Archive for April, 2011

Spring Readings (March-April 2011)

Posted in General Anthro, Non-State Societies/Sociedades no-estatales, Tibet on April 26, 2011 by salul

I have sometimes been asked (on and off blog) about what I read. I recently found that reading about other colleagues’ current readings can be interesting, and even motivated me to look into a couple of books I wouldn’t otherwise have known about. So without more ado, here are five readings that I am currently going through or have just recently finished (within the past week):

Steven Roger Fischer, Island at the End of the World, London, Reaktion Books, 2005.

This is part of my current readings regarding Rapa Nui, in preparation for a follow up trip this Summer (Austral Winter) and an initial paper that I am working on regarding contemporary indigenous struggles on the island. Also part of a broader look at Eastern Polynesian history, of which I have been relatively ignorant until recently. I confess that I had initially had my doubts about the author, when I first encountered Fischer’s work via his History of the Pacific Islands, I wasn’t sure what to make of him. The History is a competent summary, but didn’t really seem to add much and fell short of the kind of innovative historical writing I have come to associate with Oceanic scholars in recent years. However, I was really impressed with his history of Rapa Nui. It is, I dare say, the most comprehensive summary of the unfolding of Rapa Nui events and periods that I have come across in a format that is readable by a general public. His sources are highly interdisciplinary, he is evidently very well acquainted with the place, people AND language (this last one matters to me). Five starts, all round.

Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, Melbourne, Vintage, 1988.

This classic, if slightly dated, historical narrative of the convict years in Australia (1788-1868) had been waiting on my bedside table for far too long. It is now one of my secondary readings, the sort I pick up when I go out for a coffee or am simply sitting around the living room. Much to be criticised in terms of analytical depth, but I am essentially going through this as a primer on facts and processes with which I continue to be only faintly familiar (Aussie history is not my forte, period). But it is also a part of a broader, serious list of readings that I am attempting to get through in preparation for the drafting of a two-volume general history of Oceania in Spanish that I have begun to design with a coauthor (more on that later).

Eickelman and Piscatori (eds.), Muslim Travellers. Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination, Berkeley, UC Press, 1990

I’ve just finished going through this book as part of a much larger set of readings that I had to go through in relation to a collective volume, which I am editing with another two colleagues, regarding the anthropology of pilgrimage. The manuscript was submitted today (yay!), and I am now collapsing after the exhausting work of last minute editorial work. The book itself contains 14 chapters by various authors regarding pilgrimage, or associated phenomena, in different world regions, including China (2 chapters dedicated to that), Tibet (2 chapters to that), Africa (another 2 chapters), North America (5 chapters, including Mexico and USA), Korea, South Asia and the Pacific. I have singled out this particular volume from among a VERY large list which included stuff by Makhan Jha and of course Toni Huber and a bunch of other Middle Easter/South Asian/Himalayan/Tibetanist authors whose stuff I went through, because I think it is one of the few attempts at serious comparative discussion that takes pilgrimage seriously on local terms, rather than attempt to impose it as a universalistic (if wholly Judaeo-Christian) category. Consequently, it provides some important insights from which the specialist work of later scholars has been able to build up.

Books I have just begun to read:

Greg Dening, Islands and Beaches. Discourse on a Silent Land: Marquesas (1774-1880), UH Press, 1980. (hopelessly out-of-print…thank heavens for abebooks)

I just got this today, after some long searching on the net. Am all ready and eager to dive into it. I realise Dening has come in for criticism from important Oceanic historians (including by good friend Bronnie Douglas), however you gotta love his style. This will be my second, much more in-depth, reading of Islands and Beaches, and I am all looking forward to it.


J.M.G. Le Clézio, Raga. Approche du continent invisible, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2006.

I picked this up in Paris last month. I had not paid much attention to Le Clézio back in 2008 when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, even though at least a couple of his novels were set in and inspired by his Mexican sojourn. However, since he also seems to have been messing around with Vanuatu, seems like its time to see what this is all about. Am hoping I can concentrate long enough to write up a quick review for this blog in the coming weeks.

And that just about does it. During this past Easter weekend I also tried to get up to date with my LRB readings…but I’m still hopelessly three months behind.

Note (added 28 April 2011): This list doesn’t include the numerous seminar readings for this term, which currently focus on the modern history of Island South East Asia (yes, that’s not a typo; I never got used to writing it Southeast Asia anyway). And I also forgot to mention my current bedside reading, which is David Mitchell’s truly astonishing Cloud Atlas.