Natalie Zemon Davis, the FBI, and the Work of Historians

A few years ago I suggested at a conference on working-class history that it was time to put aside the argument “they had agency,” when examining any group of people. For more than a generation, historians put considerable effort into locating and documenting human agency. By now we know that just about everybody has agency. They question is what they do with it.

In this brief article that is as much about a historian’s “agency,” as it is a reflection on ways in which we can parse, analyze, and understand historical agency, former AHA president Natalie Zemon Davis offers inspiration and insight. Resistance, accommodation, adaptation: all help us to appreciate how people cope, understand, and remember. Once again, we are grateful to Professor Davis for helping us to better understand what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.


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