Skip to main content

Book Launch and Discussion with Natalie Zemon Davis

Book Launch
Cover of "Listening to the Languages of the People"
Wednesday, January 25, 2023, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Featuring author Natalie Zemon Davis in conversation with Constantin Iordachi (CEU, History) and Gabor Klaniczay (CEU, Medieval Studies). The discussion will be moderated by Emily Poznanski (Director, CEU Press).

Abstract: This tale of great achievements and great disappointments offers a fresh perspective on the interplay between scholarship and political sentiment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Lazăr Șăineanu (1859–1934), linguist and folklorist, was a pioneer in his native Romania, seeking out the popular elements in culture along with high literary ones. He was among the first to publish a study of Yiddish as a genuine language, and he uncovered Turkish features in Romanian language and customs. He also made an index of hundreds of Romanian folktales. Yet when he sought Romanian citizenship and a professorship, he was blocked by powerful figures who thought Jews could not be Romanians and who fancied the origins of Romanian culture to be wholly Latin. Faced with anti-Semitism, some of his friends turned to Zionism. Instead he tried baptism, which brought him only mockery and shame.

Hoping to find a polity to which he could belong, Șăineanu moved with his family to Paris in 1900 and became Lazare Sainéan. There he made innovative studies of French popular speech and slang, culminating in his great work on the language of Rabelais. Once again, he was contributing to the development of a national tongue. Even then, while welcomed by literary scholars, Sainéan was unable to get a permanent university post. Though a naturalized citizen of France, he felt himself a foreigner, an “intruder,” into his old age.

Bio: Natalie Zemon Davis is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Emeritus at Princeton University and is currently associated with the Department of History at the University of Toronto. Her many publications include The Return of Martin Guerre, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France; Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds, and Leo Africanus Discovers Comedy: Theatre and Poetry across the Mediterranean. In 2010, she received the Holberg International Prize from the government of Norway for her work in the humanities. Named a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2012, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2013.

Followed by reception.

Join us in person or on Zoom here. Meeting ID: 969 9959 8219, Passcode: 302519

In line with the university’s covid-19 protocol, external guests can enter the campus by registration only. Registration is required by Monday noon, 23 January to

For more information on the book see here.