Sir Simon Michael Schama, CBE, FRSL, FBA (/ˈʃæmə/; born 13 February 1945) is an English historian specialising in art history, Dutch history, Jewish history and French history. He is a University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University, New York.
He first came to public attention with his history of the French Revolution titled Citizens, published in 1989. In the United Kingdom, he is perhaps best known for writing and hosting the 15-part BBC television documentary series A History of Britain broadcast between 2000 and 2002.
Sir Simon Schama
Schama in 2013
|Born||Simon Michael Schama|
13 February 1945
Marylebone, London, England
|Occupation||Academic, Art historian|
|Residence||Briarcliff Manor, New York, U.S.|
|Education||Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School|
|Alma mater||Christ's College, Cambridge|
|Notable awards||Wolfson History Prize|
Leo Gershoy Award
Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
Schama was born in Marylebone, London. His mother, Gertie (née Steinberg), was from an Ashkenazi Jewish family (from Kaunas, present-day Lithuania), and his father, Arthur Schama, was of Sephardi Jewish background (from Smyrna, present-day İzmir in Turkey), later moving through Moldova and Romania.
In the mid-1940s, the family moved to Southend-on-Sea in Essex before moving back to London. Schama writes of this period in the introduction to his 1996 book Landscape & Memory (pp. 3–4):
I had no hill [previously alluding to that in Puck of Pook's Hill], but I did have the Thames. It was not the upstream river that the poets in my Palgrave claimed burbled betwixt mossy banks. [...] It was the low, gull-swept estuary, the marriage bed of salt and fresh water, stretching as far as I could see from my northern Essex bank, toward a thin black horizon on the other side. That would be Kent, the sinister enemy who always seemed to beat us in the County Cricket Championship. [...]
In 1956, Schama won a scholarship to the private Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Cricklewood, (from 1961 Elstree, Hertfordshire). He then studied history at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he was taught by John H. Plumb. He graduated from the University of Cambridge with a Starred First in 1966.
Schama worked for short periods as a lecturer in history at Cambridge, where he was a Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Christ's College. He then taught for some time at Oxford, where he was made a Fellow of Brasenose College in 1976, specialising in the French Revolution.
At this time, Schama wrote his first book, Patriots and Liberators, which won the Wolfson History Prize. The book was originally intended as a study of the French Revolution, but as published in 1977, it focused on the effect of the Patriottentijd revolution of the 1780s in the Netherlands, and its aftermath.
In 1980, Schama took up a chair at Harvard University. His next book, The Embarrassment of Riches (1987), again focused on Dutch history. Schama interpreted the ambivalences that informed the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, held in balance between the conflicting imperatives, to live richly and with power, or to live a godly life. The iconographic evidence that Schama draws upon, in 317 illustrations, of emblems and propaganda that defined Dutch character, prefigured his expansion in the 1990s as a commentator on art and visual culture.
Citizens (1989), written at speed to a publisher's commission, finally saw the publication of his long-awaited study of the French Revolution, and won the 1990 NCR Book Award. Its view that the violence of the Terror was inherent from the start of the Revolution, however, has received serious negative criticism.
He appeared as an on-screen expert in Michael Wood's 1989 PBS series, "Art of the Western World" as a presenting art historian, commenting on paintings by Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt, and Johannes Vermeer.
In 1991, he published Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations), a relatively slender work of unusual structure and point-of-view in that it looked at two widely reported deaths a hundred years apart, that of British Army General James Wolfe in 1759 – and the famous 1770 painting depicting the event by Benjamin West – and that of George Parkman, murdered uncle of the better known 19th-century American historian Francis Parkman.
Schama mooted some possible (invented) connections between the two cases, exploring the historian's inability "ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing the documentation", and speculatively bridging "the teasing gap separating a lived event and its subsequent narration." Not all readers absorbed the nuance of the title: it received a very mixed critical and academic reception. Traditional historians in particular denounced Schama's integration of fact and conjecture to produce a seamless narrative, but later assessments took a more relaxed view of the experiment.
Sales in hardback exceeded those of Schama's earlier works, as shown by relative rankings by amazon.com.
Schama's next book, Landscape and Memory (1995), focused on the relationship between physical environment and folk memory, separating the components of landscape as wood, water and rock, enmeshed in the cultural consciousness of collective "memory" embodied in myths, which Schama finds to be expressed outwardly in ceremony and text. More personal and idiosyncratic than Dead Certainties, this book was more traditionally structured and better-defined in its approach. Despite mixed reviews, the book was a commercial success and won numerous prizes.
