Category Archives: Authors

From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum – a round table discussion

Posted by Helen Moore, Marketing Manager

Ashgate author Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius will be chairing a Round table discussion on 9th September 2015 at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw on the subject of her new book From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum.

From museum critique to the critical museumSince the late nineteenth century museums have been seen as agents of imperialism and colonialism, strongholds of patriarchalism, masculinism, homophobia and xenophobia, and accused both of elitism and commercialism. What can we therefore do to transform museums into places of open, critical discussion, actively supporting social change?

These are the issues tackled in the book From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum, edited by Piotr Piotrowski and Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius (Ashgate, 2015). The Round Table with contributors to the book and art critics at POLIN Museum will be an opportunity to reflect on how museums can get involved in public debates on the most important and controversial topics relevant to today’s society.

The meeting will be dedicated to the memory of Prof. Piotr Piotrowski, one of the editors of From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum and creator of the concept of the Critical Museum. Piotr Piotrowski was a professor at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, visiting professor at many foreign universities, and Director of the National Museum in Warsaw.

Participants of the Round Table include:

  • Jacob Birken – writer and curator, research assistant at the Visual Arts Department, Kunsthochschule Kassel
  • Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett – Chief Curator of POLIN Museum’s core exhibition, University Professor Emerita and Professor Emerita of Performance Studies at New York University
  • John Onians – Professor Emeritus in the School of Art History and World Art Studies, University of East Anglia
  • Alpesh Patel – art critic and curator, Assistant Professor of contemporary art and theory at Florida International University in Miami
  • Jarosław Suchan – art historian and critic, curator, Director of Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi
  • Ewa Toniak – curator, historian, and art critic, pioneer of feminist critique in Poland
  • Krzysztof Żwirblis – artist and curator, initiator of artistic projects carried out in cooperation with local communities

Admission is free and the discussion will be held in Polish and English (simultaneous translation).

More information about the round table discussion

Neil Christie – ‘From Constantine to Charlemagne’ & ‘Urbes Extinctae’

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

Neil ChristieNeil Christie is a long established scholar of late antique and early medieval archaeology, with a geographic focus centred on Italy, but with a much broader field of interest – which has included heading a major archeological project centred on the urban heritage of Wallingford in south Oxfordshire (a late 9th-century burh of King Alfred the Great and a favoured royal seat from Norman times). Here he talks of two of the volumes that he has published with Ashgate in the last decade.

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Sometimes it is easy to identify when the idea of a book first took root. Books can be generated direct from a PhD/DPhil thesis – in a process often surprising quick after the three or more years of building the doctoral edifice – or from a funded research project which has as its ultimate output a monograph; or a book can gather its own form from the accumulation of ideas generated by an array of articles; or your departmental appraiser or head of department will tell you firmly that you’ve a book to write for the next UK University REF exercise.

My titles have come from a variety of sources: the 2006 From Constantine to Charlemagne volume might owe a few elements to my (long unpublished and far too out of date now anyway) PhD and draws on excavations attended and visited since my doctoral days, but largely belongs to an early lecture course at the University of Leicester where I explored themes related to late Roman and early medieval Italy, tackling the archaeological and historical trajectories of cities like Rome and Brescia, questioning the fate of villas and the spread of monasteries, and looking at the impact of new powers such as the Ostrogoths and the Lombards on society and landscape. Realising that all the articles and books in Italian, French and German that I had read were largely beyond my students and seeing the relative dearth of work in English on the period became the prompt to think out the book. From Constantine to CharlemagneBut it was no stallion charging from the starting gates; rather, my beast of burden took plenty of time to graze while other tasks kept me from taking up that particular saddle. When I did take up the challenge the scale had grown – the fences to jump for my academic horse were Grand National-like in terms of researching to sufficient depth in what was and is an ever-growing field. Indeed, as is obvious from scanning through Ashgate’s rich collection of titles, the Late Antique, Byzantine and early medieval epochs are busy with scholars from architectural historians to zooarchaeologists; and Italy in particular has been an extremely active scholarly landscape for AD 500-1000 in the last couple of decades. The task then is getting around the course in fair time, to good effect, showing your rivals your horse is worthwhile, well read and fed, aware of pitfalls, and able to show some new tricks too. And – equally important – is the need to finish the course in good time and not to take too many extra laps. As many an author knows, the finishing is nearly always a bit further than anticipated after the early charge from the gates (doubling the estimate for book delivery from 2 years to 4 is often realistic!)…

