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.

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations – an ‘enormously entertaining and vivid book’

Posted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

A review of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations: A Cultural Life, 1860-2012 has been published in the Times Literary Supplement.

Charlotte Mitchell is honorary senior lecturer at University College London, and has worked on a range of nineteenth-century writers. She writes of Mary Hammond’s study:

‘Mary Hammond’s enormously entertaining and vivid book about Great Expectations approaches the novel from a variety of angles, all of them illuminating. At one moment we find her listing translations into forty-seven languages, at another looking at the occurrence of the phrase “great expectations” before and after its publication. She gives a detailed and humorous account of the history of its reception; its current high status among Dickens’s fictions is a surprisingly recent development. In relation to the vast number of adaptations she deals deftly with her multiplicity of sources and with the theoretical issues of adaptation and remediation. … Great Expectations has meant a lot of different things in its 150-odd years, and no one has teased out so many of them so acutely before. ’

Charles Dickens Great ExpectationsHammond’s book, the product of a 9-month AHRC Fellowship, follows the long, active and sometimes surprising life of Great Expectations since its first appearance in All the Year Round (1860-61). She covers the formative history of the novel’s early years, and analyses the significance of its global reach and its literature, stage, TV, film, poetry, art, popular music and radio adaptations over its 150-year history. It is revealed that the third most adapted Dickens story did not always possess its current influence and popularity, and that book’s identity as a ‘universal favourite’ or ‘timeless classic’ was dependent, to a great extent, on modern mass-media technologies.

About the Author: Mary Hammond is Associate Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture at the University of Southampton, UK. She is the author of a number of books and articles on nineteenth-century book history including Reading, Publishing and the Formation of Literary Taste, 1880-1914 (Ashgate, 2006).

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is one of the seven published titles in the Ashgate Studies in Publishing History: Manuscript, Print, Digital series. Edited by Ann R. Hawkins and Maura Ives, the series supports innovative work on the cultural significance and creative impact of printing and publishing history, including reception, distribution, and translation or adaptation into other media.

Sensible Religion? A Reflection by Dan Cohn-Sherbok

Layout 1Posted by Hattie Wilson, Senior Marketing Executive

Over the years, Ashgate has  been proud to publish important titles by celebrated authors and editors in the field of Theology. Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, editor of Sensible Religion alongside the Very Revd. Christopher Lewis, here reflects on what is required from Religion in order for it to hold personal significance. 

Several months ago I attended a retirement party for my co-editor, Christopher Lewis at Christ Church, Oxford. Christopher had been the Dean of the College, and a dinner was held in his honour. The former Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History was on our table. After dessert I told him about the book Christopher and I just published with Ashgate. ‘It’s called “Sensible Religion”‘, I said.

He leaned back in his chair and chortled. ‘That’s certainly an oxymoron.’

‘An oxymoron..?’

‘Religion isn’t sensible,’ he said. ‘It transcends ordinary experience. It’s about the supernatural. The stories in the Bible aren’t sensible. Moses parting the Red Sea; Jonah being swallowed by a whale; Jesus ascending into heaven. The 3rd century Church Father Tertullian said he believed in the resurrection because it is impossible.’

That was the end of an otherwise agreeable evening. But the Regius Professor was on the wrong track. What is needed today is not magic or fantasy or the irrational. Religion needs to make sense if it is to be relevant. It must appeal to the mind as well as the heart if it is to have significance in people’s lives.

Our book, which contains contributions from leading religious thinkers from across the world’s major traditions, explores the ways in which religion can enrich the lives of believers. The book is based on the conviction that rational, sensible and sensitive religious belief can be a major force for good in the modern world.

Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok is Professor Emeritus of Judaism at the University of Wales. His co-editor Christopher Lewis is Dean of Christ Church at the University of Oxford. Sensible Religion was published by Ashgate in September 2014.

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.


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.


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.

War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan – book review in The Independent

War exile and the music of AfghanistanWhere making music is a matter of life and death

Read Michael Church’s review in The Independent of John Baily’s War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan.

“A vivid picture of what has been happening since the communist government was worn down by the jihadis, and mujahideen rule gave way to that of the Taliban”

Peter Burke’s Study of Popular Culture

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

In this guest post, British Historian and Professor Peter Burke provides background information and some of the key experiences that led to the writing of his ground-breaking book Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe.


Burke – Popular Culture in Early 2dI began writing this book in 1973. After publishing two consecutive books on elites, I wanted to write about non-elites, about ‘the people’. At this time I was in close touch with the British movement for ‘history from below’, since thanks to my friend Raphael Samuel I had become involved in History Workshop. I was in any case an admirer of the work of Eric Hobsbawm, Edward Thompson and Christopher Hill, though I owe my own ‘discovery’ of popular culture as a topic for research to one of the leading figures of the ‘Annales School’ who later dropped from sight, Robert Mandrou, whose Culture populaire aux XVIIe et XVIII siècles (1964) I had read soon after it came out. It inspired me to read 16th-century Italian chap-books, of which the British Library has a good collection.