Plaudits came from the art world rather than from traditional academia. Schama became art critic for The New Yorker in 1995. He held the position for three years, dovetailing his regular column with professorial duties at Columbia University; a selection of his essays on art for the magazine, chosen by Schama himself, was published in 2005 under the title Hang Ups. During this time, Schama also produced a lavishly illustrated Rembrandt's Eyes, another critical and commercial success. Despite the book's title, it contrasts the biographies of Rembrandt van Rijn and Peter Paul Rubens.
In 1995, Schama wrote and presented a series called Landscape and Memory to accompany his book of the same name. Schama returned to the UK in 2000, having been commissioned by the BBC to produce a series of television documentary programmes on British history as part of their Millennium celebrations, under the title A History of Britain.
Schama wrote and presented the episodes himself, in a friendly and often jocular style with his highly characteristic delivery, and was rewarded with excellent reviews and unexpectedly high ratings. There has been, however, some irritation and criticism expressed by a group of historians about Schama's condensed recounting of the British Isles' history on this occasion, particularly by those specialising in the pre-Anglo-Saxon history of Insular Celtic civilisation. Three series were made, totalling 15 episodes, covering the complete span of British history up until 1965; it went on to become one of the BBC's best-selling documentary series on DVD. Schama also wrote a trilogy of tie-in books for the show, which took the story up to the year 2000; there is some debate as to whether the books are the tie-in product for the TV series, or the other way around. The series also had some popularity in the United States when it was first shown on the History Channel.
In 2001, Schama received a CBE. In 2003, he signed a new contract with the BBC and HarperCollins to produce three new books and two accompanying TV series. Worth £3 million (around US$5.3m), it represents the biggest advance deal ever for a TV historian. The first result of the deal was a book and TV show entitled Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution, dealing in particular with the proclamation issued during the Revolutionary War by Lord Dunmore offering slaves from rebel plantations freedom in return for service to the crown.
In 2006 the BBC broadcast a new TV series, Simon Schama's Power of Art which, with an accompanying book, was presented and written by Schama. It marks a return to art history for him, treating eight artists through eight key works: Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath, Bernini's Ecstasy of St Theresa, Rembrandt's Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat, J. M. W. Turner's The Slave Ship, Vincent van Gogh's Wheat Field with Crows, Picasso's Guernica and Mark Rothko's Seagram Murals. It was also shown on PBS in the United States.
In October 2008, on the eve of the presidential election won by Barack Obama, the BBC broadcast a four-part television series called The American Future: A History presented and written by Schama. In March 2009, Schama presented a BBC Radio 4 show entitled Baseball and Me, both exploring the history of the game and describing his own personal support of the Boston Red Sox.
In 2010, Schama presented a series of ten talks for the BBC Radio 4 series A Point of View:
In 2011 the BBC commissioned Simon Schama to write and present a five-part series called A History of the Jews for BBC Two for transmission in 2012, The title became The Story of the Jews and broadcast was delayed until September 2013. Writing in The Observer, Andrew Anthony called it "an astonishing achievement, a TV landmark."
In August 2014, Schama was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.
In November 2017, Schama joined Simon Sebag Montefiore and Howard Jacobson in writing a letter about their concern over antisemitism in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, with particular reference to a growth in Anti-Zionism and its "antisemitic characteristics".
Schama was critical of a call by British novelist John Berger for an academic boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians. Writing in The Guardian in an article co-authored with Anthony Julius, Schama compared Berger's academic boycott to policies adopted by Nazi Germany, saying: "This is not the first boycott call directed at Jews. On 1 April 1933, only weeks after he came to power, Hitler ordered a boycott of Jewish shops, banks, offices and department stores."
In 2006 on the BBC, Schama debated with Vivienne Westwood the morality of Israel's actions in the Israel-Lebanon War. He described Israel's bombing of Lebanese city centres as unhelpful to Israel's attempt to "get rid of" Hezbollah. He said: "Of course the spectacle and suffering makes us grieve. Who wouldn't grieve? But it's not enough to do that. We've got to understand. You've even got to understand Israel's point of view."
[...] drawing absolute conclusions from [...] fragments of evidence
A History of Britain is a BBC documentary series written and presented by Simon Schama, first transmitted in the United Kingdom from 30 September 2000.
A study of the history of the British Isles, each of the 15 episodes allows Schama to examine a particular period and tell of its events in his own style. All the programmes are of 59 minutes' duration and were broadcast over three series, ending 18 June 2002.
