David Levering Lewis
Position: Educational Advisory Board Member
Profession: Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History, New York University
David Levering Lewis's work can best be characterized as comparative history. Beginning his career as a specialist in the Third Republic of France, his Prisoners of Honor: The Dreyfus Affair (1974, UK. 1975) retold that familiar story with new material from French military archives. By then, however, a casual publishing house contact had drawn him into American civil rights history and the writing of King: A Critical Biography (1970, rev. ed. 1978), a biography still in print that remains a staple. Mindful that the civil rights movement of the 1960s was the fruition of antecedent initiatives that were being ignored in the presentism of the times, Lewis produced a monograph on the cultural politics of race relations in the 1920s and early 30s called When Harlem Was in Vogue (1980, rev. ed. 1994), its apt subtitle should have been "Civil Rights by Copyright."
In 1994, The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader was published by Penguin, an edition containing a much reproduced introduction. But Lewis's Third Republic interests had drawn him back to a topic spun off in large part from his Dreyfus researches, but also informed by an interest in Africa after a stint as lecturer at the University of Ghana. The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa (1988, UK 1989. rev. ed. 1994) was an ambitious study of the Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Central African attempts to retard European penetration of the Continent.
Lewis's multiple interests--biography, civil rights, Europe and empire, cultural politics--- seemed to converge in a special synergy. In 1985, he embarked on what became a two-volume life and times of the American intellectual and radical, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. The first Du Bois volume, published in 1993 as W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919, won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Pulitzer. Volume two, W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963 (2000), was a finalist for the National Book Awards and also won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. An edition of Du Bois writings appeared from Henry Holt in 1994: W.E.B. Du Bois A Reader. The shock of 9/11 inspired Lewis's ambitious interpretation of the first interface of Islam and Christendom, God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215, published by Norton (2008) and translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Croatian.