McLaren, Angus 1942–
McLaren, Angus 1942–
Born December 20, 1942, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; son of Thomas Smiles and Lillian McLaren; married Arlene Tigar, July 1, 1965; children: Jesse. Education: University of British Columbia, B.A., 1965; Harvard University, M.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Squash.
Home—Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Office—Department of History, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 3045, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 2Y2, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]
Educator, writer. University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, assistant professor of history, 1970-71; Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA, faculty member, 1971-73; St. Antony's College, Oxford, Oxford, England, senior associate fellow, 1973-75; University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, associate professor, 1975-83, professor of history, 1983—. Visiting Hannah Professor of the History of Medicine, University of Toronto, 1985.
Society of the Social History of Medicine, Canadian Society of the History of Medicine, Canadian History Association.
Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, 1999.
Birth Control in Nineteenth-Century England, Croom Helm (London, England), 1978.
Sexuality and Social Order: The Debate over the Fertility of Women and Workers in France, 1770-1920, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1983.
Reproductive Rituals: Perceptions of Fertility in England from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, Methuen (London, England), 1984.
(With Arlene McLaren) The Bedroom and the State: The Changing Practices and Politics of Contraception and Abortion in Canada, 1880-1980, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986, 2nd edition published as The Bedroom and the State: The Changing Practices and Politics of Contraception and Abortion in Canada, 1880-1997, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990, reprinted, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
A History of Contraception: From Antiquity to the Present Day, Basil Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1990.
A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1993.
The Trials of Masculinity: Studies in the Policing of Sexual Boundaries, 1870-1930, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1997.
Twentieth-Century Sexuality: A History, Basil Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1999.
Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Impotence: A Cultural History, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2007.
Angus McLaren, professor of history at Canada's University of Victoria, is a specialist in the history of sexuality. His other areas of research include the emergence of the serial killer, medical ethics, abortion, and the history of contraception and eugenics. McLaren has written about all these topics in a number of nonfiction works.
McLaren's 1983 work, Sexuality and Social Order: The Debate over the Fertility of Women and Workers in France, 1770-1920, explores the nexus between population growth and birth control, specifically looking at French male elites' attitude toward such social engineering. "McLaren underscores the irony that, in a country where contraception had been practiced on a mass scale for many generation, the public advocacy of birth control remained so controversial," wrote Karen Offen in a Signs review of that work. In his Reproductive Rituals: Perceptions of Fertility in England from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, McLaren shifts the focus from the debate over birth control in historical societies to the practices themselves. In doing so, he presents a "thoughtful and well-written" study of fertility in England, according to Constance A. Nathanson, writing in Contemporary Sociology. Employing original sources such as almanacs, folk songs, and even unpublished family recipe books, McLaren demonstrates the range of methods by which "people sought (sometimes medically, sometimes magically, sometimes desperately) to regulate fertility," as Roy Porter commented in the English Historical Review. Such practices were as often used to increase birth rates as to limit them in that time frame. Porter noted that McLaren's work was "well-documented, briskly-written, and full of stimulating discussions … [a] brief and highly readable survey."
Collaborating with his wife, McLaren continued his survey of birth control, turning to a study of his native country in The Bedroom and the State: The Changing Practices and Politics of Contraception and Abortion inCanada, 1880-1980, a "timely book," according to T.E. Brown in the Canadian Historical Review. At the time of publication of the first edition of this book, the Canadian Supreme Court had just completed a contentious ruling on abortion, and the McLarens' "well-researched and admirably balanced study" would supply good background information to the abortion debate, wrote Brown. In the book, the authors trace the development of birth control—including abortion—in Canada from the late nineteenth century to the current day. They also show the gradual shift of what had been considered private decisions on birth to a subject of concern for the state. According to the McLarens, birth control regimens of any sort did not gain wide acceptability until the hard years of the Great Depression and the sudden subsequent economic pressures that were put upon families. James C. Mohr, writing in the American Historical Review, felt that "all historians interested in modern population questions will welcome this important and well-grounded contribution to the literature." Wendy Mitchinson, reviewing the first edition in the Journal of Social History, called the book "excellent" and noted that it was the "first full-length study of birth control in Canada." Reviewing the second edition, Andrea Levan, writing in Canadian Book Review Annual, found that the "book's greatest strength remains its examination of the historical attitudes toward birth control and abortion in Canada."
