AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
Current school or alma mater/s: PhD, Princeton
Fields of interest: late medieval and early modern; Iberian world; social and cultural history
When did you first develop an interest in history?
As an adolescent, by reading 19th-century romances by Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Walter Scott, and others.
What projects are you working on currently?
I am completing a history of the western Mediterranean for a 24-volume History of the World, general editor, R.I. Moore, forthcoming from Blackwell (Wiley).
Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
Indeed they have! I began as an institutional and political historian. By mid-career and under the influence of the Annales School, I shifted to social and anthropological-inflected history. Over the last decade, my interests have moved again towards popular culture and representations of royal power.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Throughout my life, I have been influenced by numerous books and movies. I have always had an enduring interest in fiction, so novels have always played and still play an important part of my intellectual and emotional life. As to films, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows had a deep impact on my life, as did Godard’s Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live) (1962), and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. For history books, Marc Bloch’s Les Rois Thaumaturges (1924) and his Feudal Society were essential for my growth as a historian. The same could be said about Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages.
What do you value most about the history profession?
I welcome the opportunity to confront, question, and revise the past. In this, I am guided by Walter Benjamin’s famous critique of historicism and his call for historians to “brush history against the grain.” I do not know if I truly “brush history against the grain,” but I try.
Why did you join the AHA?
Over many years, the AHA has been a wonderful advocate for our discipline and for all historians. The great opportunity and honor to serve the AHA showed me the manner in which it has always opposed policies that limit the free flow of information and scholarship.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
It was in Chicago in the mid-1990s. On a very cold and windy Saturday, many historians, most of them middle age and senior, gathered in the lobby, slouching tiredly on sofas and armchairs, looking, as we often do, disheveled and unkempt. We were all tired and afraid to face the wind and cold outside. Then, the doors of the lobby opened wide and this large group of elegantly clad and very handsome people strode into the hotel. I could not help myself and approached one of them and asked: Who are you, oh brave new world that has such people in it? They explained that they were guests of a function to raise funds for the United Negro College Fund in which Lou Reed was singing and acting as MC. Then they asked me, looking skeptical on my lack of beauty and elegance, and who are you in this not so brave new world? Historians, I said, and slinked back to my seat to dream of the impossibility of looking as handsome and beautiful as they did. Oh how green the grass was across the lobby! As Dire Straits used to sing, “I should have learned to play the guitar, I should have learned to play them drums…”
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
I am a historian because I am also, first and foremost, a teacher. I am passionate about teaching, reading (fiction mostly), films, special TV series such as Spiral (Engrenages, the original French title), and travel.
Any final thoughts?
I think it would be great to have more young people represented in this blog, in the AHA, and in our history departments throughout the country.