From Constantine to Charlemagne is weighty, but, I hope, full and informed and a volume which serves to introduce many to the multiple and varied sources, sites, materials and debates in Italian archaeology for a crucial and challenging timespan. Issues raised in any archaeological work will always be tested by new finds – and some fascinating new excavations have indeed occurred since the book was published – but I feel that my book has helped to stimulate some of the revised debates.

The same goes for the more recent Vrbes Extinctae volume (2012, co-edited by myself and Andrea Augenti), which has received some excellent reviews. Urbes extinctaeWhat we aimed for there was to open a wider field: we can come out with some bland statements sometimes about the demise of classical towns and how archaeology offers insights into this decay, but examples are stale, and so this volume hunted out (largely) active projects and really tried to interrogate them. Each town can be seen as individual in its content, responses, and transformations in the late and post-classical period and giving these voice is crucial. Similarly, we wanted to detail ‘afterlives’ to show that populations did often persist at these sites even as their urban attributes fail; en route, however, we can observe changing attitudes by those people towards the surrounding decay. And the ways we study these places is important: while methods of investigation – open area excavation, remote-sensing, etc. – are evolving and improving, and generating vital data, such new evidence makes us ever more aware of just how much evidence has been removed and destroyed by previous excavators whose focus did not include the often fragile or jumbled post-classical strata. This book too had not straightforward birth: it emerged from a funded EU project that saw archaeologists from four institutions in four different countries (Italy, Spain, Hungary, England) excavating at an early medieval church at the former urban site of Classe near Ravenna in NE Italy; some workshops were arranged to raise questions related to Classe and the Leicester session chose to think more broadly about urban loss in antiquity. Producing a book from the event was a later idea: only a few of the papers presented at Leicester joined the volume; others were commissioned to ensure a wider geographical spread and to use examples of Roman-period loss, Islamic-period decay, sites that breathed urban life only briefly, sites hit by war, and some that just faded.

And like all good edited volumes the Vrbes Extinctae venture has opened up collaborations (actual, planned or potential), contacts and sharing of ideas which, I hope, will lead onto further explorations of Late Antiquity.

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From Constantine to Charlemagne was identified by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our publishing programme. To see the full list of titles chosen by our editors visit, History Editors’ Choices.

 

Museums and Public Value – Carol Scott on tour

Posted by Helen Moore, Marketing Manager

‘“Public value speaks to our time…” writes Carol Scott in the preface to this collection of essays by eminent museum commentators. This important contribution to the debate about museum impact and function deals not only with the philosophy of modern museums, but with the management disciplines that will help museum leaders develop effective strategies to deliver and demonstrate true public value. In a world of economic uncertainty and changing socio-political dimensions, a museum’s ability to do this is critical to its purpose, its mission and its future.’ Alec Coles, CEO, Western Australian Museum

Museums and Public ValueAuthor Carol Scott has a busy conference schedule ahead. In the coming months she will be speaking at the following events on her favorite subject of Museums and Public Value.

Starting in September she will be speaking in Swansea at the Group for Education in Museums annual conference from 8th-10th September.

Carol will be one of the keynote speakers at the Maritime Heritage Forum in Newcastle, from 4th-5th October, speaking on ‘User value, public value and the future of museums’.

In Edinburgh on 22nd October, the Museums and Galleries Scotland Conference theme will be resilience, and Carol’s paper will be ‘Adventures In Measuring Social Value: Can We Prove that Museums Make a Difference?’