The series was produced in conjunction with The History Channel and the executive producer was Martin Davidson. The music was composed by John Harle, whose work was augmented by vocal soloists such as Emma Kirkby and Lucie Skeaping. Schama's illustrative presentation was aided by readings from actors, including Lindsay Duncan, Michael Kitchen, Christian Rodska, Samuel West and David Threlfall.A History of Britain (book)
A History of Britain is a three volume work written by Simon Schama to accompany a series of documentaries he presented for the BBC.
The volumes are:
A History of Britain I: At the Edge of the World? 3000 BC–AD 1603 (BBC, 2000, ISBN 0-563-48714-3)
A History of Britain II: The British Wars 1603–1776 (BBC, 2001, ISBN 0-563-48718-6)
A History of Britain III: The Fate of Empire 1776–2000 (BBC, 2002, ISBN 0-563-48719-4)Bernard-René Jourdan de Launay
Bernard René Jourdan, marquis de Launay (1740–1789) was the French governor of the Bastille, the son of a previous governor, and commander of its garrison when the prison-fortress in Paris was stormed on 14 July 1789 (see Storming of the Bastille).Civilisations (TV series)
Civilisations is a 2018 British art history television documentary series produced by the BBC in association with PBS as a follow-up to the original 1969 landmark series Civilisation by Kenneth Clark. It is narrated by Liev Schreiber and presented by Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga, with music composed by Tandis Jenhudson.Embarrassment of riches
An embarrassment of riches is an idiom that means an overabundance of something, or too much of a good thing, that originated in 1738 as John Ozell's translation of a French play, L'Embarras des richesses (1726), by Léonor Jean Christine Soulas d'Allainval.
Example: "All four of them have their own cars but there's no room in the driveway—an embarrassment of riches".
The idiom has also inspired other works and been included in their titles. This includes: The Embarrassment of Riches (1906), a play by Louis K. Anspacher, and a 1918 drama film of the same name based on the Anspacher play;
a 2006 music album of this name by Elephant Micah; the history book The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age by Simon Schama; and An Embarrassment of Riches, a 2000 novel written by Filipino author Charlson Ong.Jessica Warner
Jessica Warner is an American historian, specializing in the social history of Great Britain in the early modern age. Her books include Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason and John the Painter: Terrorist of the American Revolution. The latter book has won praise from fellow historians like Simon Schama and Brenda Maddox.
Warner was born and raised in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Yale University. She currently teaches at the University of Toronto.Leo Gershoy Award
The Leo Gershoy Award is a book prize awarded by the American Historical Association for the best publication in English dealing with the history of Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Endowed in 1975 by the Gershoy family and first awarded two years later, the prize commemorates Leo Gershoy, professor of French history at New York University. It was awarded biennially until 1985, and annually thereafter.
The first recipient of the award was Simon Schama; other distinguished honorees include Robert Darnton, John H. Elliott and Roy Porter. Carla Rahn Phillips of the University of Minnesota has uniquely won the prize on two different occasions.List of Rembrandt connoisseurs and scholars
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn in one of the best expertly researched (visual) artists in history. His life and work have long attracted the attention of multidisciplinary scholarship. The field of Rembrandt studies (i.e. study of Rembrandt's life and work) — as an academic field in its own right with many noted Rembrandt scholars — has been very dynamic and well published since the Dutch Golden Age.
The following is a list of notable Rembrandt connoisseurs and scholars.
Harry Berger, Jr.
Wilhelm von Bode
H. Perry Chapman
Stephanie S. Dickey
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot
Julius S. Held
Arthur Mayger Hind
Gerard de Lairesse
Arthur Pillans Laurie
François Émile Michel
Joachim von Sandrart
Catherine B. Scallen
Woldemar von Seidlitz
Eric Jan Sluijter
Ernst van de Wetering
Samuel van Hoogstraten
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
Christopher WhiteMiramax Books
Miramax Books was a publishing company started by Bob and Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Films and was known for the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. It published the memoirs of many major celebrities, including David Boies, Madeleine Albright, Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, TV's Tim Russert, and others. Like Miramax Films.