I originally meant to work on Italy again, but soon realized that it did not make sense to study early modern popular culture within a national framework. A regional study was possible, or alternatively, given the migration of folktales, an international one. I was very much attracted by the idea of attempting a view of early modern Europe as a whole, from Galway to the Urals, perhaps the result of being the grandson of 4 immigrants to Britain, 2 from Ireland and two from the Russian Empire. Anyway, that was what I chose to do. It meant learning more languages, from Swedish to Provençal, but that was a pleasure. Geoffrey Dickens, whom I knew from writing for a series he edited, was Secretary to the British Academy and helped me get a grant to visit Scandinavia and tour folk museums. The direct contact with peasant material culture was eye-opening, and the move to and forth between artefacts, books and discussions with curators and folklorists was illuminating.

Although I was not conscious of this at the time, this enterprise was in many respects a result of my teaching at the University of Sussex, learning how to read texts from joint courses with colleagues in literature, volunteering to teach art history and sociology without having any formal qualifications in these subjects, and reading anthropology and folklore on my own. Among my historian colleagues, I owed much to the example of Ranajit Guha and to conversations with him, which left their mark on the text. Thanks to all these experiences, I included a chapter on cultural forms in the book (a chapter that no historian who reviewed it, as far as I know, ever mentioned). The most acute review of the book came from Carlo Ginzburg, whom I met in the 70s and who was asked by the publisher to write a preface to the Italian translation of the book (I was delighted that he singled out my comparative approach for favourable comment, while criticizing what I wrote about Lévi-Strauss). I have also had some interesting exchanges with Roger Chartier, whom like Carlo I have known since the 70s) concerning his attempt to eliminate the concept of popular culture. He rightly points out the dangers of treating any text or artefact as popular, since in the course of its career it my appeal to very different kinds of people. On the other hand, closer to social history than Roger, I began not with artefacts but social groups, asking what kind of culture the subordinate or ‘subaltern’ classes had, whether or not it was shared with other groups (it was, especially in the first half of the period treated in the book, in other words 1500-1650). I never discussed these issues with Edward Thompson, whom I knew only slightly, but when I began to read his Customs in Common (1991) I thought that his critique of people who viewed popular culture as located in the ‘thin air’ of meanings, attitudes and values was probably aimed at me, among other people.

It would of course have been possible to spend the rest of my life in the study of popular culture, and I did return to the subject in the 1980s, in essays on early modern Italy, and later, writing about Brazil. However, I also wanted to move on to other themes. Retrospectively, I see the book as the first volume of a trilogy that attempted to view Europe as a whole, the second volume being The European Renaissance (1998) and the third Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe (2004). But I must say that the study of popular culture on which I embarked in the 1970s has affected all my subsequent work, on whatever subject.


Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe 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.

King John and the afterlife of Magna Carta

Posted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

King John MisrememberedThis is a guest post from Igor Djordjevic, author of King John (Mis)Remembered.


As much as the name of King John is inextricably connected to the national celebrations and commemorations of Magna Carta across the world’s English-speaking democracies (and not always in a positive light), we need to remember that for the first four of the eight centuries of its existence not only was the document practically unknown to the vast majority of Englishmen, but that the king from whom it was wrested had a far different reputation in English cultural memory than he does today.

Magna Carta’s status as a fundamental legal document is largely the product of the efforts of a select group of seventeenth-century Common Lawyers and Parliamentarians who elevated it to paramount importance in the context of their own struggles against an uncompromising Charles I.

The Charter’s “afterlife” in popular culture as a statement of the subject’s rights and freedoms won by the force of medieval proto-liberals against a tyrannical and avaricious King John has little to do with the efforts of those Caroline lawyers, and almost nothing with the actual events of 1215. John’s “evil” character in today’s pop-culture was “created” by Michael Drayton and Anthony Munday in the 1590s after reading the fanciful account of John’s reign in the Chronicle of Dunmow republished by John Stow in 1580, and it is he who lurks in the shadows of the triumph of Magna Carta at the octocentenniary: a fictional character born at a time when neither the authors of popular genres nor their audiences seemed to be aware of Magna Carta.

Magna Carta has an important place in the history of law and constitution, but we should not lose sight of the narrow political interests of the group of rebellious barons led by Robert FitzWalter who forcefully extorted it from King John, invited a French invasion to achieve their aims, and even offered the English crown to the Dauphin Louis. If the birth of constitutional monarchy and democracy was the “end” of the implementation of Magna Carta, it was almost accidental; its writers probably would have considered it more of a “means” of curbing royal power and elevating their own than a set of rights to extend to all English subjects.

It is important to appreciate the importance of this document, but also to be aware that, like any text, it was subject to reinterpretation and recontextualization over time. We must resist the tendency to read back onto this document and the political figures involved in its inception fanciful notions about the Manichean struggle between conservative “control” and proto-liberal “resistance.”


About the Author: Igor Djordjevic is Associate Professor of English at York University, Canada. He is also the author of Holinshed’s Nation (2010).