Interview: Double Loyalties; Historian Simon Schama May Be Better Known in His Native England, but He Prefers Living and Working in a Bigger Pond

By Greenberg, Susan H. | Newsweek International, March 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

Interview: Double Loyalties; Historian Simon Schama May Be Better Known in His Native England, but He Prefers Living and Working in a Bigger Pond


Greenberg, Susan H., Newsweek International


Byline: Susan H. Greenberg

British-born historian Simon Schama, 59, came to America in 1979. Currently a professor at New York's Columbia University and art critic for The New Yorker, Schama is also working on a television adaptation of his three-volume "History of Britain" for the BBC, as well as a new book on Anglo-American relations. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Susan H. Greenberg at his home in Westchester, New York. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: So why did you come to America?

SCHAMA: The crucial thing for me was being Jewish. On my mother's side there was a big [Lithuanian] American family. There was a sense that we were part of England, but also part of some bigger transatlantic world. Being an expat is a doubling, rather than a dividing, of loyalties.

As a child, did you always imagine living in America?

Part of me did. It did feel like a homecoming. I was doing all this eccentric work [at Oxford]--crackpot anthropology and art history and very much going my own way. And at a place like Oxford, with its strong sense of "this is the way history is taught, shut up and just do it," there was no possibility of teaching my enthusiasms. So a very clever friend said, "Come to Harvard for a bit." I was just exhilarated; I wanted to do interdisciplinary things, like teach art history, and that was impossible at Oxford and welcomed at Harvard. …

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