With A History of Contraception: From Antiquity to the Present Day, McLaren stays with his subject of birth control, but now his focus widens to contain all of Western society. "The sheer scope of the research in this field is daunting," wrote Wendy Mitchinson in the Canadian Historical Review, "yet [McLaren] has managed to write an intelligible and provocative study." Mitchinson added that McLaren's work is different from that of any other in the field: "This is not a history of technology, but rather a history of people and why they made the decisions they did." Drawing on women's history, demography, medical history, and literature, McLaren attempts to show, as he notes in his book, "the complex ways in which reproductive decision-making was entangled in a web of social, cultural and gender relationships." Tracing such practices from ancient Greece through Roman times, the Christian West, the Middle Ages, early modern Europe, and on to the twentieth century, McLaren looks at the family and attitudes toward contraception. Roy Porter, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, observed that McLaren's "widening of the lens-angle permits certain fundamental points to be made with unusual force," and M.L. Meldrum, writing in Choice, felt that McLaren "makes excellent use of both primary sources and … secondary work."
McLaren looks at the issue of the control of birth from a different perspective in Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945. In this study, McLaren tackles the use of breeding policies to improve the human race, specifically as such eugenics were discussed and practiced in Canada. McLaren begins his book with the formulation of the theory of eugenics by Francis Galton in the nineteenth century and then follows its popularity in Canada, particularly during the Great Depression. James W. Reed, writing in the American Historical Review, commented that McLaren's work "demonstrates how a case study of a relatively minor group of social activists can be used both to add important detail to a well-developed historiography and to test issues that are still being contested within the reigning paradigm." Gina D. Feldberg, writing in Isis, called McLaren's book a "rich analysis," and Ruth Schwartz Cowan, reviewing the title in the Journal of American History, felt it was a "valuable addition to the literature on eugenics."
McLaren turns his analytical skills to serial murder in A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, suggesting, as Sally Mitchell wrote in English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, that "social forces may implicitly authorize particular crimes so that an individual's deviance takes one form rather than another." To this end, McLaren examines the seven murders that Cream committed in both England and North America. Mitchell noted that McLaren's "central premise links Cream's murders to heightened gender conflicts and changing social controls," and concluded that the author created an "expertly unsensational narrative of a murderer in his society which makes us pay attention to the inter-relationship of sex, medicine, morals, gender, science and crime." Similarly, Philippa Levine, writing in the Canadian Journal of History, noted that "McLaren offers us a marvelous and important study," and one that "will appeal to a broad audience." A contributor for Publishers Weekly also had praise for the title, observing that it "provides a searching look at a murderer, London society of the 1890s, the demimonde and the police."
In The Trials of Masculinity: Studies in the Policing of Sexual Boundaries, 1870-1930, McLaren continues in much the same vein, using historical criminal cases to "reveal the borders of gender," according to David Azzolina writing in Library Journal.Writing in the Lambda Book Report, Graham Rosenstock commented that "McLaren's illuminating work attempts to describe the complex and indeed ever-changing lineaments of masculinity by describing its negative spaces." McLaren uses as sources medical and criminal histories that deal with sadists, murderers, transvestites, and bigamists. Rosenstock concluded that McLaren "has offered an edifying and stimulating resource."
McLaren investigates sexuality in two further titles: Twentieth-Century Sexuality: A History and Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History. In the former title, McLaren takes a look at a century of sexual practices, examining changing attitudes to such topics as race eugenics, masturbation, psychoanalysis, and the advent of feminism, among others. A Publishers Weekly contributor commended the "clear, well-organized prose," while Kevin White in the Journal of Social History felt that McLaren "gives us vast stimulation and food for thought." McLaren's Sexual Blackmail studies the history of such behavior in both England and the United States, examining cases of blackmail of both men and women for adultery, abortion, and homosexuality. Deirdre Bray Root, reviewing the title in Library Journal, observed that though the work is "definitely academic in tone, the subject matter is intrinsically interesting for the lay reader." And Sarah Bakewell, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, found the book to be a "fascinating comparative study of sexual values." Bakewell concluded that Sexual Blackmail is an "excellent history: vividly argued, richly textured, wisely focused and thought-provoking."
