Exclusive to Prospect online, the full transcript of Peter Jukes's interview with historian and author Tony Judtby Peter Jukes / July 21, 2010 / Leave a comment
Peter Jukes (right) with Judt (middle), 2007
Tony Judt died, surrounded by his family, on the the evening of August 6th, 2010. The New York Times obituary can be read here. This is the full transcript of Peter Jukes’s interview with Tony Judt—conducted earlier this year via email, due to the progress of Judt’s motor neurone disease. The full text of Jukes’s portrait of Tony Judt is featured in the August issue of Prospect, and can be read online here.
Peter Jukes: I’ll start with a confession. Before we first met 12 years ago at the Remarque Forum [a conference Judt sponsored as professor of history at New York University] a joint friend of ours sent me an example of your work—a chapter I think from your 1979 book Socialism in Provence 1871-1914. I must admit my heart sank. I’m sure it was compelling and well documented, but it gave no indication of the liveliness and relevance of the discussion at that Forum, nor of the range of your writing. I think you must have been half way through your compendious history of the whole of post-war Europe at the time.
So my question is: how did you move from the micro-analysis of the French left between two wars to the often global historical issues you address today?
Tony Judt: Remember it was a long process. I started work on my first French history book in 1969; on Socialism in Provence in 1974; and on the essays in Marxism and the French Left in 1978. Conversely, my first non-academic publication, a review in the TLS, did not come until the late 1980s, and it was not until 1993 that I published my first piece in the New York Review. So that’s a 25 year learning curve. Moreover, there was a transitional book: Past Imperfect. This was real intellectual history, but it was also a political intervention and it’s often unclear even to me which way I was leaning in any given chapter.
I don’t think that English historians of my generation or the immediately preceding one were incapable of the bigger picture, whether in form or content. But there was (no longer is) a deep prejudice against “popularization.” Some people did it well—Hobsbawm or Trevelyan—and many people did it badly; but there was no academic reward for it. Recall that AJP Taylor, a truly first-rate historian, diminished his…