Category Archives: Authors

Ann C. Colley on Wild Animal Skins in Victorian Britain

 

Ann C ColleyPosted by Ann Donahue, Publisher

Ann C. Colley (pictured) talks to Ann Donahue about her new book, Wild Animal Skins in Victorian Britain: Zoos, Collections, Portraits, and Maps

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

I had just finished my Victorians in the Mountains: Sinking the Sublime, which had not only appealed to my love of landscape and admiration for climbers, but had also taken me to libraries and clubs on both sides of the Atlantic. It was when I entered the Wellcome Institute on Euston Road that something clicked. The Institute had launched a special exhibit on “Skin” that I found absolutely fascinating. I recall seeing pieces of tattooed skin taken from sailors in the nineteenth century and wondering about the role of skin and identity. Knowing that the role of skin in human portraiture during the Victorian era has been well rehearsed, I turned my thinking to animal skins and portraiture. Before I knew it, I was launched.

Wild animal skins in Victorian BritainYour book connects to so many areas of current interest in the humanities, including animal studies, museums, collecting, sensory studies, and the history of science. Were you surprised at the multiple directions in which your research led you?

No. Indeed I was drawn to the subject because it would do just that. Cultural studies are appealing because they engage so many intersecting disciplines and take one into unusual archives and libraries not open to the general public. Once I began accumulating materials, I immediately saw that the project would fit into the current interest in animal studies, museum studies, theories of portraiture, British colonialism, collecting, theories of touch and skin, as well as in history of science.

You came upon some fascinating characters in the course of your research, including the Earl of Derby. Can you say a few words about him as a collector and his association with Edward Lear?

For several years I have been buying Lear’s watercolor sketches as well as lithographs of his natural history paintings. Through this interest, of course, I knew that between 1831 and 1837, he was employed by the 12th Earl of Derby and later by the Earl’s son to sketch and paint portraits of the wild animals and exotic birds kept on the estate, which was the site of England’s largest private menagerie. To amass their amazing collection, the 12th and the 13th Earls commissioned collectors and agents from all over the world. The resulting correspondence between the 13th Earl of Derby and these agents makes for incredible reading. Lear was privy to this world and to those who worked for and were related to the Earl of Derby.

I was fascinated to learn that collecting animal skins was not just the prerogative of the privileged classes as I would have thought that collecting these specimens would be extremely costly. How common was this form of collecting among working- and middle-class individuals?

There are several studies of the working class and their interest in science, particularly those that discuss the fact that mill owners and manufacturers often encouraged their employees to learn as much as they could about the sciences so as to create a more knowledgeable workforce. Jane Camerini, John M. MaKenzie, E.P. Thompson, and Katie Whitaker, among others, have all written on the topic. For me, the most convincing and vivid evidence came from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton in which she makes a point of mentioning that the working-class men of Manchester were “warm and devoted followers” of the “more popularly interesting branches of natural history.” They “knew the name and habitat of every plant within a day’s walk from their dwelling.” Her character Job Legh, a self-educated spinner, who has access to the Liverpool docks where sailors would return with exotic specimens, is one of these “warm and devoted followers.”

In some ways, the interest in animal skins strikes me as analogous to the Victorians’ passion for travel writing. What was it about these specimens that was so appealing?

I, myself, travel to exotic places and write accounts of my sometimes disastrous adventures and have found that the wild life of a place is what defines the experience for me. When I was working on Wild Animal Skins, I discovered a similar impulse was at work among the Victorian public, who were fascinated by exotic birds and animals in faraway lands and would go to great lengths to see exhibits of these, to collect them (though I hasten to add I do not own any taxidermy specimens!), and to learn as much as it could about them. As I say in the introduction to my book “skin was not only a basic ingredient of portraiture but also the site of encounter with the exotic world.”

Many people would find a home adorned with animal skins from so-called exotic locales shocking and collecting such specimens is often illegal. Was the collecting of wild animal skins controversial during the Victorian era?

