What are you reading? – 24 January 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 24, 2019
A woman reading in an armchair
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Maria Delgado, professor and director of research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading Ann Heilmann’s Neo-/Victorian Biographilia and James Miranda Barry: A Study in Transgender and Transgenre (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). “Barry was a medical officer in the British army who pioneered important reforms between 1813 and 1859. Credited with performing one of the first successful Caesarean deliveries, he was appointed inspector general of military hospitals and played a significant role in improving soldiers’ health and welfare. On his death in 1865, it was discovered that Barry was born a woman, so fuelling a continuing fascination with this remarkable surgeon. His identity remains as difficult to lock down in death as it was in life. Ann Heilmann’s compelling book looks at how Barry’s story has been refashioned in biography, prose fiction, short story and biodrama – cultural works that, like their subject, defy easy categorisation.”


R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading W. G. Hoskins’ Provincial England: Essays in Social and Economic History (Macmillan, 1965). “Hoskins (1908-92) is celebrated chiefly as the principal founder of the modern academic disciplines of English local history and landscape history. But through his journalism and radio and television broadcasts he was undoubtedly also their chief populariser; he became a minor household name. This volume collects together 11 of Hoskins’ essays published mainly in the 1950s, glorying in the rich diversity of provincial life in town and countryside. Fiercely proud of his own descent from Devon yeoman farmers, he writes lovingly of a Leicestershire village, Wigston Magna, where yeoman freeholders defiantly survived until the early 19th century. Marketing and market towns, vernacular architecture and deserted medieval villages are other favourite topics represented in these essays, at times nostalgic for a lost peasant civilisation.”

Jeremy MacClancy, professor of anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, is reading Roger Blackley’s Galleries of Maoriland: Artists, Collectors and the Mãori world , 1880-1910 (Auckland University Press, 2018). “Too often colonial studies concentrate on either the colonisers or the colonised, as though their prolonged encounter didn’t generate its own sub-world. In the study of art, there is even an academic division of labour: researching settlers’ pictures is history of art, investigating indigenous products is social anthropology. Blackley, a New Zealand historian of art steeped in local ethnography, won’t have anything of that tired dichotomy. His eye is focused on the shifting middle ground where Mãori and migrants by turns cooperated and exploited one another, at times in a process of parallel understanding, at others in a state of mutual miscomprehension. Blackley’s tale is peppered with the unexpected. It’s fascinating stuff for any postcolonial; and the reproduction of old photos is superb.” 

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