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Honorary degree citation - Natalie Zemon Davis

By: Frederick H. Lowy, June 2004

Monsieur le Chancelier, j'ai l'honneur de vous présenter Madame Natalie Zemon Davis, historienne et professeure émérite.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Dr. Davis was educated at Smith and Radcliffe Colleges and at the University of Michigan, where she received her PhD in 1959. Upon completing her doctorate, Dr. Davis embarked upon an academic career that would span ten institutions, and lead her to produce nine books and over a hundred scholarly articles - works that epitomize the practice of history as both a craft and an art. In her positions at Brown University, the University of Toronto, the University of California at Berkeley, the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris, the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, Balliol College at Oxford, as well as Princeton and the University of Toronto, Dr. Davis has taught courses in the history of early modern France and has been a pioneer in interdisciplinary courses in history and anthropology, history and film, and history and literature.

She has written, and continues to write, about issues that concern her deeply, and is renowned as an exceptionally innovative and exciting researcher and author. Her books and essays convey a rare intensity and commitment. Her research has led her to discover and explore new historical terrain, and her writing engages, enchants, and challenges her reader.

Elle a écrit et continue d'écrire sur les sujets qui la préoccupent profondément et est reconnue pour être une chercheuse et auteure extraordinairement innovatrice et captivante. Ses livres et essais véhiculent une intensité et un engagement rares. Ses recherches l'ont conduite à découvrir et à explorer un terrain de l'histoire encore inconnu; ses écrits éveillent, enchantent et font réagir ses lecteurs.

Dr. Davis has always taken risks, both personal and academic. In the 1950s, she was an outspoken critic of McCarthy and his policies, and her activism resulted in personal hardship, as she endured the imprisonment of her husband and friends, and found that her own career prospects were suddenly limited as a result of her political stand.

She has taken risks as a scholar, as well, making the effort to narrate history from the point of view of the people who participated in it. She provides us with tales filled with life and rich with historical insights, inviting us to enter and encounter unfamiliar ways of understanding, and new perspectives on the past and on our own experience. -

Of her many books, one of the most famous is the The Return of Martin Guerre, the story of an imposter in a 16th century French village. This book came into being as the result of her work as an initiator of the project and historical consultant for the film "Le Retour de Martin Guerre," starring Gerard Depardieu.

Dr. Davis is also the author of the critically-acclaimed Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives, which provides an intimate look at the lives of three very different women: a merchant, a nun and a painter-scientist. Dr. Davis lifts these figures out of the past and makes their lives interesting and meaningful to us, with exceptional vividness, and, again, skillfully and subtly, leads us to reconsider what we thought we knew.

The scholarly community is deeply indebted to Dr. Davis for her outstanding contributions to the study of social history, religion, and popular culture, to women's studies, and to literary and cultural studies. This is a wonderful opportunity for us today to be able to recognize a scholar of such energy, imagination, and integrity.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you Dr. Natalie Zemon Davis, so that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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