David Whitley on The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation

Posted by Emily Ferro, Marketing Coordinator

The Idea of Nature in Disney AnimationThe Idea of Nature in Disney Animation by David Whitley has been chosen by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our Literary Studies list. The following is a guest blog post by the author, reflecting on his motivations for publishing his book and the experiences he’s had with it since its publication.


I was delighted to be asked by Ashgate to contribute a few reflections on The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation, even though – as may soon become apparent in this piece – I may well be the world’s most inexperienced blogger. There’s a pressure to keep moving forward all the time in academic life – producing new perspectives and keeping up with developments in your area – so that the opportunity to reflect back on a book that occupied a lot of time and energy over a significant period in my life (and even changed my outlook on many things in the end) is really welcome.

So – looking back, what was it all about? The idea behind the book was really quite simple – in some ways simple-minded, even. Like many other people in our uncertain times, I’d become preoccupied with trying to understand how our relationship to the natural world was changing and what kinds of positive response we might be able to make to what was widely viewed as an impending environmental crisis. As an academic whose field was literary and film studies, with a particular orientation towards children’s literature, I was especially interested in the kinds of stories and images we produce to make sense of our complex relationship to nature. Watching Disney films with my own kids over a number of years, I realized (this is perhaps what Simpson’s argot would describe as a ‘Doh!’ moment) that these movies had been centrally preoccupied with animals and nature from the time Disney started making feature length animations in 1937. Millions of children all over the world watched these movies repeatedly as they were growing up. So the Disney tradition constituted one of the most significant cultural repositories of imagery and stories connecting children to nature in the world. A great project for a book, in other words, trying to make sense of this connection and the different ways it had been developed in the history of Disney’s filmmaking.

So that was the simple bit – and, to be honest, when I thought about it, I was amazed no one had written a book-length study on such an important topic from this perspective before. The complication lay in that word ‘connecting’ children to the natural world, though. Most of the academic writing that existed on this topic (which was surprisingly limited, actually – most critics choosing to take Disney to task on issues of race and gender, rather than environment) critiqued the films on the premise that their effect on children was to disconnect them from, rather than connect them to, the natural world. The images of nature that Disney offered were considered to be sanitized, sentimental and cute, peddling a false and potentially damaging view of nature to vulnerable young minds.

There was a certain stringency and deconstructive force in adopting this kind of stance, but, the more I thought about it, the more one-sided this also seemed to be. Where Disney criticism focused on images of nature it tended either to read through the animals figured in the films immediately – seeing them as thinly veiled ciphers for human types that embodied culturally conservative agendas – or to upbraid the filmmakers for making the animals too cute and anthropomorphic. This seemed to me to be only half the story, though. So I came up with an alternative kind of strategy for reading the films, which I suppose you could say is close to what the anthropologists call ‘thick description’. In other words I tried to take the surface detail seriously – without being naïve about the distinctive lens through which nature was seen in the movies – taking account of the degree to which the animals retained elements of their ‘animalness’ in the films, and teasing out the implications of this in relation to a wider range of ideas about the environment that seemed relevant. What I hoped to do was to open up the films in some fresh ways and to see what their potential might be for speaking to some of the most important issues facing us in the 20th and 21st centuries, particularly as seen from perspectives to which a child audience could relate.

I don’t know how successful this was but the first edition of the book got generally appreciative reviews, as well as stirring a degree of skepticism and debate in the media. Ursula Heise, whose important work has both challenged and moved forward my own thinking on the idea of a global environmental imaginary, was kind enough to say that the book had opened up sophisticated ways of thinking about popular animation’s potential, which she was developing further herself. In 2012 Ashgate wanted to publish a paperback edition, and this gave me the opportunity to update it with a new chapter on WALL*E, which I think has significantly extended the scope of the book’s arguments.

What has become apparent to me since the second edition was published is that there are a lot of unexplored perspectives in this area that a number of scholars now seem to be working on. My book focused on images of wild nature in Disney, as a way of cutting a potentially huge topic down to size.  I now have a PhD student who is working very interestingly on images of urban environments in popular animated films. Her work problematizes a number of the issues I was trying to address from a quite different perspective. Consideration of the various ways we are entangled with the natural world in our urban environments is now being explored by cultural geographers and in important strands of new nature writing too, of course.

