Melman, Billie 1952–
Melman, Billie 1952–
Historian, educator, writer, and editor. Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel, teaching assistant in history, 1978-79, teaching and research assistant in history, 1979-1980, visiting lecturer in history, 1984-86, Allon fellow and lecturer in modern history, 1986-91, senior lecturer in modern history, 1991-97, associate professor of history, 1998-c. 2005, professor of history, 2005—, currently Henry Glasberg Chair of European Studies. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, visiting fellow at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, 1990-91, and University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, Ann Arbor, MI, Norman Freehling visiting professor, 1993-94.
Landau Prize for the Sciences and Research, Landau Foundation, 2006. Recipient of fellowships and scholarships, including the Arrane scholarship, 1979; Fred Lessing fellowship, 1980-83; and Wiener fellowship, 1988.
Women and the Popular Imagination in the Twenties: Flappers and Nymphs, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.
The Culture of History: English Uses of the Past, 1800-1953, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author of Biographies of a Metropolis, 1800-1960 (Hebrew), Broadcast University Library, IDF Publications (Tel Aviv, Israel).
Billie Melman is a history professor whose primary interests are British and Western European cultural and social history, popular culture with an emphasis on visual history, colonialism, and gender. She has written extensively on colonialism and culture, orientalism and cross-cultural relations in the age of modern empires, gender, total war and collective memory, and popular representations of the past and the history of London, England.
Women's Orients: English Women and the Middle East, 1718-1918: Sexuality, Religion, and Work focuses on two centuries of women's travel to the Middle East in order to provide new perspectives for analyzing and understanding the history of colonialism. "Did women have a view of the East different from that of men?" M.E. Yapp asked in Middle Eastern Studies. Yapp continued: "That is the simple question with which Dr. Melman begins her study of a large number of British (rather than English) women who wrote about the Middle East during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."
For Women's Orients, the author combines investigation in the form of hundreds of writings, some previously unpublished, with statistical and general analysis of the various texts. For example, she includes embassy letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the first woman to work in a secular capacity in the Muslim Orient, and descriptions of Lady Anne Blunt's travels in the Arabian desert. In addition, she provides biographical sketches of many of the women writers. Penelope Tuson wrote in the English Historical Review that the author "has marshalled a formidable body of evidence to argue for the inclusion of gender as a category in the debate on Orientalism, while at the same time acknowledging the multiplicity of female attitudes and perspectives displayed by colonial travel writing."
As editor of Borderlines: Genders and Identities in War and Peace, 1870-1930, published in 1998, Melman presents a series of essays that draw on a wide range of materials, from government policy and propaganda to subversive trench journalism and performance. In effect, her book weaves together a study of gender with one of the evolution of nationalism and colonialism. Focusing on the period from the 1870s to the 1930s, the contributing authors examine how feminine and masculine identities were formed and then challenged only to be reformed aligning to a national view. Focusing on national and ethno-colonial formation of identity, contributors discuss how war helps reinforce conceptions of masculine and feminine qualities and values while also challenging these values; female factory workers became "masculinized" and men were "feminized" as soldiers in trenches. For example, women were often perceived as heroes for their unusual sacrifices while men had limited opportunities to be real heroes on the battlefield. Contributors also discuss gender identity beyond wars and in a multinational perspective. "The book is … stimulating and every article is impressively well-researched," wrote Gerard J. Degroot in the English Historical Review.
In The Culture of History: English Uses of the Past, 1800-1953, Melman provides a panoramic look at the "culture of history" that developed in England after the French Revolution. R.C. Richardson, in a review of the book for Clio, noted: "History brokers rather than historians occupy center stage in Melman's study, which is essentially about the production, dissemination, and consumption of popular historical culture and how this related to questions of social class, gender, the rise of democracy, and national identity in the period between the French Revolution and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953."
In the book's introduction, the author defines the culture of history "as the productions of segments of the past, or rather pasts, the multiplicity of their representations, and the myriad ways in which the English—as individuals and in groups—looked at this past (sometimes in the most literal sense of ‘looking’) and made use of it, or did not, both in a social and material world and in their imaginary." The author also notes in her introduction: "I take stock of the way in which access to history was formed and defined by different, albeit related, constructs, such as the state, the rapidly capitalized local and global apparatuses of cultural production (like transnational publishing, advertising, and the distribution of mass-produced artefacts such as books and films) and their markets, class, and gender."
