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Natalie Zemon Davis

Through her investigation of court records, pamphlets, and other nontraditional sources, historian Natalie Zemon Davis created vivid pictures of the lives of ordinary people in medieval and renaissance France, particularly in her wildly popular 1983 book, The Return of Martin Guerre. After earning her PhD from the University of Michigan in 1959, Davis taught at Brown and the University of Toronto before joining the faculty of Princeton University in 1978, where she taught until 1996. She also served as the second female president of the American Historical Society. Davis was one of the first historians to examine the lives of ordinary people instead of the major figures of history. In Martin Guerre, which she wrote while serving as a consultant for the 1982 movie, she used court records to uncover the story of why the peasant Arnaud du Tilh posed as the missing Martin Guerre, and whether Guerre’s wife had been complicit in the lie. In her 1987 Fiction in the Archives, Davis created a view of medieval life by examining stories that criminals used to explain their crimes and seek royal pardons. As of 2014, Davis teaches at the University of Toronto.

Natalie Zemon Davis
Full image
Natalie Zemon Davis.
Courtesy of Marit Hommedal/SCANPIX.
Date of Birth
November 8, 1928
Place of Birth
Detroit, Michigan

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Natalie Zemon Davis." (Viewed on January 19, 2018) <>.


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