Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A disciple of A.J.P. Taylor, Davies studied history at Magdalen College, Oxford. After stays abroad in Grenoble, France, and Perugia, Italy, he intended to study for a Ph.D. in Russia, but was denied an entry visa. Instead, he went to Cracow to study at the Jagiellonian University and do research on the Polish-Soviet war. As this war did not officially exist in the Polish historiography of that time, he was obliged to changed the title of his dissertation to The British Foreign Policy towards Poland, 1919-20. After obtaining a Ph.D. in Cracow, the English text appeared under the title White Eagle, Red Star. The Polish-Soviet War 1919-20 in 1972.
From 1971, Davies taught Polish history at the School of East European and Slavonic Studies (SSEES) of the University of London, where he was professor from 1985 to 1996. Currently, he is Supernumary Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. Throughout his career, Davies lectured in many countries (USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, China and in most European countries).
The work that established Davies's reputation in the English-speaking world was God's Playground (1981), a comprehensive overview of Polish history, which still ranks as the most influential. It made Davies immediately popular in Poland, although - or rather because - it could only be distributed as a samizdat copy. Against the backdrop of the current events in Poland, Davies published a more concise, essayistic description of the role of the past in Polish present, entitled Heart of Europe (1984).
Some western colleagues accused Davies of a "polonophile" attitude. In fact, in presenting Polish-Russian, Polish-Jewish or Polish-Western conflicts, Davies tends to justify or qualify criticism of the Polish position. In particular, he adopted the Polish view that the Holocaust occupies a position in international historiography that tends to minimize the suffering of (non-Jewish) Poles and even denounce them as anti-Semites. Davies's partially polemical statements on this topic gained him the reputation of an anti-Semite himself. This was believed to be a factor when in 1986 Stanford University refused him a promised tenure at short notice, although the official reason were "scientific flaws" in his work. Davies sued the university for breach of contract and defamation of character; in 1989, the case was rejected on formal grounds.
However, Davies's critics tend to overlook the fact that he also contradicts narrow Polish nationalist claims and vehemently criticises the strong tendency to create Polono-centric historical myths.
In the 1990s, Davies returned with two monumental works on the history of Europe (1996) and the British Isles (1999). In both books he sets out to to present the importance of the "peripheries" on an equal footing and to revise Westernly biased and Anglo-centric, respectively, conventional wisdoms in historiography. Next, Davies and his former research assistant Roger Moorhouse co-wrote a history of Wrocław, the former German Breslau, at the suggestion of the city's mayor. The book considers the city a focal point of Central European history and uses it to present that history "in a nutshell". Although fellow historians criticised a number of technical defects in the book, it became an instant bestseller in both Germany and Poland, where it had been published simultaneously.
Davies also writes essays and popular scientific articles for mass media audiences. Among others, he has worked for the BBC as well as British and American magazines and newspapers like The Times, The New York Review of Books and The Independent. In Poland, his articles appeared in the liberal Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.
After 1989, God's Playground became required reading in Poland, where each subsequent book was immediately translated and became an instant commercial success. In 2000, Davies's Polish publishers Znak published a collection of his essays and articles under the title Smok wawelski nad Tamizą ("The Wawel Dragon on the Thames") which is not available in English.
Awards and Distinctions
Davies holds a number of honorary titles and memberships, including honorary doctorates from the universities of Lublin and Gdańsk, memberships in the Polish Academy of Learning (PAU) and the Academia Scientiarum et Artium Europea , and fellowships of the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society . Davies is also an honorary citizen of Lublin and Cracow.
- 1972: White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War, 1919-20. (2004 edition: ISBN 0712606947)
- 1977: Poland, Past and Present. A Select Bibliography of Works in English.
- 1981: God's Playground. A History of Poland. Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795, Vol. 2: 1795 to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199253390 / ISBN 0199253404.
- 1984: Heart of Europe. A Short History of Poland. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192851527.
- 1996: Europe. A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198201710
- 1999: The Isles. A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195134427
- 2002 (with Roger Moorhouse): Microcosm. Portrait of a Central European City. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0224062433
- 2004: Rising '44. The Battle for Warsaw. London: Pan Books. ISBN 0333905687
- Britain and the Warsaw Rising. Essay, 2004.
- Review of Europe: A History by Anne Applebaum
- Official press release on the case of Davies vs. Stanford University
- A Polish site about Norman Davies (in Polish), includes a gallery and parts of translated text
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