Last stop will be the ICOM MPR conference in Yerevan, Armenia 24th-28th October

Carol’s book Museums and Public Value was reviewed recently in Museums World

‘Museums and Public Value makes a significant contribution to the field by bringing together the latest thinking on public value and its application, helping thereby to move the debate forward in terms of its wide-ranging implications for both theory and practice. Readers may well feel empowered to use it to inform their particular area of museum work, as there is ample encouragement and numerous positive examples to be found in the pages of this book.’

If you would like to know more, order the book online or contact Carol online.

About the author

Carol A. Scott lives in London and works with museum leaders in the UK, Europe, North America and Australasia, using value as a core concept in planning, branding, audience engagement, measurement and funding. She is recognised internationally for her expertise in this area and is in demand as a conference presenter and thought leader. Her writing on museums and value has been published in Curator: The Museum Journal, Museum Management and Curatorship, Cultural Trends and the International Journal of Arts Management.

Helen Chatterjee to speak at GEM London Twilight: Museums and wellbeing

Posted by Helen Moore, Marketing Manager

Ashgate author Helen Chatterjee will be taking part in the GEM London autumn twilight series of events. On Wednesday 23rd September she will be talking about her research project Museums on Prescription which seeks to research the processes, practices, value and impact of social prescription schemes in the arts and cultural sector with specific reference to museums.

The event takes place at on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 from 18:30 to 20:00 at UCL Art Museum, London, WC1E 6BT. For more information, and to book tickets, visit the event page.

Museums Health and WelleingHelen’s book Museums Health and Well-Being, co-authored with Guy Noble, published in 2013 set the scene for this research, described at the time as ‘A ground-breaking manifesto for a new movement linking museums and health’ by Constance Classen, Author of The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch

Helen’s next book from Ashgate Engaging the Senses: Object-Based learning in Higher Education, co-authored with Leonie Hannan, explores the use of museum collections as a path to learning for university students. Despite a strong tradition of using lectures as a way of delivering the curriculum, the positive benefits of ‘active’ and ‘experiential learning’ are being recognised in universities at both a strategic level and in daily teaching practice. As museum artefacts, specimens and art works are used to evoke, provoke, and challenge students’ engagement with their subject, so transformational learning can take place. This unique book presents the first comprehensive exploration of ‘object-based learning’ as a pedagogy for higher education in a broad context. An international group of authors offer a spectrum of approaches at work in higher education today.

About the authors: Helen Chatterjee is a Senior Lecturer in Biology in the School of Life and Medical Sciences and Head of Research and Teaching in UCL Public and Cultural Engagement at University College London, UK. Guy Noble is the first appointed Arts Curator of the University College London Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. He is also a trustee of the London Arts in Health Forum. Leonie Hannan is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities at Queen’s University, Belfast. For four years, between 2011 and 2015, she was a Teaching Fellow in Object-Based Learning at University College London, UK.

Waterloo’s bicentenary and the Napoleonic Wars in Portugal and Spain – a guest post from Susan Valladares

Posted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

This is a guest post from Susan Valladares, author of Staging the Peninsular War: English Theatres 1807-1815.

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The year 2015 marks the bicentenary of the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This summer, the Battle of Waterloo has been remembered through Europe-wide celebrations ranging from heritage open days to themed balls, musical concerts, art exhibitions, lectures and even a large-scale re-enactment in Belgium featuring thousands of actors and hundreds of horses. It shouldn’t be forgotten, however, that between 1808 and 1814, Britain’s major contribution to the war effort took place in the Iberian Peninsula.

Napoleon’s opportunistic attempt to invade Portugal and Spain rapidly expanded into a struggle characterised by popular resistance and violent guerrilla warfare, resulting in one of Britain’s largest land campaigns and an Anglo-Spanish alliance that put pressure on hereditary images of Spain as the national bugbear. The Peninsular War, as it came to be known in Britain, saw Arthur Wellesley’s promotion to the Duke of Wellington, a national hero, and constituted an early example of what historians have labelled ‘the total war experience’ – the kind of unrestrained warfare that we generally associate with the First World War.

