James Naughtie talks with the writer and historian Norman Davies about his new book Beneath Another Sky: A Global Journey into History.
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Of course, expect much more on that
into the evening and tomorrow.
That's this edition of Outside
Source, next on the BBC News
Channel, it is Meet The Author.
This week on Meet the
Author Jim Naughtie talks
with the writer and historian
Norman Davies about his new book
Beneath Another Sky:
A Global Journey into History.
He circumnavigates the globe to
explore in some remotest places,
stories of settlement and migration,
driven by the primeval urge to "get
up and go." Welcome.
Thing to think that we all have an
urge to get up and go, it's quite
another thing to do it. You are no
young man. You set off and you
sunshining up navigated the globe to
all kinds of places that you must
never have imagined that you would
get to. What drove you on?
certain age, I received an
invitation to Australia but I don't
like long flights so I decided to go
by easy stages and take my time. And
then I realised why go back the same
way, just keep going, it took
several months but it was a
tremendous idea at my age!
story you have followed, really, is
the story of human movement, of
migration, which of course is a very
contemporary problem, obsession but
it is one that you see as
fundamental and to explaining, how
the world has come to be the way
that it is?
Absolutely. Human beings
have been migrating, they've been on
the move ever since they emerged
whatever it was, 2 million years
ago. Moving from place toe place,
eventually from continent to
continent and their various
movements, collisions, interactions,
conquests, co abtearingses have
created the world as we know it,
without that, human history would be
Your focus has tended to be European
in the past. You have written a lot
about the Slavic portion of Europe
and also written on the islands, and
these islands which we sit. How did
your perspective change when you
began to visit some of these, what
Europeans would called, remote
Well my choices are to go
to places I had never been before
and didn't know much about. The idea
was more about learning and
extending what I already knew.
It was a voyage of discovery?
Sometimes I went to places which,
their history coincided, you go to
Baku, it used to be a part of the
Russian empire but many of the
places were completely foreign to
me, so all the more interesting for
It's a fascinating catalogue. All of
little known places of the world,
what was the first point at which
you felt on this journey, you were
really on to something here, you
didn't know the story of this place
and it's telling you something you
had never thought of before?
that feeling very often indeed. Of
course I could communicate better in
some places than others. I went to
Mauritius, an outpost if ever there
was one but found a speak, a French
Creole but found a speaker, which
was interesting, that I could speak
to people, learn and read books and
so on but less son when you go to
You were inevitably the outsider?
Every-I was but I did, still get
under the skin, often. I went to
Texas and wrote an essay about the
very first American settlers in
Texas and lo and behold, I was able
to spend a day with the descendent
of one of the 300, the first group
of American settlers in Texas. So I
was an outer but still I tried to
communicate with people at much as
possible. I spent 40 years writing
about a tiny corner of the world.
Now you've got to see, to get a
taste of the rest of it, and the
rest, it is, of course, enormous. So
you can't become an expert on these
places but you get a feel of how
things developed, where people's
came from, what are the relations
between the different continents
that I went to.
You have split your life for a long
time between this country and
Poland, coming back to Europe,
having undertaken this journey and
having processed the thoughts that
make up this book, has your view of
now for me is a much smaller place.
I used to think it was almost all
the world. Now I see that Europe is
a small particular, of a very much
bigger Continent. Of course, no-one
will ever get to understand all of
the complications but at least while
you can still think reasonably
clearliy, you need to get a sense of
the size of the globe and the
complexities of human history and so
When you are talking about migration
as such an important component of
human history, it puts into
perspective the panic and the
political difficulty that we go to
cross Europe at the moment, because
of migration, there's a consequence
of water shortages in Africa and war
in the Middle East. It does tend to
say look, there is more under the
Absolutely. You begin to see
yourself looking like you are
watching the Romans coming over the
rise in the 4th, 5th century. Most
of historical change is not smooth.
It happens with leaps and bounds and
intervals between. But we are living
through a phase where humanity is on
Our little hard continent is the
target destination for many of them
at the moment.
You've been writing history for half
a century now, more or less, this is
an extraordinary work to have come
up with in the sense that the sheer
volume of work that is involved
putting this together in unknown
places, you know, dealing with
cultures of which you yourself say
you knew very little, wanting to get
it right, bringing an academic focus
to, what a thing to take on?
I've done that before. I don't know
where I will do it again.
It's just what you do?
and it is a learning exercise,
preventing ourselves going stale by
write being the same things all the
time, which is what some historians
You end the introduction by quoting
tenson from. Lysses, seeking a new
world. That is what you are doing
I realise I was in the
category of ageing Ulysses who
wanted to set sail one more time.
Yes, that was, whether I will ever
have another voyage, I will never
But you're glad you did?
absolutely. I'm still amazed that I
was able to do it and got to the
Norman Davies, author of
Beneath Another Sky, thank you very