No. Unlike many, perhaps most, people today, the Victorians experienced little sense of guilt in looking at, owning, arranging, and admiring stuffed birds and animals. They rarely, if at all, thought about extinction. Even Darwin shot the last fox on the Galapagos Island. For them the distant world was full of plenty. That is not to say the Victorians were insensitive to the pain inflicted on animals. One has to remember that it is in the Victorian period that the antivivisectionists were active. I am not sure why, but taxidermy is coming back in style. One can go to a booth at a market in London to learn how to remove the skin of a bird or a mouse and stuff it. At a wedding recently I met a person from Brooklyn who practices taxidermy in her apartment. Skin will always elicit pleasure, disgust, and curiosity.

About the Author: Ann C. Colley is a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University College of New York at Buffalo. She has published numerous articles and books, including Victorians in the Mountains, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Colonial Imagination, Nostalgia and Recollection in Victorian Culture, The Search for Synthesis in Literature and Art: The Paradox of Space, Edward Lear and the Critics, and Tennyson and Madness.

Sara Khan on the battle for British Islam

Following the attacks in Paris last week, one of the contributors to our book Sensible Religion, Sara Khan, spoke on the BBC Panorama programme ‘The Battle for British Islam’. The programme is available to UK viewers on BBC iPlayer.

Sara Khan is Director and Co-Founder of Inspire, a non-governmental advocacy organisation (NGO) working to counter extremism and gender inequality. Her chapter in Sensible Religion is entitled “Retrieving the equilibrium and Restoring Justice: Using islam’s egalitarian teachings to Reclaim women’s Rights”.

The chapter examines Islam’s teachings on women’s rights and the purpose of shariah as a dynamic and sophisticated process for establishing equilibrium, securing justice and serving the public interest. It also explores the dominance of a literal decontextualized and patriarchal interpretation of Islam’s religious texts which has influenced sections of Muslim thought. It outlines the historical and contemporary reality of some Muslims, in manipulating and misusing Islam for their own authority whether political, economic or social to those Muslims who through the combined use of modern day Islamic law and international human rights law have secured the rights of Muslim women.

Read the full text of the chapter in Sensible Religion here.

Greetings from the new Acquisitions & Marketing Executive for Aviation

Posted by Leigh Norwich, Acquisitions & Marketing Executive

Leigh NorwichI’m very pleased to introduce myself in my new role, as Acquisitions & Marketing Executive for Ashgate’s Aviation list! I’ve worked with Ashgate in both commissioning and marketing roles since 2008; I’ll now be acquiring Aviation titles and expanding the list into new areas. My dual role means that I’ll be collaborating with authors from the earliest stages of proposing a book, through to marketing and promotion—establishing a unique long-term publishing partnership.

For those of you who know Guy Loft: he’s not going anywhere! Guy will focus on developing our human factors and ergonomics list, though he’ll remain involved with the aviation list through the end of 2015.

I work from our US office in Burlington, Vermont, but I welcome new projects from around the world. Please send any book ideas or proposals to me at lnorwich@ashgate.com.  You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter (@theleighside).

I’ll be attending the 2015 A3IR conference in Phoenix, AZ, USA, 15-17 January, and invite anyone attending to stop by the Ashgate table and say hello. Whether in person or by email, I look forward to many interesting future conversations—and to exciting new Aviation books!

J. A. Szirmai

The staff at Ashgate who worked with J. A. Szirmai, author of The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding (1999), were sad to hear that he died on the 2nd December 2014 at the age of 89.

Professor Szirmai spent twenty years in medical research and became a Professor of Medicine before making a name for himself as a professional bookbinder (some of his work can be seen here) and eventually turning to scholarship in the history of binding techniques.

His name has become virtually synonymous with his great reference work The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding, which covers the evolution of binding from the introduction of the codex two thousand years ago to the close of the Middle Ages. The many kind words from reviewers across the globe – a small selection of which can be read below – are testament to Szirmai’s great and lasting impact on the scholarly world.

‘All book historians owe Dr Szirmai an enormous debt of gratitude for having written it.’    The Library

‘A book literally without peer’    Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America

‘Szirmai deserves our indebtedness for a magisterial work which constitutes a milestone in the field of the archaeology of the book, qualifying the author as the first true archaeologist of the binding structure.’    CAB Newsletter

‘Reading it, and then trying to describe it to another person is like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone who has never seen it: in the end, you can only say, “You had to be there to understand.”’    Abbey Newsletter

‘The most important single contribution to the history of bookbinding to appear for many decades’    Guild of Booksellers Newsletter

Our sincere condolences to his wife, Mia, and to his family, friends, and those that have been influenced by his extraordinary scholarship.