Throughout her book, the author recovers unexplored aspects of popular history and analyzes darker notions of the past, which included a fascination with pleasurable horror and sensationalism that survived into the 1950s. The author begins her book with an analysis of the French Revolution as depicted by Madame Tussaud's famous wax museum. She then compares the accounts of the French Revolution in Thomas Carlyle's book The French Revolution with Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. Melman also examines issues of gender and torture and the production and commercial consumption of the historical monument of the Tower of London from 1840 to 1940.
In the second half of The Culture of History, Melman focuses on the early twentieth century and the idea of film as the dominant popular medium for historical culture. She examines films about the Tudor monarchs and Queen Elizabeth I. She also analyzes Baroness Emma Orczy's creation "The Scarlet Pimpernel," a play that was adapted into a novel and eventually a film, in terms of the French Revolution. The author ends her book with an account of how fundamental shifts have occurred in the culture of history, including the advent of television and increasing state influence on cultural history.
"Melman has searched in many out-of-the-way places for her evidence and brought together a highly original book," Richardson noted. Writing for the Institute of Historical Research Web site, Simon Morgan noted that the author "deliberately eschews the kind of history disseminated by the educated elite and focuses instead on a nascent popular culture of history that was quintessentially metropolitan, and facilitated by the rapid spread of literacy as well as the emergence of new technologies of ‘seeing’ the past, such as the panorama and the motion picture."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Melman, Billie, The Culture of History: English Uses of the Past, 1800-1953, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.
American Historical Review, December, 1989, Martha Vicinus, review of Women and the Popular Imagination in the Twenties: Flappers and Nymphs, p. 1383; April, 1994, Dorothy O. Helly, review of Women's Orients: English Women and the Middle East, 1718-1918: Sexuality, Religion and Work, p. 556.
Canadian Journal of History, spring-summer, 2007, Leslie Howsam, review of The Culture of History: English Uses of the Past, 1800-1953, p. 136.
Choice, January, 1993, D.M. Reid, review of Women's Orients, p. 861; August 1, 2007, J.A. Jaffe, review of The Culture of History, p. 2168.
Clio, September 22, 2007, R.C. Richardson, "Historians, History Brokers, Consumers, and English Historical Culture 1800-1970," p. 103.
English Historical Review, February, 1998, Penelope Tuson, review of Women's Orients, p. 203; June, 1999, Gerard J. Degroot, review of Borderlines: Genders and Identities in War and Peace, 1870-1930, p. 771.
Feminist Review, autumn, 1993, Catherine Hall, review of Women's Orients, p. 132.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 2007, Jonathan Wright, review of The Culture of History, p. 64.
History: The Journal of the Historical Association, January, 2000, S. Sokoloff, review of Borderlines, p. 182.
International History Review, August, 1993, review of Women's Orients, p. 568.
Journal of Historical Geography, July, 1993, Camilia Fawzi El-Solh, review of Women's Orients, p. 373.
Journal of Modern History, September, 1996, Harry Liebersohn, review of Women's Orients, p. 617.
Journal of Women's History, winter, 1995, Thomas J. Prasch, review of Women's Orients, p. 174.
Middle Eastern Studies, July, 1993, M.E. Yapp, review of Women's Orients, p. 595.
Middle East Journal, summer, 1996, Margaret L. Meriwether, review of Women's Orients, p. 449.
Times Literary Supplement, June 3, 1988, Sue Roe, review of Women and the Popular Imagination in the 20s, p. 621; August 14, 1992, Francis Robinson, review of Women's Orients, p. 22.
Victorian Studies, summer, 1993, Julie English Early, review of Women's Orients, p. 493; summer, 1993, James Buzard, review of Women's Orients, p. 443; autumn, 2007, Sonya O. Rose, review of The Culture of History, p. 142.
Institute of Historical Research Web site,http://www.history.ac.uk/ (June 17, 2008), Simon Morgan, review of The Culture of History.
Oxford University Press Web site,http://www.oup.com/ (June 17, 2008), brief profile of author.
Tel Aviv University Web site,http://www.tau.ac.il/ (June 17, 2008), faculty profile of author.