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Norman Davies, Warsaw (Poland), 7 October 2004

Professor [1] Ivor Norman Richard Davies Fellow of the British Academy (born 8 June 1939 to Richard and Elizabeth Davies in Bolton, Lancashire) is a leading British historian [2] of Welsh descent, noted for his publications on the history of Poland, Europe, and the United Kingdom.


Academic career

Davies studied in Grenoble, France (1957–1958). He was a disciple of A. J. P. Taylor at Magdalen College, Oxford where he earned a B.A. (history, with honours) in 1962. He earned an M.A. (1966) at University of Sussex. He studied in Perugia, Italy. He intended to study for a PhD in the Soviet Union, but was denied an entry visa. Instead, he went to Kraków to study at the Jagiellonian University and do research on the Polish–Soviet War. As this war was denied in the official communist Polish historiography of that time, he was obliged to change the title of his dissertation to The British Foreign Policy towards Poland, 1919–20. After obtaining a Ph.D. (1968) in Kraków, 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 Slavonic and East European 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 has lectured in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, China, Poland, and in most of the rest of Europe as well.

Stanford University controversially denied him a tenured faculty position in 1986.[1][3]

In 1996 he retired from the professorial chair he had held in London since 1985.


The work which established Davies' reputation in the English-speaking world was God's Playground (1981), a comprehensive overview of Polish history. In Poland, the book was published officially only after the fall of communism. In 2000, Davies' Polish publishers Znak published a collection of his essays and articles under the title Smok wawelski nad Tamizą ("The Wawel Dragon on the Thames"). It is not available in English.

In 1984, Davies published Heart of Europe, a briefer history of Poland. Interestingly, the chapters are arranged in reverse chronological order.

In the 1990s, Davies published Europe: A History (1996) and The Isles: A History (1999), about Europe and Great Britain, respectively. Each book is a narrative interlarded with numerous sidepanel discussions of microtopics.

In 2002, at the suggestion of the city's mayor, Bogdan Zdrojewski, Davies and his former research assistant, Roger Moorhouse, co-wrote a history of Wrocław / Breslau, a Silesian city. Titled Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City, the book was published simultaneously in English, Polish, German and Czech.

Davies also writes essays and articles for the mass media. Among others, he has worked for the BBC as well as British and American magazines and newspapers, such as The Times, The New York Review of Books and The Independent. In Poland, his articles appeared in the liberal Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.

Davies' book Rising '44. The Battle for Warsaw describes the Warsaw Uprising. It was followed by Europe at War 1939-1945: No Simple Victory (2006). In 2008 Davies participated in the documentary film "The Soviet Story"[4].


Some historians, most vocally Lucy Dawidowicz[5] and Abraham Brumberg,[6] object to Davies' historical treatment of the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland. They accuse him of minimizing historic antisemitism, and of promoting a view that accounts of the Holocaust in international historiography largely overlook the suffering of non-Jewish Poles. Davies’s supporters contend that he gives due attention to the genocide and war crimes perpetrated by both Hitler and Stalin on Polish Jews and non-Jews. Davies himself argues that "Holocaust scholars need have no fears that rational comparisons might threaten that uniqueness. Quite the opposite." and that " needs to re-construct mentally the fuller picture in order to comprehend the true enormity of Poland’s wartime cataclysm, and then to say with absolute conviction ‘Never Again’."[7][8]

In 1986, Dawidowicz’s criticism of Davies’ historical treatment of the Holocaust was cited as a factor in a controversy at Stanford University in which Davies was denied a tenured faculty position for alleged "scientific flaws". Davies sued the university for breach of contract and defamation of character, but in 1989 the court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in an academic matter.[1][3]

Benjamin Schwarz, in a review of Davies' history of Poland entitled God's Playground, writes that the book, while marked by "scholarly honesty and comprehensiveness", argues for "the most charitable interpretation possible concerning such subjects as the Polish government's policies toward Jews in the interwar period, and its ethnic cleansing of Germans and Ukrainians after the war."[9]

