Archives. There are distinct signs of generosity here. In the case of Michelet le Cavelier, who, like Testard, killed himself by jumping out of a window, this time in the rue de la Ferronnerie ...

Skipwith and Anktill

David Wootton: Tudor Microhistory, 10 August 2000

Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England 
by David Cressy.
Oxford, 351 pp., £25, November 1999, 0 19 820781 6
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A House in Gross Disorder: Sex, Law, and the Second Earl of Castlehaven 
by Cynthia Herrup.
Oxford, 216 pp., £18.99, December 1999, 0 19 512518 5
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... are writing microhistory, a word coined by Italians, but used to describe above all the work of Natalie Zemon Davis (The Return of Martin Guerre, 1983) and Robert Darnton (The Great Cat Massacre, 1984). Microhistorians have turned to the verbatim records of interrogations kept in the law courts of early modern Europe (or ...

Kingdoms of Paper

Natalie Zemon Davis: Identity and Faking It, 18 October 2007

Who Are You? Identification, Deception and Surveillance in Early Modern Europe 
by Valentin Groebner, translated by Mark Kyburz and John Peck.
Zone, 349 pp., £18.95, April 2007, 978 1 890951 72 6
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... When does the history of personal identification technology begin? The history of fingerprinting, photographs, retinal scans, DNA testing? Of the many situations in which we are called on to prove who we are, and of the many places in which our identity is recorded? Some accounts start with the French Revolution and the needs of modern states and colonial empires ...

Leo’s Silences

Robert Irwin: The travels of Leo Africanus, 8 February 2007

Trickster Travels: A 16th-Century Muslim between Worlds 
by Natalie Zemon Davis.
Faber, 448 pp., £20, January 2007, 978 0 571 20256 0
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... as well as a cluster of eminent Jews, such as Maimonides. But Leo’s literary afterlife is not Natalie Zemon Davis’s chief concern. Davis has a considerable reputation in the field of early modern history. She has tended to specialise in cultural history and marginal subjects (or at ...


Peter Burke, 21 May 1987

The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline 
by J.H. Elliott.
Yale, 733 pp., £19.95, August 1986, 0 300 03390 7
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Philip IV and the Decoration of the Alcazar of Madrid 
by Steven Orso.
Princeton, 227 pp., £36.70, July 1986, 0 691 04036 2
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... In the last few years we have seen some interesting experiments in historical writing – by Natalie Davis, for example, in The Return of Martin Guerre, by Norman Davies in his Heart of Europe, and by Jonathan Spence in a number of studies of China. Their innovations in narrative form – making ordinary people protagonists, telling a story ...


J.L. Nelson: Heretics, 7 June 2001

The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars 
by Stephen O’Shea.
Profile, 333 pp., £7.99, May 2001, 1 86197 350 0
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The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars 1290-1329 
by René Weis.
Viking, 453 pp., £20, November 2000, 0 670 88162 7
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... nowadays worry as much as oral historians do about how to interpret what they’re told – and as Natalie Davis noted in a review of Montaillou, Ladurie’s key witnesses were nothing if not fine conteurs. There’s a world of difference between the modern informant in the village and the medieval suspect under interrogation in the inquisitor’s ...

Elton at seventy

Patrick Collinson, 11 June 1992

Return to Essentials: Some Reflections on the Present State of Historical Study 
by G.R. Elton.
Cambridge, 128 pp., £16.95, October 1991, 0 521 41098 3
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... historical study depends on discovering meaning without inventing it. When, however, Professor Natalie Davis wrote about ‘fiction in the archives’ she made an important and valid point, although not all her fellow historians have chosen to grasp it. When Elton wrote that the Tudor martyrologist John Foxe did not invent a myth but recorded a truth ...

Obey and Applaud

Thomas Cohen: Exchanging Ideas in Early Modern Venice, 5 June 2008

Information and Communication in Venice: Rethinking Early Modern Politics 
by Filippo de Vivo.
Oxford, 312 pp., £60, October 2007, 978 0 19 922706 8
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... aloud or on paper, resonates with others, have been raised by scholars such as Carlo Ginzburg and Natalie Zemon Davis, both always alert to the politics of utterance. How far, for instance, did a particular medium – gossip, say, or an ambassadorial report or a political pamphlet – shape or transform the contents? What ...

Downward Mobility

Linda Colley, 4 May 1989

The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians 
edited by John Cannon, R.H.C. Davis, William Doyle and Jack Greene.
Blackwell, 480 pp., £39.95, September 1988, 9780631147084
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Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian, 1772-1794 
by Patricia Craddock.
Johns Hopkins, 432 pp., £19, February 1989, 0 8018 3720 0
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Gibbon: Making History 
by Roy Porter.
Palgrave, 187 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 312 02728 1
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by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Trafalgar Square, 160 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 9780297794684
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by Hugh Tulloch.
Trafalgar Square, 144 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 297 79470 1
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... the scholarly study of cartoons), on Phyllis Deane, the economic historian, and indeed on Natalie Zemon Davis? And, while I am labouring this particular point, should women’s history really be catalogued – as it is here – as feminist history? Women’s history is essentially an attempt to describe the past of ...

Remember Me

John Bossy: Hamlet, 24 May 2001

Hamlet in Purgatory 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Princeton, 322 pp., £19.95, May 2001, 0 691 05873 3
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... to Greenblatt’s intuitions, as well as more representative of the state of 16th-century history: Natalie Zemon Davis, David Cressy, Eamon Duffy. More privately, there is the story he tells us in his prologue about his acceding, if sheepishly, to the unspoken wishes of his dead father by saying Kaddish for him. Which seems ...

Laid Down by Ranke

Peter Ghosh: Defending history, 15 October 1998

In Defence of History 
by Richard J. Evans.
Granta, 320 pp., £8.99, October 1998, 1 86207 068 7
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... recent historical writing are converted into Post-Modernists – Simon Schama, Robert Darnton, Natalie Zemon Davis and Orlando Figes. But Evans never cites an instance of these authors even borrowing the Post-Modernist label, let alone one showing that they conceive of themselves as working on behalf of an intellectual ...

The ‘R’ Word

Adam Smyth: For the Love of the Binding, 4 November 2021

Book Ownership in Stuart England 
by David Pearson.
Oxford, 352 pp., £69.99, January, 978 0 19 887012 8
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... are alive with the names of its owners and readers, alongside scribbles and devotional jottings. Natalie Zemon Davis described books as ‘carriers of relationships’, and that’s exactly what we see here as we follow the signatures of Daniel Stanger, Edward Stanger, Jannet Thompson et al. On a blank page a note records ...

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