In November 1998, the tentatively named Miramax/Talk Media Books, a division of Miramax's Talk Media, was started with the naming of its Jonathan Burnham president and editor-in-chief. Miramax Books was dissolved into this new unit. Burnham would start on December 7. Miramax/Talk would published 10 to 15 total books a year, fiction and non-fiction, starting in 2000.Tina Brown, chair of Talk Media recruited a number of high profile authors, historian the British novelist Martin Amis and Simon Schama for the imprint. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was paid $3 million in advance for his autobiography prior to 9-11. By April 2002, Talk Miramax Books had published 30 books, five of which made a national best-seller lists. The unit generated $10 million in revenue in 2001 and was profitable.In 2004, Miramax Books won the auction for Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians manuscript.When the Weinsteins broke from Disney in 2005, five years before Miramax Films went for sale by Disney, the book division was still partly owned by the Weinsteins. So, a joint operation agreement for the company was made ending on September 30, 2007. Weinstein Brothers brought in CEO, Rob Weisbach, for Miramax Books while he also ran the Weinstein Books imprint at The Weinstein Company. Hyperion Books president Robert Miller, and Disney Publishing Worldwide president Deborah Dugan would be acquiring new books. Also, a financial stake in any books on the publication schedule from April 2005 to September 2007 would remain with The Weinsteins.Mountains of the Mind
Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination is a book by British writer Robert Macfarlane published in 2003 about the history of the human fascination with mountains. The book takes its title from a line by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and combines history with first-person narrative. He considers why people are drawn to mountains despite their obvious dangers, and examines the powerful and sometimes fatal hold that mountains can come to have over the imagination. The book's heroes include the mountaineer George Mallory, and its influences include the writing of Simon Schama and Francis Spufford. In the end, Macfarlane criticizes Mallory for devoting more time to the mountain than his wife and notes that he has personally sworn off high-risk mountaineering. The New York Times's John Rothchild praised the book, writing "There's fascinating stuff here, and a clever premise, but Mountains of the Mind may cause recovering climbaholics to trace their addiction to their early homework assignments and file class-action lawsuits against their poetry teachers.""Mountains of the Mind" won the Guardian First Book Award and the Somerset Maugham Award.Pierre Gaspard Chaumette
Pierre Gaspard Chaumette (24 May 1763 – 13 April 1794) was a French politician of the Revolutionary
Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution is a history book by Simon Schama. It was the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award winner for general nonfiction. A 2007 drama-documentary was based on it.Simon Schama's Power of Art
Power of Art is a BBC documentary series written and presented by Simon Schama. The series was broadcast in October and November 2006 on BBC2. It aired in Poland on TVP2 in February and March 2008, on PBS in the US and re -broadcast in September 2008 on TVOntario in Canada, ABC1 in Australia, Australia Network in the Asia-Pacific region, TV ONE in New Zealand and on ET1 in Greece. It was also translated to Persian and aired on BBC Persian in Iran, as well in Italy for Sky Italia on the channel Sky Arte. Each of the eight one-hour episodes examines the biography of an artist and one of his key works through Schama's considerations and occasional reenactments:
Caravaggio – David with the Head of Goliath (c. 1610)
Bernini – Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1657)
Rembrandt – The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (1662)
David – The Death of Marat (1793)
Turner – The Slave Ship (1840)
Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows (1890)
Picasso – Guernica (1937)
Rothko – Black on Maroon (1958)In reenactment scenes the role of Caravaggio was performed by Paul Popplewell, Van Gogh was played by Andy Serkis, and Mark Rothko by Allan Corduner.Storming of the Bastille
The Storming of the Bastille (French: Prise de la Bastille [pʁiz də la bastij]) occurred in Paris, France, on the afternoon of 14 July 1789.
The medieval armory, fortress, and political prison known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the centre of Paris.
The prison contained seven inmates at the time of its storming. The act was seen, by the revolutionaries, as a symbol of the monarchy's abuses of power; its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution.
In France, Le quatorze juillet (14 July) is a public holiday, usually called Bastille Day in English.The Embarrassment of Riches
The Embarrassment of Riches: An interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age is a book by the historian Simon Schama. It was published in 1987, five years after the bicentenary of the Dutch recognition of the young United States. The book sold quite well and led to an immediate second printing only a few months after its release. It was initially well received and did so well, it was translated into Dutch (Dutch title: Overvloed en Onbehagen:De Nederlandse cultuur in de Gouden Eeuw) and published there in 1988, where it was also well received. The book is credited today with giving new insights into the Dutch poldermodel system of governance.The Story of the Jews (TV series)
The Story of the Jews is a television series, in five parts, presented by British historian Simon Schama. It was broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two in September 2013 and in the United States on PBS in March and April 2014.It is based on Schama's book of the same title, which is being published in three volumes. The first volume was published in September 2013. The second volume, entitled Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900, was published by Bodley Head in October 2017.The Story of the Jews (book)
The Story of the Jews is a book by British historian Simon Schama, which is being published in three volumes. The first volume, entitled Finding the Words 1000BCE – 1492CE, was published in the United Kingdom by Bodley Head in September 2013. The second volume, entitled Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900, was published by Bodley Head in October 2017.A television series, based on Schama's book, was broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two in September 2013 and in the United States on PBS in March and April 2014.
Winners of the Wolfson History Prize