Norman Davies Meet the Author


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Norman Davies

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.

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That's this edition of Outside

Source, next on the BBC News

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Channel, it is Meet The Author.

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This week on Meet the

Author Jim Naughtie talks

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with the writer and historian

Norman Davies about his new book

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Beneath Another Sky:

A Global Journey into History.

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He circumnavigates the globe to

explore in some remotest places,

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stories of settlement and migration,

driven by the primeval urge to "get

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up and go." Welcome.

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Thing to think that we all have an

urge to get up and go, it's quite

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another thing to do it. You are no

young man. You set off and you

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sunshining up navigated the globe to

all kinds of places that you must

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never have imagined that you would

get to. What drove you on?

After a

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certain age, I received an

invitation to Australia but I don't

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like long flights so I decided to go

by easy stages and take my time. And

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then I realised why go back the same

way, just keep going, it took

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several months but it was a

tremendous idea at my age!

And the

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story you have followed, really, is

the story of human movement, of

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migration, which of course is a very

contemporary problem, obsession but

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it is one that you see as

fundamental and to explaining, how

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the world has come to be the way

that it is?

Absolutely. Human beings

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have been migrating, they've been on

the move ever since they emerged

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whatever it was, 2 million years

ago. Moving from place toe place,

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eventually from continent to

continent and their various

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movements, collisions, interactions,

conquests, co abtearingses have

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created the world as we know it,

without that, human history would be

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completely different.

Your focus has tended to be European

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in the past. You have written a lot

about the Slavic portion of Europe

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and also written on the islands, and

these islands which we sit. How did

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your perspective change when you

began to visit some of these, what

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Europeans would called, remote

outposts?

Well my choices are to go

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to places I had never been before

and didn't know much about. The idea

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was more about learning and

extending what I already knew.

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It was a voyage of discovery?

Exactly.

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Sometimes I went to places which,

their history coincided, you go to

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Baku, it used to be a part of the

Russian empire but many of the

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places were completely foreign to

me, so all the more interesting for

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that.

It's a fascinating catalogue. All of

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little known places of the world,

what was the first point at which

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you felt on this journey, you were

really on to something here, you

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didn't know the story of this place

and it's telling you something you

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had never thought of before?

I had

that feeling very often indeed. Of

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course I could communicate better in

some places than others. I went to

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Mauritius, an outpost if ever there

was one but found a speak, a French

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Creole but found a speaker, which

was interesting, that I could speak

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to people, learn and read books and

so on but less son when you go to

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Malaysia.

You were inevitably the outsider?

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Every-I was but I did, still get

under the skin, often. I went to

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Texas and wrote an essay about the

very first American settlers in

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Texas and lo and behold, I was able

to spend a day with the descendent

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of one of the 300, the first group

of American settlers in Texas. So I

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was an outer but still I tried to

communicate with people at much as

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possible. I spent 40 years writing

about a tiny corner of the world.

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Now you've got to see, to get a

taste of the rest of it, and the

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rest, it is, of course, enormous. So

you can't become an expert on these

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places but you get a feel of how

things developed, where people's

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came from, what are the relations

between the different continents

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that I went to.

You have split your life for a long

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time between this country and

Poland, coming back to Europe,

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having undertaken this journey and

having processed the thoughts that

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make up this book, has your view of

Europe changed?

Inevitably, Europe

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now for me is a much smaller place.

I used to think it was almost all

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the world. Now I see that Europe is

a small particular, of a very much

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bigger Continent. Of course, no-one

will ever get to understand all of

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the complications but at least while

you can still think reasonably

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clearliy, you need to get a sense of

the size of the globe and the

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complexities of human history and so

on.

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When you are talking about migration

as such an important component of

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human history, it puts into

perspective the panic and the

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political difficulty that we go to

cross Europe at the moment, because

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of migration, there's a consequence

of water shortages in Africa and war

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in the Middle East. It does tend to

say look, there is more under the

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sun?

Absolutely. You begin to see

yourself looking like you are

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watching the Romans coming over the

rise in the 4th, 5th century. Most

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of historical change is not smooth.

It happens with leaps and bounds and

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intervals between. But we are living

through a phase where humanity is on

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the march.

Our little hard continent is the

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target destination for many of them

at the moment.

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You've been writing history for half

a century now, more or less, this is

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an extraordinary work to have come

up with in the sense that the sheer

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volume of work that is involved

putting this together in unknown

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places, you know, dealing with

cultures of which you yourself say

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you knew very little, wanting to get

it right, bringing an academic focus

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to, what a thing to take on?

Well

I've done that before. I don't know

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where I will do it again.

It's just what you do?

Of course,

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and it is a learning exercise,

preventing ourselves going stale by

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write being the same things all the

time, which is what some historians

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do.

You end the introduction by quoting

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tenson from. Lysses, seeking a new

world. That is what you are doing

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here?

I realise I was in the

category of ageing Ulysses who

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wanted to set sail one more time.

Yes, that was, whether I will ever

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have another voyage, I will never

know.

But you're glad you did?

Oh,

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absolutely. I'm still amazed that I

was able to do it and got to the

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last page.

Norman Davies, author of

Beneath Another Sky, thank you very

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much.

Thank you

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