Awards and distinctions

Davies holds a number of honorary titles and memberships, including honorary doctorates from the universities of the Jagiellonian University (since 2003), Lublin, Gdańsk and Warsaw (since 2007), memberships in the Polish Academy of Learning (PAU) and the Academia Scientiarum et Artium Europaea,[10] and fellowships of the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society.[11] Davies received an honorary DLitt degree from his alma mater the University of Sussex.[12] Davies is also an honorary citizen of Polish cities of Warsaw, Wrocław, Lublin and Kraków. Member of the committee for Order of the Smile.

On December 22, 1998, President of Poland - Aleksander Kwaśniewski awarded him the Grand Cross (1st class) of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

Norman Davies has been appointed to the Advisory Board of the European Association of History Educators - EUROCLIO.


Norman Davies married Maria Zielińska, a Pole born in Dąbrowa Tarnowska, a physician, on 26 December 1966. He lives in Oxford and Cracow with his wife Maria, and has two sons.[13]


  • 1972: White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War, 1919–20. (2004 edition: ISBN 0-7126-0694-7)
  • 1977: Poland, Past and Present. A Select Bibliography of Works in English. ISBN 0-89250-011-5
  • 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 0-19-925339-0 / ISBN 0-19-925340-4.
  • 1984: Heart of Europe. A Short History of Poland. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285152-7.
    • 2001: Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present Oxford University Press, USA; New edition ISBN 0-19-280126-0
  • 1991: Jews in Eastern Poland and the USSR, 1939–46. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-06200-1
  • 1996: Europe: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-820171-0
  • 1997: Auschwitz and the Second World War in Poland: A lecture given at the Representations of Auschwitz international conference at the Jagiellonian University. Universitas. ISBN 83-7052-935-6
  • 1999: Red Winds from the North. Able Publishing. ISBN 0-907616-45-3
  • 1999: The Isles. A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513442-7
  • 2002 (with Roger Moorhouse): Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-06243-3
  • 2004: Rising '44. The Battle for Warsaw. London: Pan Books. ISBN 0-333-90568-7
  • 2006: Europe East and West: A Collection of Essays on European History. Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-06924-1
  • 2006: Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-69285-3


  1. ^ a b c "State appellate court upholds Stanford in Davies case". Stanford University News Service. Stanford University. 1991-09-05. Retrieved 2008-08-03. "Davies's works have been criticized at Stanford and elsewhere, by such experts as Lucy S. Dawidowicz (author of The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945) who said they felt Davies minimized historic anti-Semitism in Poland and tended to blame Polish Jews for their fate in the Holocaust. Davies' supporters contend that Poles suffered as much as Jews did in the war and could have done very little to save any of the 3 million Jews living in Poland at the time of the Nazi invasion in 1939. Davies had sought $3 million in damages from the university for what he called fraud, misrepresentation, breach of contract, discrimination and defamation."  
  2. ^ The Independent, Saturday, 29 August 2009
  3. ^ a b Applebaum, Anne (May 1997). "Against the old clichés - Review of Europe: A History by Norman Davies". The New Criterion (New York). Retrieved 2008-08-02.  
  4. ^ "The Soviet Story » People in the film". Retrieved 2008-08-03.  
  5. ^ Lucy Dawidowicz, "The Curious Case of Marek Edelman". Observations. Commentary, March 1987, pp. 66-69. See also reply by Norman Davies and others in Letters from Readers, Commentary, August, 1987 pp. 2–12.
  6. ^ Abraham Brumberg, "Murder Most Foul", Times Literary Supplement, March 2, 2001. Essay on Neighbors by Jan T. Gross. Tony Judt and Abraham Brumberg. Letters, Times Literary Supplement, London April 6, 2001. See also response by Norman Davies, Letters, Times Literary Supplement, London April 13, 2001.
  7. ^ Norman Davies, "Russia, the missing link in Britain's VE Day mythology", The Times, London, May 1, 2005.
  8. ^ Norman Davies, lecture, University of Cincinnati Department of History and the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, Cincinnati, OH. April 26, 2005.
  9. ^ Benjamin Schwarz, "God's Playground by Norman Davies", The Atlantic, December 2002
  10. ^ "Gesamtliste der Mitglieder". European Academy of Sciences and Arts, Salzburg. Retrieved 2008-08-03.  
  11. ^ "Fellows of the Royal Historical Society, D - F" (MSWord). Retrieved 2008-08-03.  
  12. ^ Sussex Lectures 2006: Europe at war, 1939–45: not freedom’s victory
  13. ^

