The Thompson-Davis Letters

By the Past & Present editorial team

“Rough Music and Charivari: Letters Between Natalie Zemon Davis and Edward Thompson, 1970–1972” has now been published

We are delighted to tell (and show you a snippet) of a historiographical feature we are running in the forthcoming issue (No. 235).

In the spring of 1970 Natalie Zemon Davis posted E.P. Thompson a draft of the paper that became “The Reasons of Misrule: Youth Groups and Charivaris in Sixteenth-Century France”. Enthused upon receipt of the paper, and sensing synergies with his own work on 18th Century England, Thompson wrote back and the pair continued to correspond for the next couple of years about their respective projects.

Davis was recently kind enough to allow Past & Present to view and the reproduce the letters for our readers. We are sure that you will be as excited to read them as we were. For now though, here’s a snippet. In addition to showing the thought processes, concerns and working practices of two of the twentieth century’s most eminent historical scholars, it also provides a tantalising glimpse into what our co-editor Prof. Alexandra Walsham describes as “a vanishing republic of letters”, granting us a fascinating snapshot of scholarly work and scholarly communication in an age before personal computing and ubiquitous digital networked communication.

Letter 4: E.P. Thompson to Natalie Zemon Davis, 8 July 1971

43 Lansdowne Crescent
Leamington Spa

8 July 71

Dear Natalie Davis,

Returning the compliment, I’m sending you a copy of an article which I’ve submitted to Annales ESC. I’d be very glad to have your comments, especially since I fill out my doubts about the universal application of the pool of eligibles theory.

I hope to expand the piece, with much more British example, as a chapter in my next book, so that even if crit[icism]s don’t arrive in time for revision of the Annales piece, I can take them into account in the book. Or you might possibly be stimulated to reply in Annales? (If they use it).

One caveat. Please DON’T circulate or xerox the piece. I am sending it only for you to look at. (Some six years ago I gave a paper in the States which found its way to Charles Tilly, and thence to half a dozen libraries in the USA and Canada xeroxed without permission and contrary to copyright and thence back into footnotes and other people’s work: a piece which I only felt ready for publication this year. So please don’t pass it on to Tilly and his regiment of researchers).



The Davis-Thompson letters as reproduced here and in the journal, are published with the kind permission of Natalie Zemon Davis and the estate of Dorothy Thompson and with full credited to our publishers Oxford University Press Academic. Past & Present, 2017.

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