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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Norman Davies on Europe, Isles and Forgotten Burgundy, Aragon and Hansa

Norman Davies writes history, big history. His three books are huge in pages and weight and in ambition. For years he was known as the unrivalled historian of Poland , his two volume history being regarded as a classic especially in Poland itself. There he might have remained, a highly regarded specialist, pretty unknown by anyone outside the professional historians' field. Then in 1996 came Europe - A History, a 1400 page heavyweight trailing reviews and admiration behind it, and hold on, opinions. This was history with attitude, history with views, red-blooded history, not the dry as dust monograph with more apologies than views in it.
And there was worse. Davies took an unashamedly polemical stance casting Europe's net geographically wide to include the East, arguing for the need to see Europe as living on its two lungs, East and West, some were aghast. How can you write about Europe from the stand point of the Poles?
Well not content with setting Europe ablaze intellectually Davies then came home to Britain, or the United Kingdom, or the British Isles, well none of the above, because the book was called The Isles. Another heavyweight with another polemical or mischievous glint. The history of the Isles from the point of view of all their inhabitants, the Welsh, the Scots, the Irish, oh and the English too. This was history as corrective to the Westminster Kings and Queens of England school of history and politics.
So Norman Davies is now that rare commodity, something that some of us thought we would never see again, a celebrity historian. Here you have four of his eye-opener books ( in my preferential order)

1. Europe: a history 
 (Norman Davies 1392 pages)

Here is a masterpiece of historical narrative that stretches

from the Ice Age to the Atomic Age, as it tells the story of Europe,

East and West. It shines light on fascinating minority communities, from heretics and lepers to Gypsies, Jews, and Muslims. It also takes an innovative approach, combining traditional narrative with unique features that help bring history alive: 299 time capsules scattered through the narrative capture telling aspects of an era. 12 -snapshots offer a panoramic look at all of Europe at a particular moment in history. Full coverage of Eastern Europe—100 maps and diagrams, 72 black-and-white plates.All told, Davies’'s Europe represents one of the most important and illuminating histories to be published in recent years.
YOUTUBE-fragments (1-2-3/3)


Davies argues for a comprehensive view that challenges Western stereotypes and no longer ignores the history and experience of Eastern Europe. He shows that the conventional exclusion of Central and Eastern Europe has led to serious shortcomings of our understanding of one of the most crucial episodes in European history, namely the Second World War. The essays confront prevalent distortions and prejudices; taken together, they also form a meditation on the art of history writing itself.

From the classical oritins of the idea of Europe to the division between East and West during the Cold War; from the Jewish and Islamic strands in European history to the expansion of Europe to other continents; from the misunderstood Allied victory in 1945 to Britain's place in Europe; from reflections on the use and abuse of history to personal recollections of learning languages - this companion volume to the best-selling EUROPE looks at European history from a variety of unusual and entertaing angles in an equally stimulating and accessible way

Davies has written 3. THE ISLES, a wondrous, landmark chronicle of the British Isles--already a bestseller in the U.K.--that challenges conventional Anglocentric assumptions throughout. Davies situates prehistoric Britain as part of a Celtic world stretching from Iberia to Poland to Asia Minor. Unlike most historians, who stress Britain's Anglo-Saxon heritage, Davies shows that the isles' fourfold division into England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales arose from a complex mixing of peoples in a constantly fluctuating patchwork of ethnic communities, statelets and kingdoms. Bursting with fresh insights on nearly every page, this magisterial narrative, scholarly yet down-to-earth and engrossing, reveals Davies at his iconoclastic best. He declares that the Viking legacy is much greater than traditional historians admit, and that the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not a famous showdown between the English and French, but an intricate scramble for the final Viking spoils in England (valiant English King Harold II was leader of the Anglo-Danish party).

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

Europe's history is littered with kingdoms, duchies, empires and republics which have now disappeared but which were once fixtures on the map of their age - 'the Empire of Aragon' which once dominated the western Mediterranean; the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, for a time the largest country in Europe; the successive kingdoms (and one duchy) of Burgundy, much of whose history is now half remembered – or half-forgotten – at best.

Historical memory is extraordinarily imperfect and we often forget that the past is different from the present in many unfamiliar ways. Thinking of the European past as the history of countries which exist today - France, Germany, Britain, Russia and so on - often obstructs our view of the past, and blunts our sensitivity to ever-changing political landscapes.

Professor Norman Davies’s latest book, Vanished Kingdoms, published in October 2011, offers a challengingly original perspective on the history of Europe, showing readers how to peer through the cracks of mainstream history writing and listen to the echoes of lost realms across the centuries. He examines the lives and afterlives of vanished kingdoms that no longer have advocates, subverting our established view of what seems familiar, and urging us to look and think afresh.
Norman Davies was for many years Professor of History at the School of Slavonic Studies, University of London, and has also taught at Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, McGill, Cracow, Adelaide, Australian National and Hokkaido universities. He is the author of the best-selling Europe: a History (1996) and The Isles (2000). He is now Professor at the Jagiellonian University at Cracow and an Honorary Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford.

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