Past Member

Natalie Zemon Davis

Social Science

Renowned historian Natalie Zemon Davis, is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Emeritus at the Department of History at Princeton University.

From the National Endowment for the Humanities:

“Few historians have combed the archives of the early modern world with the meticulous erudition of Natalie Zemon Davis. Fewer still have emerged from those archives with the embarrassment of gifts that, over the past five decades, she has presented to her discipline. Focusing less on the great moments and movers of history and more on the everyday lives of those relegated to the boundaries of power—peasants, artisans, women—and the opportunities that they made of their circumstances, Davis has tackled some of the most elusive facets of human experience. To get at her subjects, she has drawn on the resources of anthropology, literary scholarship, and film studies (to name just a few of her interdisciplinary excursions), producing seven books and  numerous scholarly articles, nearly all of them pushing in some way at the limits of the historical enterprise itself.

Despite her predilection for the early modern world, the present is never far from Davis’s work. During the 1980s—an era marked, as she puts it, by “a passion for consumer culture and capitalism”—she began to develop the material that eventually became The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France (2000), an anthropological approach to the history of gifting, charity, and reciprocal obligation that engaged popular discourses of its own time. 

… Imaginatively constructed and beautifully written, it is easy to forget that her work is also thoroughly grounded in rigorous archival research. But the archive is a special place for Davis. Of her experiences in the Old World repositories, she has written: “The room itself became closely identified with the traces of the past I was examining: the smell of its old wood, the shape of its windows, the sounds from the cobblestone streets or running stream. The room was . . . the mysterious hole under the roots of a tree through which one falls for a time into another world.” 

The National Endowment for the Humanities: Natalie Zemon Davis

Dates at IAS
  • Social Science
1/19786/1978 Spring
University of Michigan Ph.D., 1959
Honorary Degree, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 2000
Toynbee Prize 2000
Fellow of Early Modern Studies, Sixteenth Century Studies Conference 1998
Honorary Degree, University of Edinburgh 1998
Honorary Degree, University of Cambridge 1998
Honorary Degree, Universität College 1998
Smith College Medal 1996
Honorary Degree, Harvard University 1996
Corresponding Fellow, The British Academy 1995
Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award, American Historical Association 1994
MA by special resolution of Congregation, University of Oxford 1994
Honorary Degree, Dartmouth College 1994
Honorary Degree, University of Massachusetts at Lowell 1994
Honorary Degree, University of Pennsylvania 1992
Honorary Degree, University of Chicago 1992
Honorary Degree, University of Toronto 1991
Honorary Degree, Columbia University 1990
Honorary Degree, Colby College 1990
Honorary Degree, Goucher College 1989
Honorary Degree, New School for Social Research 1989
Honorary Degree, Muhlenberg College 1989
Honorary Degree, Reed College 1988
Honorary Degree, Tufts University 1987
Honorary Degree, George Washington University 1987
Honorary Degree, Williams College 1987
Honorary Degree, The University of Rochester 1986
Honorary Degree, Lawrence University 1984
Honorary Degree, Wesleyan University 1984
Honorary Degree, Universite de Lyon II 1983
Radcliffe Graduate Society Medal for Distinguished Achievement 1983
Howard T. Berhman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities at Princeton 1983
Honorary Degree, Northwestern University 1983
Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1979
Honorary Degree, Smith College 1977
Chevalier, l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques 1976
American Historical Association 1987 President
International Commission for Historical Sciences 1995–2000 First Vice President
Society for French Historical Studies 1970–1977 President