Staging the peninsular warMy book, Staging the Peninsular War, offers the first in-depth study of theatre-going during this period; exploring how English theatres helped mediate the conflict to the nation at large. It draws on archival research conducted in London, Bristol and Lisbon in order to recover a period considered something of a ‘black hole’ in British theatre history. To this end, the book presents a fully-indexed, and hitherto unpublished Calendar of Plays for Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and Bristol Theatre Royal spanning 1807 to 1815.

Archival research also resulted in the discovery of the book’s colourful cover image, Embotadas de las Siguidillas Boleras. This hand-coloured etching by Marcos Téllez Villar was brought back from Spain for the celebrity actor’s John Philip Kemble’s Madrid Album. Not only does it invite us to interrogate the value of cultural signifiers – such as the Spanish guitar, traditional dress and religion (the female dancer wears a crucifix) – but it also invites us to think about the transmission of objects and narratives more generally. The cover image gestures towards some of my book’s main research questions: Did the theatre offer a platform for cultural redress? How was the Peninsular War depicted on stage? Did representations of Spain and Portugal undergo any significant change as a result of Britain’s campaign in the Iberian Peninsula?

For the answers to these (and many other) questions, I invite you to join me in the recovery of the visually spectacular, politically engaged and pointed wartime plays and entertainments that captured the imagination of contemporary audiences, and can still instruct and entertain us today.

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Staging the Peninsular War is Susan Valladares’ first book. Susan is a Junior Research Fellow and Lecturer in English at the University of Oxford, and is Editor of The BARS Review.

New Series – Cultural Geographies: Rewriting the Earth

Posted by Katy Crossan, Senior Commissioning Editor

Ashgate is delighted to announce the launch of a new series, Cultural Geographies: Rewriting the Earth, with series editors Paul Kingsbury (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and Arun Saldanha (University of Minnesota, USA).

Social and Cultural Geography series postcard

Cultural geography has witnessed profound changes in recent years on three interrelated levels: theoretical, methodological, and socio-political. In terms of theory, new conceptions of culture have emerged which examine social and geographical differentiation as involving objects, affect, nonhumans, mobility, emotion, queerness, assemblage, materiality, the unconscious, biopolitics, relationality, and intersectionality. At the level of methodology, experiments with fieldwork and writing practices demonstrate the extent to which cultural geography has learnt from and contributes to many areas of policy, science, therapy, ethics, aesthetics, and activism. Finally, in terms of the socio-political and engagements with the world outside of academia, cultural geographers are exploring the multiple crises of energy, climate change, nationalism, (sub)urban expansion, loss of biodiversity, inequality, and fragmentation of life under the spell of digital technologies and consumerism.

Contemporary cultural geography cannot be defined simply as a distinctive sub-field within geography (“earth writing”), but rather as an efflorescence of many strands of research exploring cultural phenomena with the shared commitment to spatiality. This new series offers a dedicated space for high-quality and innovative research monographs and edited collections in cultural geography which address the new hopes, dangers, and intensities that are rewriting the earth.

For further information about the series, including details of how to submit a book proposal, please email Senior Commissioning Editor Katy Crossan.

Neville Chamberlain: A Biography – a guest post from Robert Self

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

In this guest post, Professor Robert Self, author of Neville Chamberlain: A Biography and the editor of four volumes of the Neville Chamberlain Diary Letters reflects on the motivations and objectives behind his eight-year project on this much maligned and misunderstood politician and statesman.

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Neville ChamberlainFrom a purely personal perspective, the appearance of my 573 page biography of Neville Chamberlain represented a very satisfying culmination of an eight-year project which began with the publication of four volumes of Neville Chamberlain’s diary letters to his sisters, Hilda and Ida, written weekly from 1915 until shortly before his death in November 1940.

