Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Davis honored by President Obama with National Humanities Medal

On July 10th, historian and author Natalie Zemon Davis was awarded the 2012 National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama! This prestigious award honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the humanities and to American life.

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The twelve awardees of the National Humanities Medal, along with twelve awardees of the National Medal of the Arts, were presented with their awards in a ceremony at the White House. Other awardees included director and producer George Lucas, singer Renee Fleming, and authors Marilynne Robinson, Ernest Gaines, and Joan Didion. You can view a full list of the recipients here.

In President Obama's words, the day was dedicated to “celebrating some extraordinary men and women who've used their talents in the arts and the humanities to open up minds and nourish souls, and help us understand what it means to be human, and what it means to be an American.” He went on to say, “The arts and the humanities aren’t just a source of entertainment, they challenge us to think and to question and to discover, to seek that inward significance.” To read the rest of his speech, visit here.

Davis, in particular, was chosen to receive the National Humanities Medal “for her insights into the study of history and her exacting eloquence in bringing the past into focus,” according to the website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The reasoning behind Davis's selection continued, “With vivid description and exhaustive research, her works allow us to experience life through our ancestors’ eyes and to truly engage with our history.” This reasoning was also read aloud by President Obama as Davis received her medal.

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As the NEH website highlighted in its biography of Davis, Davis's work often “focus[es] 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.” In this way, “Davis has tackled some of the most elusive facets of human experience.” You can read the rest of the NEH biography here.

Davis is the author of seven books and numerous scholarly articles. Her books include Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford University Press, 1975), The Return of Martin Guerre (Harvard University Press, 1984), Fiction in the Archives (Stanford University Press, 1990), Women on the Margins (Harvard University Press, 1995), The Gift (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), Slaves on Screen (Harvard University Press, 2002), and Trickster Travels (FSG, 2006).

Congratulations, Natalie!