Category Archives: History

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The history of intelligence and ‘intellectual disability’ – a guest post from C.F. Goodey

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

Enjoy this guest post from C.F. Goodey, author of A History of Intelligence and ‘Intellectual Disability’. Goodey’s book was chosen by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our History publishing programme.

The conceptual history of learning disability (in North America it tends to be called “intellectual” or “developmental” disability) was not long ago a greenfield site. No one had thought there was anything to examine. There were books about the large Victorian institutions where people were incarcerated, but by its very existence this kind of historical research simply reinforced the concept as if it were just a matter of scientific fact what their psychological make-up was. Why should we take that for granted? Would a current list of its characteristics match those of several centuries ago? Go back far enough, and were there even any such people?

A History of Intelligence and Intellectual DisabilityI also wanted to see how this conceptual instability reflected back on our ideas about a specifically human intelligence. After all, intelligence is the main currency in which academic life trades. But history shows it to be as dodgy as money itself. Governments liberally fund “cognitive” geneticists to do pretend science with woolly concepts that have no place in a laboratory. And although a lot of fancy sociologists might agree up with me to a point, I wonder how far they think of their own intelligence as merely relative, and whether they aren’t trying to have their cake and eat it. In the history of ideas, deconstruction has to lead to reconstruction (of the past), which can therefore provide a much firmer basis for scepticism about present-day concepts in the human sciences.

My researches led me to the conclusion – a provisional one as ever, and a radical one I suppose – that these are status concepts and nothing else. The story about a subjective human intelligence and its opposite is usually thought of as starting with psychology as a formal discipline, in the mid-nineteenth century. Earlier, it has been traced at a remote philosophical level. But what was actually running around in people’s heads when they needed to massage their self-respect? I wanted to know how the idea of intelligence and the way in which it casts its own particular out-group emerged from the previous and different ways people had represented their status to themselves and to each other.

From around 1200 to 1700 you represented your social status in terms of honour, and your religious status in terms of God-given grace. Modern concepts of intelligence in the human and psychological sciences (and therefore the concept of intellectual disability) emerged more or less directly from these. The word “idiot” once meant any landless or lay person; and the church catechism, designed to exclude “reprobates”, turned into the IQ test, with a seamlessness easily traceable in the history of literacy of education. My research also led me to reconceive and rewrite the appropriate aspects of medical history.

I had two eureka moments. I had always been fascinated by the role of honour and grace in the Spanish Golden Age drama of Lope and Calderon. Why would people kill or die for the sake of what appear to us to be chimeras? It is easy enough to point out that these were examples of what the historian R.G.Collingwood called “absolute presuppositions”. But historians often choose to forget that he saw these as also involving an interaction with the present. Get to the bottom of past presuppositions, he said, and it may expose a current one. It was easy for me to think, in lazy constructionist fashion, that the concept of human intelligence is chimerical like that of honour or grace. But what I then realised was that in my mass of seemingly unconnected research notes from primary sources lay a clearly traceable, concrete historical development from those two presuppositions to our own. Was I just finding a pattern that I wanted to find? Time will tell.

The second eureka moment of reconstruction involved the classics. Another knee-jerk of mine had been to start with Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics. It soon became clear that, read in context, these thinkers display no concept of a specifically human intelligence or indeed of intellectual disability as we would understand it. That was the easy part. What kept me awake at night was why in that case Aristotle would have said “Man is a rational animal”. Everyone in the middle ages claimed he did, and it was a principle that would eventually feed into the idea of a specifically human intelligence. Everything else about the primary sources was shouting at me that he couldn’t have said it. Yet commentators ancient and modern, including the Lexicon, even give a precise reference. My discovery that in this bit of text he was talking about something else entirely – about logical systems, not about psychology – and of several contemporary sources to back this up, was a major milestone in mapping out for me the foreignness of the past.

A couple of researchers have taken up my overall theme, though I suspect or perhaps merely hope that that it will take thirty or forty years for the ideas to penetrate. In the meantime, I keep putting out accessible materials for the general public and practitioners, and with some colleagues I run a WordPress site I keep applying for funds to do workshops with the public and to produce graphic and web-based materials – so far unsuccessfully, so if there is anyone reading this out there who might want to help ….