The first of these volumes was published by Ashgate in 2000 with the fourth volume covering the crucial period of Chamberlain’s premiership appearing in 2005. The full-scale biography followed in 2006. My acquaintanceship with the Chamberlain family, however, stretches back to 1975 when my doctoral research first introduced me to the riches contained in the Chamberlain family archives held at Birmingham University Library.

Having produced an edited volume of Austen Chamberlain’s diary letters to his sisters in 1996, my mind turned to the far more ambitious idea of conducting a similar exercise with those of his younger and more famous half-brother. This was always going to be a far more formidable undertaking. Neville was an extremely diligent correspondent, sending lengthy epistles to his sisters at least once a week giving extremely detailed accounts of events and the individuals involved in them. As such, it represents an almost continuous record of British high politics untouched by later efforts to sanitise or correct the historical record with the wisdom of hindsight. Moreover, because this confidential correspondence mattered so much to Chamberlain, in the intimate personal – almost confessional – confines of these letters he was truly able to be himself, sharing his secrets, unburdening himself of his emotions and displaying his strengths and weaknesses of character, his assumptions, prejudices, values and inclinations while he indulged his self-confessed ‘epistolary garrulity’.

Notwithstanding the obviously immense value of this historical record, finding a publisher prepared to give the diary letters the treatment they deserved appeared likely to be a major problem. Certainly, by any standard, this represented a formidable publishing challenge given that there are almost 1200 letters containing nearly 2,000,000 words, spanning a quarter of a century during which Chamberlain stood at the very heart of British politics. Moreover, while possible to omit some of the routine trivia, alongside the valuable political content it was essential to retain enough of his observations concerning the antics of his children and his passion for birdwatching, botany, entomology, gardening, fishing and shooting to reveal that more human side of Chamberlain’s personality which he deliberately obscured beneath a sternly austere and ostensibly humourless demeanour. In the event, I was extraordinarily fortunate to find in Ashgate a publisher who more than fulfilled my highest expectations in terms of both understanding the nature of the task and in the remarkable quality of the volumes produced. Precisely the same can be said about Ashgate’s handling of the Neville Chamberlain biography itself. For all this support and encouragement I owe a particular and very substantial debt of gratitude to Tom Gray.

A variety of factors persuaded me that a full-scale biography was the obvious final stage in my Chamberlain project. First, while editing the diary letters I had conducted extensive research in over 150 collections of private papers on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as exhaustive study in countless official files at The National Archive. As much interesting new material had to be discarded when writing the relatively brief introductory chapters to each volume, the answer seemed to be a full-scale biography. By basing the biography primarily on these contemporary records, I hoped to capture Chamberlain’s own authentic voice as he explains, justifies and rationalises unfolding events and his responses to them. Like Keith Feiling some 60 years earlier, the principal intention was not to excuse or condemn Chamberlain, but rather to ‘let N.C. speak for himself’ in order to understand more clearly why he acted as he did and what he hoped to achieve during a long and dedicated career of public service to his country.

The second motivating factor was essentially historiographical. Despite the fierce controversy which still surrounds Chamberlains reputation, Keith Feiling’s biography of Chamberlain was still regarded as the best and most complete account even though it had been published 60 years earlier and by the author’s own admission it was only of a ‘provisional character’ until other archival sources became available. Since its publication in 1946, there have been astonishingly few other attempts at a single volume biography and those which did appear added little to our understanding of this most enigmatic of politicians. The intention, therefore, was to produce the first comprehensive single volume account of the life, record and achievements of a 20th century politician and statesman of the first rank using all of the archival material available to scholars.

