Marooned on an Island Monographs: a History of Masculinities Reading List

Guest Blog by Joanne Bailey

It’s the time of year when our thoughts start drifting to relaxing summer holidays on the beach… and that crucial question: what books to take? Well, if you are thinking of brushing up on your history our ‘Marooned on an Island Monographs’ series is designed to provide handy reading lists on a range of historical themes. Today we have another great guest contribution to the series on the theme of the history of masculinities….

Joanne Bailey is Professor of History at Oxford Brookes University. Joanne is a historian of early modern, Georgian and Victorian Britain, with particular interests in marriage, marriage breakdown, family relationships, the domestic economy, parenting, masculinities and identities. She ‘Muses on History’ on her own blog, and tweets @JBHist.

Joanne Bailey

I have developed a very personal relationship with the books below; to me they are entities in themselves. Picked up to learn more about the research I was doing at the time (marriage, family, gender), each provoked that ‘YES’ moment and I revisit them all repeatedly. Thankfully this is due to their quality not my deteriorating brain cells. They are my comfortable good friends who continue to surprise me with their wit and insights!

1) Elizabeth Foyster, Manhood in Early Modern England: Honour, Sex and Marriage (1999)

efoyster_clip1This is the unsung hero of works on masculinity. Using church court records and literature it digs away at assumptions that all men were the same with public reputations untroubled by family or home lives. Foyster shows that men below the elite had to cultivate their honour because it was easily damaged by women. The sad but hilarious cuckold appears in my favourite section detailing men’s vulnerability to accusations that their wives were unfaithful. Foyster’s gift is selecting glorious case-studies and writing about them with verve. Go on, read it and recommend it to your students; they’ll thank you.

2) Alexandra Shepard’, Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England (2003)

710mOW4T2eLI love this book because it spans the empirical and theoretical. Rooted in yet more rich court records, it reveals that manhood was precarious. The ideal of the autonomous economic man was a myth; undermined by other men’s behaviour and women’s economic activities. Shepard also persuasively adapts R W Connell’s thesis of hegemonic masculinity to show that patriarchy could be as harsh to some men as to most women. She exposes the relationship between a dominant, patriarchal form of manhood and its less reputable alternatives adopted by men who could not achieve full patriarchal status. You work on masculinity? You’ve got to tackle this thesis!

3) Phillip Carter, Men and the Emergence of Polite Society, Britain 1660-1800 (2001)

carter_philip_0What a delightful book. By tackling both the polite and the feeling man instead of keeping them distinct it bravely breaks the periodisation rules set by some historical god somewhere. Carter thus traces the cultural lineage between politeness and sensibility and their impact on ideals of urbane masculinities. I resent the occasional mild criticism that the book is overly cultural in approach. Actually, Carter shows manliness in practice by exploring how men interacted with ideals in their life-writings and raises the inherent tensions of masculinities. Also, in my view, he deserves special praise for making James Boswell less repulsive than I usually find him.

4) Matthew McCormack, The Independent Man: Citizenship and Gender Politics in Georgian England (2005)

51KJQkVWVyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This is the onion of the bunch because it has layer upon layer of good stuff (though I should say it doesn’t make me cry). It tackles the role of masculinity in politics; explains how changing meanings of independence helped extend the parliamentary franchise by enabling lower-status men to claim citizenship; traces ideas about masculine identity and selfhood; and investigates intersections between gender and class. Also, if you want to know what effeminacy meant in the eighteenth century, you must read this book. McCormack shows that it indicated dependence, acceptable in women, but not men. Thus you learn what worried many men: acquiring and maintaining financial and emotional self-sufficiency.

5) John Tosh, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England (1999)

51Neeykzd8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It is no hyperbole to wonder where the history of masculinity in England would be without John Tosh. A Man’s Place is sublime. It challenges so many stereotypes of Victorian masculinity that it is exhilarating. Out goes the separate spheres because, yes, a man’s place was in the home. Tosh introduces us to the needy husband and the sensitive man, as well as the authoritative patriarch. He throws out the stern paterfamilias and replaces him with different types of fathers remembered by children. And, of course, we owe so much to Tosh for his daring chronological assertion, for this book describes the rise and fall of the domestic man across two generations. By the 1880s men were fleeing domesticity into the vistas of empire and male-only clubs and institutions. Not everyone agrees, but let’s be honest where would we be without Tosh’s thesis to debate?

6) Michael Paris, Warrior Nation: Images of War in British Popular Culture, 1850-2000 (2002)

41TP6KXPMJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Finally, I include a book which is not, strictly speaking, labelled a history of masculinity. Yet if you want to know how scholars see masculinities in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, you will find Warrior Nation to be the most lively, entertaining introduction. Paris develops Graham Dawson’s thesis of the ‘pleasure culture of war’ and though his aims are broad, the running theme is the importance of the warrior ideal to masculinity. So you’ve got wars, heroes, adventure, pictures, and pencil moustaches. What more do you want?


Apologies to all you fab books I’ve had to miss out. You’re overlooked because I forced myself not to include edited collections and I wanted to span chronology and approaches. But you know who you are and I still love you all!

1 thought on “Marooned on an Island Monographs: a History of Masculinities Reading List

  1. Pingback: Marooned on an Island Monographs: a History of Femininities Reading List | the many-headed monster

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