In Impotence: A Cultural History, McLaren offers readers a companion volume to accompany his earlier book on fertility. This time he looks into issues of impotence, discussing an array of topics ranging from historical and medical records indicating the background of the problem, to the ways society considers impotence and how those points of view have altered over time. He also addresses the concept of masculinity and how that is traditionally tied in to a man's sexual performance, stamina, and overall ability to engage. McLaren looks at impotence and sexuality going back to classical times, working his way up through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and the Victorian era, and proceeding to modern times in order to determine what was important during each period. Regarding current norms, a man's sexual performance can be under intense scrutiny, and unlike women, men do not have the luxury of pretending arousal or satisfaction. Instead they must resort to medications, such as Viagra, and in some instances therapy to deal with the emotional anxieties that might cause difficulty. A reviewer for the Economist remarked of McLaren's effort: "The effect is rather like reading a book about music written by someone who knows everything about the history of acoustic physics and the construction of musical instruments, but has little regard for the beautiful noises that people actually hear." Library Journal contributor Dale Farris found the book "a more complete cultural history of impotence than is found in any medically oriented approach to the topic."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
McLaren, Angus, A History of Contraception: From Antiquity to the Present Day, Basil Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1990.
American Historical Review, February, 1986, Vivian C. Fox, review of Reproductive Rituals: Perceptions of Fertility in England from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, p. 106-107; October, 1989, James C. Mohr, review of The Bedroom and the State: The Changing Practices and Politics of Contraception and Abortion in Canada, 1880-1980, pp. 1203-1204; February, 1992, James W. Reed, review of Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945, p. 318; June, 2000, Lesley A. Hall, review of Twentieth-Century Sexuality: A History, pp. 902-903.
Canadian Book Review Annual, 1997, Volume 52, Andrea Levan, review of The Bedroom and the State, 2nd edition, pp. 405-406.
Canadian Historical Review, September, 1988, T.E. Brown, review of The Bedroom and the State, pp. 384-385; September, 1991, Gale Avrith-Wakeam, review of Our Own Master Race, pp. 416-418; March, 1992, Wendy Mitchinson, review of A History of Contraception, pp. 97-98.
Canadian Journal of History, December, 1993, Philippa Levine, review of A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, pp. 593-595.
Choice, September, 1991, M.L. Meldrum, review of A History of Contraception, p. 208.
Contemporary Sociology, March, 1986, Constance A. Nathanson, review of Reproductive Rituals, p. 257.
Economist, April 28, 2007, "Saved by the Pill; Impotence," p. 97.
English Historical Review, October, 1987, Roy Porter, review of Reproductive Rituals, p. 1039; June, 1994, Peter Biller, review of A History of Contraception, pp. 674-675; April, 2000, Arthur Marwick, review of Twentieth-Century Sexuality, p. 498.
English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, Volume 37, number 1, 1994, Sally Mitchell, review of A Prescription for Murder, pp. 79-82.
History Today, November, 1986, Penelope Cornfield, review of Reproductive Rituals, p. 56.
Isis, December, 1992, Gina D. Feldberg, review of Our Own Master Race, pp. 695-696.
Journal of American History, September, 1991, Ruth Schwartz Cowan, review of Our Own Master Race, pp. 689-690.
Journal of Social History, fall, 1989, Wendy Mitchinson, review of The Bedroom and the State, pp. 214-261; spring, 2000, Donald Meyer, review of The Trials of Masculinity: Studies in the Policing of Sexual Boundaries, 1870-1930, p. 688; winter, 2000, Kevin White, review of Twentieth-Century Sexuality, p. 501.
Lambda Book Report, November, 1997, Graham Rosenstock, review of The Trials of Masculinity, p. 36.
Library Journal, May 15, 1997, David Azzolina, review of The Trials of Masculinity, p. 86; December, 2002, Deirdre Bray Root, review of Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History, p. 154; March 1, 2007, Dale Farris, review of Impotence: A Cultural History, p. 98.
Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1993, review of A Prescription for Murder, p. 68; May 10, 1999, review of Twentieth-Century Sexuality, p. 46.
Signs, autumn, 1985, Karen Offen, review of Sexuality and Social Order: The Debate over the Fertility of Women and Workers in France, 1770-1920, pp. 176-180.
Times Literary Supplement, February 15, 1991, Roy Porter, review of A History of Contraception, p. 7; December 20, 2002, Sarah Bakewell, review of Sexual Blackmail, p. 32.
Victorian Studies, summer, 1994, Deborah Gorham, review of A Prescription for Murder, pp. 596-597; summer, 2000, Joseph Bristow, review of The Trials of Masculinity, p. 713.
Guardian Unlimited Online, http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (December 22, 2002), Joan Smith, review of Sexual Blackmail.
University of Victoria Department of History, http://web.uvic.ca/history/ (July 8, 2003), author biography.