The final motivation was more personal in that I confess to a rankling sense of injustice at many of the less balanced verdicts on Chamberlain’s record – particularly from a vociferous post- or counter-revisionist school. The position adopted in the biography could be best described as that of a qualified ‘revisionist’. On one hand, Chamberlain is undoubtedly guilty of lamentable errors of judgement compounded at times by an unrelentingly fatuous optimism – particularly after March 1938. But on the other hand, there is equally little doubt that Chamberlain quite rightly grasped that Britain was trapped in a vulnerable and reactive position at the mercy of a complex inter-related web of strategic, military, economic, financial, industrial and electoral constraints over which he had little control in the short term. As a self-proclaimed ‘realist’, Chamberlain’s consistent response to this conundrum was thus to pursue what he called ‘the double policy’ of rearmament at a pace the economy could sustain combined with the quest for better relations with the dictators by redressing legitimate grievances. Or as he described his strategy to Lord Halifax on his return from Munich ‘we must hope for the best while preparing for the worst’.

In the event, Chamberlain’s loss of the premiership in May 1940 signalled the far greater loss of his credibility and reputation. As Churchill is once supposed to have quipped, ‘Poor Neville will come badly out of history. I know, I will write that history’. As David Dutton has demonstrated in his outstanding study of Chamberlain’s evolving reputation, this proved to be a remarkably shrewd prediction because for many years Churchill’s highly-coloured version of events held the field unchallenged and unchallengeable. This caricature of the 1930s painted in a compellingly simplistic monochrome of black and white, right or wrong, good versus evil, courage in ‘standing up to Hitler’ versus craven appeasement, still continues to hold sway in popular memory, in television dramas and (more depressingly) in historical texts even to this day.

As a result, Chamberlain remained a profoundly underrated, misjudged and misunderstood figure with his many achievements in the domestic sphere too easily overshadowed by the final three years of his life. Had he died in 1937 he would have gone down in history as a great peacetime minister – a radical but realistic social reformer, a supremely talented administrator and the driving force behind many of the National Governments under-estimated successes after 1931. Above all, in perhaps the most original contribution of this biography, a detailed analysis of Chamberlain’s period as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1931 to 1937 refutes much of the pervasive mythology surrounding this neglected and most woefully misunderstood period of his entire career. Contrary to the standard indictment, as Chancellor Chamberlain was not a passive mouthpiece for the blinkered views of his Treasury officials without the political will, imaginative vision or personal courage to do more than tinker impotently until the so-called ‘natural forces of recovery’ rescued Britain from the Great Depression. On the contrary, Chamberlain actively contributed to the development of innovative Treasury thinking to the extent that he can be regarded legitimately as the founder of a species of pre-Keynesian “managed economy” in Britain between the wars – particularly as the architect of a highly innovative brand of interventionist industrial and regional policy conceived as a fundamental solution to Britain’s long-term industrial problems.

For all the achievements, Chamberlain remains all too often the subject of vitriolic attack simply because perceptions of his long and varied career have been fundamentally blighted by the ultimate failure of his policy of appeasement during the last three years of his life. As he confessed to the Commons on the outbreak of war: ‘Everything I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins’. Unfortunately for Chamberlain, contemporaries and posterity have judged him accordingly. Yet the failure of appeasement is only one explanation for the personal venom so often injected into assessments of the man and his reputation. Ultimately, at the heart of the problem lies Chamberlain’s own quite deliberate attempt throughout his life to obscure the very existence of a deeper and more complex personality lurking behind the austerely forbidding persona. As Chamberlain’s PPS during the late 1930s, Alec Douglas-Home was absolutely correct when he later observed that his political master was ‘a rare complex person, half of him hidden from the world’. For all those excluded from the closed circle of family and a few real intimates, everything about the public face he presented to the world reinforced the impression that he was a man wholly devoid of instinctive warmth, sympathy and even humanity. As Harry Snell put it, his demeanour suggested that he had been ‘weaned on a pickle’. Or as a disgruntled Birmingham constituent is supposed once to have complained, ‘if you cut the bugger in half neither part would bleed’. Again, posterity has often uncritically followed where Chamberlain’s contemporaries led, by focusing far too much on the outwardly cold, smug and supposedly arrogant persona which, in Donald Watt’s view, makes it ‘extremely difficult to like Neville Chamberlain’.