Further reading

  • Snowman, Daniel "Norman Davies" p. 36–38 from History Today, Volume 55, Issue 7, July 2005.
  • America, December 18, 1982, p. 394.
  • American Historical Review, April, 1991, p. 520.
  • American Scholar, fall, 1997, p. 624.
  • Atlantic Monthly, December, 2002, Benjamin Schwarz, review of God's Playground: A History of Poland, p. 127.
  • Booklist, September 15, 1996, p. 214; December 15, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, "A History of Europe," p. 682; February 1, 2000, p. 1006; May 1, 2004, Jay Freeman, review of Rising '44: The Battle of Warsaw, p. 1538.
  • Commentary, March, 1987, p. 66.
  • Current History, November, 1984, p. 385.
  • Economist, March 6, 1982, p. 104; February 10, 1990, p. 92; November 16, 1996, p. S3; December 4, 1999, p. 8; April 27, 2002, "What's in a Name: Central European History."
  • History Today, May, 1983, p. 54; March, 2000, Robert Pearce, "The Isles: A History," p. 55.
  • Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of Rising '44, p. 256.
  • Library Journal, March 15, 1997, p. 73; February 1, 2000, p. 100.
  • Nation, November 21, 1987, p. 584.
  • National Review, June 5, 2000, John Derbyshire, "Disunited Kingdom"; May 17, 2004, David Pryce-Jones, "Remember Them," p. 46.
  • New Republic, November 15, 1982, p. 25; September 22, 1997, p. 36.
  • New Statesman, May 21, 1982, p. 21; August 31, 1984, p. 26.
  • New Statesman & Society, December 20, 1996, Norman Davies, "How I Conquered Europe," pp. 36-38; October 17, 1997, David Herman, review of Europe: A History, pp. 30-32; May 15, 1998, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, "The Hunted, Not the Hunters," p. 35. November 15, 1999, Alistair Moffat, "Jobs and Foxes Will Flee to England," p. 35; December 13, 1999, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "Forging Our History," p. 57.
  • New York Review of Books, September 29, 1983, p. 18; May 15, 1997, p. 30.
  • New York Times Book Review, December 5, 1982, p. 52; March 4, 1984, p. 34; December 23, 1984, p. 5; June 22, 1986, p. 34; December 7, 1986, p. 84; December 1, 1996, p. 15.
  • Observer (London, England), October 10, 1999, Andrew Marr, "A History Lesson for Wee Willie," p. 29.
  • Publishers Weekly, August 26, 1996, p. 83; November 24, 1997, "A History of Europe," p. 64; January 24, 2000, p. 301.
  • Sunday Times (London, England), October 17, 1999, Niall Ferguson, "Breaking up Is Hard to Do if You're British," p. NR4.
  • Times (London, England), October 30, 1999, Richard Morrison, "Britain Dies as Mr. Tough Rewrites the Past," p. 21.
  • Wilson Library Bulletin, October, 1986, p. 68.
  • World and I, August, 2004, Richard M. Watt, "The Warsaw Insurrection: How Polish Capital Ferociously Resisted World War II Occupiers."*

External links



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