Quite a few significant Disney films also focus on domesticated animals or pets, as opposed to wild animals. A number of writers have written very insightfully about the problematic role pet animals play in contemporary society and there are some fine analyses of both Disney and Pixar films on this theme in Zoe Jaques’ recent book on children’s literature and the posthuman. Clearly there is an enormous amount of vital new thinking going on currently in the areas of animal studies, theories of place and environment, and ecocriticism more generally. The usefulness of considering these in relation to the Disney-Pixar traditions is that the issues come into focus in the context of narratives that engage and fascinate so many children and young people worldwide. I suspect this will continue to be a richly significant vein for scholars to explore, and I’m pleased to have been able to make a small contribution to the ensuing debates.


About the Author: David Whitley is Lecturer in English in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK.

Our Children and Other Animals – Unlearning Our Concept of Animals

Posted by Michael Drapper, Marketing Executive

This article originally appeared on Ruby Roth’s We Don’t Eat Animals blog. Ruby’s three illustrated children’s books, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, Vegan is Love and V is for Vegan, are discussed in Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart’s Our Children and Other Animals. You can read Ruby’s full article here.


I am boggled and honored to have my children’s books academically analyzed by two university lecturers, Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart.  Their book, Our Children and Other Animals: The Cultural Construction of Human-Animal Relations in Childhood, includes quite a discussion of my work—the imagery and representation of animals, my illustration techniques, compositions—how they all help young readers conceptualize their relation to animals. I’ve taken many art history courses and have always been leery of my teachers’ analyses of artworks. As an artist, myself, and having drawers full of unfinished work I’d never want anyone to see, I imagine that maybe even Degas would have scoffed at the heavy meaning assigned to any one of his works—maybe a painting he would’ve wanted to throw in the garbage. Having my work in the hot seat, though, I have to say, Cole and Stewart shocked me with their accuracy. I was stunned at the clarity with which they perceived not only my intentional illustrative strategies, but subconscious decisions, too.

They captured emotions I felt while painting these books, unspoken messages I wanted to relay to my potential young readers, and they beautifully articulated many of the underlying, tacit motives for designing the book as I did—from the animals’ eyes to the composition of racing animals running to an implied, but invisible end.


If you love sociology and the study of veganism, too, this academic book is a fascinating look at how we come to relate to animals and what we need to address in order to change the status quo. It’ll exercise your mind and help you discuss veganism even more intelligently with others, too. Especially kids.


Our children and other animalsOur Children and Other Animals focusses on the socialization of the human use of other animals as resources in contemporary Western society. The book explores the cultural reproduction of human-nonhuman animal relations in childhood with close attention to the dominant practices through which children encounter animals and mainstream representations of animals in children’s culture – whether in terms of the selective exposure of children to animals as ‘pets’ or as food in the home or in school, or the representation of animals in mass media and social media. As such Our Children and Other Animals reveals the interconnectedness of studies of childhood, culture and human-animal relations.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Phil Niblock.


Interview with Phil Niblock:

Phill Niblock has been developing his layered drone pieces for nearly forty years, working with multi-tracked sampled recordings of solo instruments that combine to produce a vibrant beating of fractionally detuned difference and sum tones. Heard live, the physical impact of his work is powerful: the chaotic richness found within the wall of sound he presents takes time to emerge, but once attuned to reveals an interweaving of dense oscillating counterpoint. The scale of his pieces is important too in this regard: most average around 20 minutes, a duration which is essential for this attuning process. I first heard Niblock’s live performance in Ostrava in 2001. He was midway through his annual European concert tour and spent a morning playing five pieces accompanied by his films of people working. Although I had heard some of his music on CD previously, this had not prepared me for its live performance. As with my early encounters with the work of many of the people interviewed here, it was an experience which changed how I thought about music.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 11 May 2007.

Read the full interview here.