Neville Chamberlain went to his grave in November 1940 absolutely confident that history would vindicate his policy and rehabilitate his reputation. Although this was by far the greatest miscalculation of his entire public career, my biography represents an attempt to at least partially redress the balance by explaining why he acted as he did and the limited range of policy options he confronted. In this respect, it is gratifying to note the biography was generally very well received by reviewers both at home and overseas. The European response is neatly encapsulated by Professor Antoine Capet of the University of Rouen in a lengthy review published in the French journal Cercles: Revue Pluridisciplinaire du Monde Anglophone:

Readers who are already familiar with the copious texts and notes which accompanied Robert Self’s superb edition of Neville Chamberlain’s Diaries will of course expect more than an exhaustive list of facts – and indeed what we have here is a magnificently argumentative interpretation … on top of a superbly authoritative chronicle of events in Chamberlain’s life.

Capet goes on to commend the ‘superb scholarly value’ of this study before concluding with the following verdict:

Since this cannot be the ‘definitive’ Biography, as there is no such notion, one wonders what may remain to be found by future biographers and one pities them. What makes it even more valuable and difficult to improve upon is that Robert Self gives extensive extracts from the Diary Letters which he has so competently edited. … The four volumes of Diary Letters and the Biography form a magnum opus which is likely to remain the state of the art on Neville Chamberlain for many years. Anybody interested in the inter-war years will find the book a capital addition to the existing literature … There is no doubt that this is scholarly academic writing at its best.

Given the generally far more hostile response to Neville Chamberlain in North America, it is encouraging to note that reaction has been equally positive across the Atlantic. Professor Larry Witherall is typical when he notes in the Journal of Modern History (2008, 80.3) that this ‘ exhaustively researched, immensely rich and layered assessment’ offers ‘a measured yet definitive assessment of this most misunderstood British figure’ and that, as such, it is ‘ an impressive and important study’.

The reception given to the biography and Diary Letters by specialist British scholars has been equally favourable. In his review of the Chamberlain biography in History ( June 2007), Professor Andrew Thorpe noted:

Chamberlain was always going to need a very good historian to be his biographer; but, in Robert Self, he has assuredly found one. It is not the least of Self’s achievements that he covers all areas of Chamberlain’s activities convincingly, with a very clear grasp of the secondary literature allied to unusually deep and thorough empirical research on a wide range of archival sources. … Thus, he appears to be as much at home when writing on, say, banking in Birmingham as he is on housing, economic policy or late 1930s diplomacy. The product is an authoritative book that is also highly readable. Self’s portrait of Chamberlain is sympathetic, but far from uncritical. … the context in which Chamberlain was operating is always noticed, and the book never falls into the trap of many political biographies, of facing the individual so much that it lacks wider perspective.

Thorpe thus concludes with the verdict that ‘this volume will rightly stand for many years as one of the very best biographies of a twentieth-century prime minister’. Or as Dr Jeremy Smith comments, Chamberlain’s faith that he would be vindicated by history ‘has at last been rewarded with the appearance of Dr Self’s monumental, and in some ways magnificent, biography… filling a remarkably long-standing lacuna in modern British political biography’. Parliamentary History 26.2, 2007).

While it is obviously pleasing to record that such positive comments were typical of the general response, whether any of this will prompt a more general reappraisal of Chamberlain’s overall reputation remains to be seen. It is at least encouraging to note that there has been some shift in professional opinion generally. In the most extensive academic poll designed to rank 20th Century British Prime Ministers in 2004 it was significant that while political scientists placed Chamberlain in 19th place out of 20, historians ranked him in 14th place. When we turn to the views of the layman and the writers of popular novels and TV dramas, however, there is less scope for optimism. Churchill’s prediction has been fully vindicated. ‘Poor Neville’ has come badly out of history – and, alas, I fear it is likely to remain that way.

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Neville Chamberlain: A Biography was identified by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our publishing programme. To see the full list of titles chosen by our editors visit, History Editors’ Choices.