British-Jewish historian receives knighthood

Simon Schama, a historian of art, Britain, France and the Jewish people, was honored for “services to history.”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

British Jewish historian Simon Schama got an early birthday present Tuesday when he was awarded a knighthood by Prince William at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace.

The honor was given for his “services to history” a week before the historian’s 74th birthday.

Schama has authored 18 books on British, American, French and Dutch history as well as on art, a number of which have garnered prestigious book prizes as well as commercial success. Some have accompanied BBC documentaries that he wrote and presented.

Perhaps the most popular among the series was the 15-part “A History of Britain,” which aired on British TV between 2000 and 2002.

In 2001, he received his first order of chivalry, CBE, (Commander of the Most Excellent of the British Empire), which rewards contributions to the arts as well as to society.

Inspired by story of the Jewish people

Schama also did a five-part documentary, shown in 2013, that covered the 3,000-year history of the Jews. It garnered critical and popular success in England as well as in the United States, where it aired the following year.

In an interview with JTA at the time, he said the project was very important to him on a personal level.

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“I knew I had to have a go at this before I died,” he told the news agency, adding that the story of the Jewish people “made me want to be a historian.”

Disturbed by Labour party anti-Semitism

Schama is a Labour Party supporter. In 2017, he penned a letter to Britain’s The Times with prominent Jewish writers Simon Sebag Montefiore and Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson, decrying the growing anti-Semitism in the party under Jeremy Corbyn.

Schama was born in England to an Ashkenazic mother whose family came from Lithuania and a Sephardic father whose roots were in Turkey. He has bounced back and forth between the U.K. and America during his career, lecturing in such prestigious universities as Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Columbia.

He is currently a professor of History and Art History at Columbia. His latest TV documentaries were done last year, when he wrote and presented half the episodes of a British series called Civilisations, a reboot of the 1969 series by late British art historian Kenneth Clark.