The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicAll the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

Museum and Heritage publishing in 2015 – a few highlights

Managing cultural heritageIn the areas of museum policy we are pleased to publish two new titles this year, Managing Cultural Heritage by Luca Zan and colleagues and Copyrighting Creativity edited by Helle Porsdam, which explores the relationship between intellectual property, creativity and cultural heritage institutions.  In Kali Tzortzi’s excellent Museum Space she highlights the importance of museum architecture and display in shaping visitors’ experiences.

museums migration and identity in europeWe’re also publishing two more titles resulting from the MeLA project, Museums, Migration and Identity in Europe edited by Chris Whitehead and colleagues, and Cultural Networks in Migrating Heritage by Perla Innocenti. 9781472448132.PPC_PPCIn the area of education we’re delighted that Helen Chatterjee has returned to publish her next book with us, a collection with Leonie Hannan on Engaging the Senses: Object-Based Learning in Higher Education and in another collection From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum the authors discuss the ways in which the museum could use its collections, cultural authority and resources to give voice to the underprivileged, and take an active part in contemporary and controversial issues.

From museum critique to the critical museumOur 2015 museum and heritage studies catalogue is available to view on our website.   The catalogue showcases the breadth and depth of the Ashgate lists in museum theory and practice, collecting and museum history, art business and cultural management, and heritage studies more broadly.

There are many more titles to explore on the website with our history of material culture list growing in size and stature along with a clutch of new key titles in our Heritage, Culture and Identity series.

Whatever your professional job or academic discipline we hope that there will be many recent and new books to interest you.  If you are thinking of writing a book and have a proposal you’d like to discuss with us, even if at an early stage, please feel free to contact us.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Rhodri Davies.


Interview with Rhodri Davies:

The work of the group of the younger generation of improvisers subsequently labelled New London Silence has been important to my own development as a composer. Their interest in quiet, carefully placed sounds came at a time when I was beginning to engage with similar material in my own notated work, and this was reinforced by knowing Rhodri Davies from his time as a postgraduate in Huddersfield in the mid-1990s. His interest in improvisation developed from around then – I was at his first improvised performance – and grew into a music which has been extremely influential over the past decade. His response to the prevailing conditions was to do the opposite, initially looking to small gestures and silence as a way of reassessing conventions, but more recently exploring a wider palette of sounds, expanding the scope of his instrumental preparations. He describes this as a gradual process, one which developed organically: it is mirrored by his approach to group work, where his strategy is to challenge himself to work against the grain. This is not to say he is deliberately reactionary: these trajectories are creatively necessary to stimulate change. Davies also works regularly with notated music, and has commissioned much new work for the harp. He draws a clear line between his work as an improviser and his expectation of notated music written for him however. The music’s identity must not be reliant on a mining of his resources as an improviser, a view echoed by other practitioners concerned about the appropriation of their work by composers.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 9 October 2007


The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

June 2015 anniversaries: Magna Carta and Waterloo

Posted by Hattie Wilson, Senior Marketing Executive

With two important anniversaries coming in June, we thought that we should update you on the special events that are planned throughout the world to honour these landmark moments in European history.

Magna Carta

On the 15th June 1215, the Magna Carta was agreed by King John of England at Runnymede. This important document is now held by the British Library and the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury. On 3rd February this year, the four original texts were displayed together by the British Library for one day only.

To celebrate 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta, British artist Cornelia Parker has been commissioned to create a new piece for the British Library. This is to be unveiled on 15th May and displayed until July. Additionally, Lincoln Castle have built a new visitors centre which displays the original text from 1215 alongside the second issue of the Magna Carta: The Charter of the Forest.

Royal Holloway has built a Magna Carta themed app for the anniversary. Students made Runnymede Explored which explains the history of the Great Charter and the associated historical sites.

Magna Carta events include a range of diverse and exciting projects, from The Globe staging Shakespeare’s King John to a series of international lectures. You can find out more about the Magna Carta events by clicking here.

Ashgate publishes a range of titles exploring the history of law from the medieval period right through to the twentieth century. You can view the full list of titles here, or there are a few relevant titles listed below:

  • King John (Mis)Remembered
  • Ideas and Solidarities of the Medieval Laity
  • The Theory and Practice of Revolt in Medieval England
  • Rulership and Rebellion in the Anglo-Norman World
  • Imprisoning Medieval Women
  • Bridging the Medieval-Modern Divide
  • Law as Profession and Practice in Medieval Europe
  • The Profession and Practice of Medieval Canon Law
  • Conflict in Medieval Europe
  • Ritual, Text and Law
  • Bishops, Texts and the Use of Canon Law
  • Feud, Violence and Practice
  • Alternate Histories and the Early Modern Topical Cluster of King John Plays
  • Markets, Trade and Economic Development in England and Europe, 1050-1550

Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on 18th June 1815, just south of Brussels. Commemorative events are taking place throughout Europe, including a large-scale re-enactment on the bicentenary itself, with thousands of actors, horses and canons. The English Heritage have a special ‘Waterloo 1815’ exhibition displayed at Wellington Arch, which includes handwritten orders from Wellington, his sword and a pair of original ‘Wellington boots’. The Royal Museums Greenwich, Windsor Castle and the National Portrait Museum are just some of those with special events devoted to the Battle, Wellington or Napoleon. To view a full list of the planned dedicated collections and events, simply visit the National Army Museum’s website.