At the other end of the spectrum there were some humdrum aspects to my work that I also enjoyed – for example, my obsessive approach to self-help marketing. I wrote a standard blurb so that it wouldn’t look like spam, and sent posts to a couple of thousand relevant faculty members in universities across the world. Spending three summer weeks doing that was a relief for my brain – like frenziedly cleaning the house from top to bottom. The book, despite being a monster hardback, sold out its first print run in two years.

Anyone else out there who is thinking of putting a substantial amount of their research life into one large volume may encounter a few oddities. Some things you may not anticipate, including your own reactions to reviewers. Reviews, it turns out, do not divide into good and bad, they divide into (a) reviewers who have read your book and (b) those who haven’t, and/or (a) those who have understood it and (b) those who haven’t. After all your efforts, you will have no problem appreciating (a) over (b). This holds irrespective of the value they attach to your work. All my reviews were positive except one, but I wasn’t particularly pleased with several of the “good” ones as they were of type (b). The one mainly bad review ended up with intentional sarcasm: “Goodey has bitten off more than he can chew.” The moment I read that, I punched the air and went “Yesssss”. Of course I had bitten off more than I could chew. That is what real research is – any pathbreaking piece of work will be a very, very large bleeding chunk that drips all over the shop. I felt more justified by that one comment than by any review which praised it.

The other unexpected effect comes when you get quoted. It is quite normal for people just to stick your name in an article or book of their own at random, especially with Harvard referencing which is the most cock-eyed way of trying to contribute to human knowledge ever devised. What you may not be prepared for is how often people who cite you and who have read your book will interpret it as saying diametrically the opposite of what you actually said. Is it your own fault, for not having expressed yourself clearly enough? Perhaps, but don’t worry about it, because your prose style can be as clear as a pane of glass and they will still quote you as saying what they wanted you to say (received wisdom) rather than what you actually did say (which turns the world upside down). Put it down to human nature – there’s nothing else you could have done. Perhaps our geneticist friends can discover the reason.

If I were writing the book now, I would start by time-travelling to the future post-publication point where I realised what its logical consequences were and which I had failed to mention. Then I would go back and incorporate these in my writing plan. Absurd, of course. The lesson is: go for it. My screensaver during this period was a quotation from Napoleon. Asked if he attributed his victories to superior strategy, he claimed never to make any plans: “On s’engage, et puis, on voit.” Roughly speaking (military historians can correct me if necessary) he meant: What you have to do first is get stuck in – then take a look around.


Go to our History Editors’ Choices page for a full list of History titles that were selected by our editors.

Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France – a guest post from Robert J Knecht

This is a guest post from Robert J Knecht, whose Variorum Collected Studies volume Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France is due for publication later this year.

The publication of my book Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France coincides with celebrations in France marking the fifth centenary of that king’s accession to the French throne in 1515.

Francis I belonged to an illustrious trio of monarchs who dominated Europe in the early sixteenth century, the others being Henry VIII of England and the Emperor Charles V. Soon after his accession, Francis I led a huge army across the Alps and conquered the duchy of Milan after defeating the Swiss – then reputed the leading military power – at the battle of Marignano. Acclaimed as the new Julius Caesar, he remained popular even after he had been defeated and taken prisoner at Pavia in 1525. Under the Bourbon dynasty and the ensuing republic, however, he was largely forgotten. He then suffered at the hands of Victor Hugo and other novelists who portrayed him as little more than a playboy.

But he has now regained his rightful place as a great Renaissance monarch. He is remembered as a notable patron of the arts, who built some of the finest chateaux in France and employed leading Italian artists of his day, including Leonardo da Vinci. He also encouraged learning and built up one of the finest libraries in Europe. But he also had to face serious challenges, none more so than the rise of Protestantism.

In my new volume published under the Variorum imprint, I look more closely at these topics than I was able to do in my biography of the king, published in 1994. In particular, I look at the court, at the roles played by the king’s mother and sister, at his relations with the papacy, at his quarrels with the Parlement of Paris, at the treason of the duke of Bourbon, at the king’s so-called ‘absolutism’ and the political ideas that circulated in his reign, at his relations with Paris, at the building of the chateau of Fontainebleau. Two summit meetings, one with Henry VIII and the other with Charles V, are examined. As an English historian, I compare the attitudes of Francis I and Henry VIII to the Reformation and compare the French and English nobilities. Two essays – one on popular theatre, the other on the soldier-author, Blaise de Monluc – look beyond the reign of Francis.

