Holberg Prize Symposium 2010: Dr. Natalie Zemon Davis on Decentering History, University of Toronto

Dr. Natalie Zemon Davis, University of Toronto and Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emerita Princeton University

In the featured presentation of the 2010 Holberg Symposium, Holberg Laureate Dr. Natalie Zemon Davis delivered a brief yet pithy lecture on the subject of decentering history, local stories and cultural crossings in a global age – an inspiring alternative approach to writing global history in a globalized world. In her presentation, Davis defended the plausibility of writing decentered and local histories as a suitable approach for recounting the past in our global world. The historian, Davis argues, need not tell the story of the global past from a particular vantage point but can widen his/her considerations by adopting multiple and less privileged social and geographical perspectives to re-introduce a diversity of voices into the story – the purpose to recount different, less ethnocentric and multiverse global stories from particular local ones; a feature Davis demonstrated in her autobiographical review of her work on Ibn Khaldun and Christine de Pizan.

Davis brief and yet remarkably detailed autobiographical sketches show how local concrete forms can recount a global story by expanding and using geographical and cultural frames without privileging European experiences – referring to these models as alternatives rather than “lagging behind” Eurocentric ones by properly situating them in their historical and radically contemporaneous contexts and politics.

Local and concrete forms of storytelling can also show different perspectives of global world, modernities, and their alternatives by mapping cross cultural crossings. Davis argues that the exchange amongst academic communities across cultural boundaries is a fruitful path to discovering and defining our global age, its various definitions across space and time. The historian can maintain a global consciousness while simultaneously sustaining the practice of local and concrete storytelling and trying to meet the concerns of the global expansion of his/her profession.

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