Call for papers, AHA 2016 – Women & Diplomatic Culture in Early Modernity

Posted by Erika Gaffney, Publishing Manager

Call for papers, AHA 2016 – Women & Diplomatic Culture in Early Modernity (Organizers:  Silvia Z. Mitchell & Erika Gaffney)

Abstracts are invited for papers about “Women & Diplomatic Culture in Early Modernity,” for a possible SSEMW Co-Sponsored Session at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta, January 2016.

We seek papers from a range of disciplines — including, but not limited to, history, art history, literary studies, court studies, and historical geography — which address the nexus between early modern women and diplomacy in any geographical region or culture, during the time period c. 1400-1700.  Papers might focus on:

  • Women as diplomats
  • Wives of diplomats, as effecting or affected by diplomatic culture
  • Servants, landladies, courtesans, or other roles women may take in the context of a diplomatic entourage
  • Dynastic diplomatic cultures
  • Women and gift-giving practices
  • Female diplomatic networks (royal and aristocratic marriages, letter writing, gift exchanges, diplomatic visits)
  • Female diplomatic spaces: courts, households, convents
  • Fashion and diplomacy

Abstracts (up to 300 words) for papers 20 minutes in length should be submitted by January 13, 2015, by email, to Silvia Mitchell (mitch131@purdue.edu) and Erika Gaffney (egaffney@ashgate.com).

How to Work with a Scholarly Press – At a Conference, Reprise

Originally posted in March 2013 by Whitney Feininger; revised and reposted by Erika Gaffney

In the run-up to a bloc of important annual conferences of academic organizations, we thought it would be helpful to author-scholars for us to reprise an earlier post, with advice on the ins and outs of interacting with publishing representatives as scholarly meetings.

Ashgate attends a number of academic conferences per year. You can see the list of attended conferences and which Ashgate staff member will be attending here. At each conference we’ll have a number of our new books in subject area on display and representatives from our marketing and commissioning staffing the booth.

Please be aware that conferences can get quite busy for an acquisitions editor, and the editor may not be available for “drop by” meetings on site.  If you have a proposal for a book that you wish to discuss with an Ashgate editor, your best bet is to make an appointment with the commissioning editor in advance of the meeting.  A list of names and email addresses for Ashgate’s acquisitions staff can be found here: http://www.ashgate.com/contact

Dos and Don’ts

  • If possible, locate the booth ahead of time. Our booth number and location should be printed in the conference materials.
  • Have your “elevator pitch” – a brief description of your book project – ready
  • Don’t give your commissioning editor a lot of documents.  Do give the commissioning editor one of your business cards and make sure to take one of the editor’s.
  • If you can miss a session, try to meet with the editor then. Coffee breaks tend to be a very busy time at the book exhibit. Please understand that the editor will probably need to stay at or near the booth, especially when they are the only press representative staffing the booth.
  • Do follow up with your commissioning editor, via email, with your proposal documents or just to say hello. If a lot of time passes between the conference and submitting your proposal, mention that you spoke at the conference.
  • Do stop by and greet the staff. If a commissioning editor is not attending a conference, take a moment speak with the marketing staff. They can answer questions about Ashgate and can put you in touch with the proper commissioning editor.  And make sure to take a look at the newest books in your field!

Book launch at the Frick Collection for British Models of Art Collecting and the American Response

Posted by Luana Life, Marketing Executive

Join Inge Reist, editor of British Models of Art Collecting and the American Response: Reflections Across the Pond for a book launch at The Frick Collection (1 East 70th Street, NYC), Wednesday, December 17 at 4.30pm. She will present a brief overview of the book, and will be joined by Ashgate series editor Michael Yonin, who will discuss The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700–1950.  Signed copies will be available for purchase.

British models of art collecting and the american responseThis collection of fourteen essays by distinguished art and cultural historians examine points of similarity and difference in British and American art collecting. Half the essays examine the trends that dominated the British art collecting scene of the nineteenth century. Others focus on American collectors, using biographical sketches and case studies to demonstrate how collectors in the United States embellished the British model to develop their own, often philanthropic approach to art collecting.

Learn more about British Models of Art Collecting and the American Response