Ashgate publish a number of titles on the Battle of Waterloo, and on Maritime History  generally. Below are a few suggested titles, or you can click here for more on Maritime History.

  • Inside Napoleonic France
  • Resisting Napoleon
  • Staging the Peninsular War
  • Naval Court Martial, 1793-1815
  • Representing the Royal Navy

A fresh view of religion and society in the Diocese of St Davids since the Reformation

This is a guest post from Professor William Gibson, Oxford Brookes University, editor of Religion and Society in the Diocese of St Davids 1485–2011


The post-Reformation diocese of St Davids may not at first sight seem a particularly prepossessing topic for a collection of essays. The city of St Davids, with a population of just 1,600 today, lies over seventy miles west of Swansea in beautiful but remote countryside. The diocese of which it is the capital spread over much of south Wales until it was divided in the 1920s. But however remote and distant from the metropolitan centres of England and Wales it was, the diocese was a religious crucible in the post-Reformation centuries. Despite being the place from which Henry Tudor invaded the country in 1485, and in which some Tudor ancestors were buried, St Davids did not avoid the turbulence of the Reformation. Robert Ferrar, bishop in 1555, was burnt in Carmarthen for his stubborn Protestantism. In the following century the diocese was the home of the translation into Welsh of the Prayerbook, for five years it was part of William Laud’s high church ‘laboratory’ as bishop and the source of Rhys Pritchard’s highly influential hymns, Cannwyll y Cymry.

Perhaps more astonishing is how the diocese became the home for three major religious movements: the Welsh Puritan movement of the seventeenth century, the evangelical ‘revival’ of the eighteenth century which made Wales the stronghold of Calvinistic Methodism for two centuries and (in addition to a string of minor revivals in the nineteenth century), the 1904-5 Evan Roberts revival. The reason why the people of South Wales became so committed to revival is unclear but the enthusiasm for them and the effect they had on the lives of the poor has perhaps been underestimated. Equally underestimated is the interest that ordinary people in Wales took in theology and theological differences. Even today many Welsh villages have three, four or five chapels of different denominations; in the past this meant that tradition, teaching, family and other ties drew the past one chapel to worship at another. It is one of the condescensions of history to assume that, in the past, matters of theology and religious ideas were ‘beyond’ the reach of most people. In fact the diocese was home to a long succession of distinguished theologians (Jeremy Taylor, George Bull, Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris, Connop Thirwall, Rowland Williams ). It also housed a series of significant theological institutions: Trefecca College, the United Theological College at Aberystwyth, the Carmarthen Academy, the Memorial College at Brecon and St David’s College, Lampeter. It probably offered more theological educational opportunities than any area in the rest of Britain.

One of the ways in which Welshmen and women identified with their religious and political traditions was through the celebration of St Davids Day and in the nineteenth century, as mass participation in public events grew, the day and the saint were appropriated by all sorts of religious and political groups keen to demonstrate their popularity and association with Wales through celebration of St Davids Day. So groups of all political, social and religious complexion wrapped themselves in the black and yellow flag of St Davids.

In such an environment, disestablishment of the Anglican Church became a ‘project’ of the Nonconformist churches and the Liberal Party. Like other aspects of Welsh history it has become the source of many myths. One of which is to overlook that, despite other claims, the true architect of the new Church in Wales was Bishop John Owen of St Davids –who even came up with the name ‘Church in Wales.’

Religion and society in St DavidsAll these themes, and more, are the subject of essays in Religion and Society of the Diocese of St Davids 1485-2011, edited by John Morgan-Guy and me. And the story is brought up to date with a final essay on the diocese since 1926, surveying the bishops and the principal changes in the area in the last century.

Professor William Gibson, Oxford Brookes University