About the Author: Robert Jean Knecht is Emeritus Professor of French History at the University of Birmingham. A former Chairman of the Society of Renaissance Studies and of the Society for the Study of French History, he is the author of several works on sixteenth and seventeenth century France, including, Richelieu (1991), Renaissance Warrior and Patron: the Reign of Francis I (1994), Catherine de’ Medici (1998), The French Civil Wars (2000), The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France (revised edn. 2001), The Valois (2004), The French Renaissance Court (London & New Haven, 2008) and Hero or Tyrant? Henry III, King of France, 1574-89 (Ashgate, 2014).

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.

Choice Outstanding Academic Title awards for 2014

Posted by Emily Ferro, Marketing Coordinator

Ashgate is thrilled to announce that Choice has honored three Ashgate books by naming them Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014. The recognized titles are Decolonizing Social Work; Ageing, Ritual and Social Change: Comparing the secular and religious in Eastern and Western Europe; and The Ashgate Research Companion to the Thirty Years’ War. Books recognized by Choice display ‘excellence in presentation and scholarship’ and provide content of significance in their field of study. Out of the thousands of titles reviewed by Choice in 2014, only 10% were celebrated as Outstanding Academic Titles.

Decolonizing social workDecolonizing Social Work by Mel Gray, John Coates, Michael Yellow Bird, and Tiani Hetherington features articles written by Indigenous and non-Indigenous social work scholars examining local cultures, beliefs, values, and practices as central to decolonization. Choice notes that the volume is “a sturdy reminder of the vast social justice work still to do in the world.” Through careful amalgamation of the work of the essayists, Gray, Coates, Yellow Bird, and Hetherington interrogate trends, issues, and debates in Indigenous social work theory, practice methods, and education models. Choice compliments the book’s readability and its glossary, and highly recommends it to all academics, libraries, and practitioners.

Ageing ritual and social changeAgeing, Ritual and Social Change by Peter Coleman, Daniela Koleva, and Joanna Bornat explores European changes in religious and secular beliefs and practices related to life passages. “The editors and contributors deserve appreciation for undertaking this challenging comparative project,” writes Choice, calling the collection “A significant multidisciplinary contribution to the literature on aging, religion/ritual, comparative oral history, and social change.” Drawing on fascinating oral histories of older people’s memories in both Eastern and Western Europe, this book presents illuminating views on peoples’ quests for existential meaning in later life. Choice highly recommends Ageing, Ritual and Social Change for upper-division undergraduates and up.

Ashgate research companion to the thirty years warThe final book named an Outstanding Academic Title of 2014 is The Ashgate Research Companion to the Thirty Years’ War by Olaf Asbach and Peter Schröder. A comprehensive and authoritative overview of research on one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, Choice notes that this book “will serve for some time as an essential starting point for research on the origins, conduct, and legacies of the wars and the peace.” By combining the work of key international scholars, this research companion explores the complexities of the conflict using an innovative comparative approach. Choice deems this book “Essential,” recommending it to all upper-division undergraduates and up.

Congratulations to all of the honorees.

For a listing of all of our recent prizewinners, visit  

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 ( and Erika Gaffney (

100th volume published in the Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series

Posted by Hattie Wilson, Marketing Executive

Autobiographical writing by early modern hispanic womenAshgate will publish the one hundredth title in the Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series in January 2015. The series editors, Allyson Poska and Abby Zanger produced their first volume in 2000 (Maternal Measures, Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh). Fifteen years later, we can announce the one hundredth title is Autobiographical Writing by Early Modern Hispanic Women by Elizabeth Teresa Howe. The work focuses on the contributions of women writers to the study of life writing, and offers a symmetrical theme to the initial volume in the series.

We would like to offer our sincere congratulations to Allyson Poska and Abby Zanger, as well as thanking them for their dedication to their role. To view the Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series in its entirety, and to read an interview with the series editors, please click here.

Forthcoming titles in the series: