Reay, Barry 1950-

views updated

REAY, Barry 1950-

PERSONAL: Born January 17, 1950, in Newport, England; son of Kenneth (a schoolteacher) and Gladys (a homemaker; maiden name, Gordon) Reay; married Athina Tsoulis (a filmmaker), December 25, 1973; children: Kristina, Alexa. Education: University of Adelaide, B.A. (honors), 1974; University of Oxford, D.Phil., 1979. Politics: Left of center. Religion: None. Hobbies and other interests: Modern literature.

ADDRESSES: Home—50 Norfolk St., Ponsonby, Auckland, New Zealand. Office—Department of History, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

CAREER: Worked as an agricultural laborer and mine worker in South Australia and Tasmania, Australia, 1969-70; University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, tutor in history, 1975; South Australian College of Advanced Education, Adelaide, lecturer, 1979-81; University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, became lecturer in history, 1982, then associate professor.



(With Christopher Hill and William Lamont) TheWorld of the Muggletonians, Temple Smith, 1983.

(Editor, with J. F. McGregor) Radical Religion in theEnglish Revolution, Oxford University Press, 1984.

The Quakers and the English Revolution, St. Martin's, 1985.

(Editor) Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, St. Martin's, 1985.

The Last Rising of the Agricultural Labourers: RuralLife and Protest in Nineteenth-Century England, Clarendon Press, 1990.

Microhistories: Demography, Society, and Culture inRural England, 1800-1930, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750, Addison Wesley Longman (New York, NY), 1998.

(Editor, with Kim M. Phillips) Sexualities in History:A Reader, Routledge (New York, NY), 2002.

Watching Hannah: Sexuality, Horror and Bodily Deformation in Victorian England, Reaktion (London, England), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: British historian Barry Reay specializes in the study of England during the seventeenth century, particularly in the religious movements of the 1640s and 1650s. His first book on the subject, written with Christopher Hill and William Lamont, was The World of the Muggletonians. The Muggletonians were an obscure religious sect founded in 1652 whose last known member died in 1979. They believed that the sect's founders, John Reeve and Lodowick Muggleton (two cousins who were tailors), had received direct inspiration from God that they were the last witnesses referred to in the biblical book of Revelation. After Reeve's death, Muggleton consolidated his control over the sect by promoting the doctrine that God had left him in charge and was no longer interested in individual human beings. Sarah Wintle of the Times Literary Supplement labeled The World of the Muggletonians an "interesting and rather touching book."

Reay's next major effort, edited with J. F. McGregor, was Radical Religion in the English Revolution. This tome examines some religious sects that coexisted with the Muggletonians and whose beliefs were a radical departure from established Christianity. Among these were the Ranters, who believed that since faith alone provided salvation, morality was irrelevant; the Quakers, who, with many others, embraced what Anthony Fletcher described in the Times Literary Supplement as "general redemption" in defiance of the more accepted Calvinist principle of predestination, which held that God has already determined at the beginning of time which individuals will end up in heaven or hell; and Fifth Monarchists, the radicals who later became involved in a plot to dethrone England's King Charles II. Fletcher praised Radical Religion in the English Revolution as "an accessible synthesis of recent work on religious groups of the 1640s and 50s" and noted that "a strong team of contributors performs reliably."

Reay narrowed his focus to the Quakers, formally known as the Society of Friends, in The Quakers and the English Revolution. In the book, Reay puts forth the proposition that the negative reaction of most members of English society to Quakers and their beliefs was a significant factor in the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660. The author also, in the words of Barry Coward in the Times Literary Supplement, "provides the best answer to date to the puzzling question of who the early Quakers were....Inthe process he demotes the influence of [founding Quaker] George Fox, arguing that when it began 'the Quaker movement was less a gathering of eager proselytes at the feet of the charismatic prophet, than a linking of advanced protestant separatists into a loose kind of church fellowship.'" Coward lauded Reay's work as an "important book" that "furthers our understanding of the English Revolution."

The Last Rising of the Agricultural Labourers: Rural Life and Protest in Nineteenth-Century England concerns an uprising that took place in Bosenden Wood in Kent, England, on May 31, 1838. "It is hard to imagine a better book on the subject than this," asserted David J. V. Jones in the Times Literary Supplement. Jones particularly praised Reay's analysis of the two communities from which many of the laborers hailed.

Reay popularizes the concept of "microhistories" in Microhistories: Demography, Society and Culture in Rural England, 1800-1930, a work that builds upon the research Reay did for The Last Rising of the Agricultural Labourers. The term "microhistories" refers to the in-depth study of a particular region during a specific time in history, in this case the Blean area near Kent. By focusing so narrowly, Reay is able to keep an eye on how migration and family relationships influence regional culture over a period of several generations. Using both recorded oral histories and public records, Reay is able to shed new light on the way people in the region lived. For example, it was during this time that some forms of rudimentary birth control gained popularity because people began to realize the benefits of limiting family size. On the other hand, illegitimacy was commonplace.

Another major theme in the book is inequality. In class-conscious England, even the laborers developed their own pecking order on farms, with those who drove carriages generally at the top. Still, all laborers were exploited by the upper classes, living lives of endless drudgery so the landed gentry could live in luxury. Reay writes that one wealthy man's "annual dog-biscuit bill was the equivalent of the yearly wage of two agricultural labourers." Richard T. Vann, writing in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History complimented the "richness" of the book's detail, particularly the descriptions of "ordinary rural women carrying their babies into the field while they worked and men contributing sixpence a week to get health insurance through their pubs." David Levine of the Journal of Social History complimented Reay's use of oral histories, saying that "Reay's sensitivity and the piercing directness of his oral sources create a positive feedback system in which the whole is much more than sum of its parts. Furthermore, some of the parts are wonderful." Levine concluded that "Reay is sensitive to the nuanced complexities of the past; his study gains immeasurably from his ability to weave these participants' observations into his second-hand reconstruction of their world."

In Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750, Reay jumps back further in time to explore rural English history before the Industrial Revolution. His history focuses on the peasants who are often overlooked in other history books, and even invisible in contemporary accounts of the day. Religion, sexuality, rituals, and literacy are all topics Reay explores to gain a fuller understanding of the complexities of rural life. Superstitions ruled religious life; certain types of women were likely to be stigmatized as witches, and the concept of demons was integrated into daily life. Other women suffered at the hands of jealous men or condemned for being unfaithful. The public sphere is represented by chapters dealing with festive drama and "Riots and the Law," by way of illustrating how public opinions were expressed. Above all, Reay strives to represent the complex rituals of country life, even among people who were usually illiterate and mistrustful of the written word. Oral traditions, Reay explains, were rich and permeated all facets of life and made up for the shortcomings of illiteracy. Bernard Capp of the English Historical Review praised the book, saying, "Reay's judgement is shrewd and balanced, and the results are rewarding."



Reay, Barry, Microhistories: Demography, Society, and Culture in Rural England, 1800-1930, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1996.


Albion, spring, 1998, review of Microhistories, p. 159; fall, 1999, review of Popular Culture in England, 1550-1750, p. 471.

American Historical Review, June, 1998, review of Microhistories, p. 885.

Choice, May, 1997, review of Microhistories, p. 1559.

English Historical Review, April, 1994, review of TheLast Rising of the Agricultural Labourers: Rural Life and Protest in Nineteenth-Century England,, p. 486; June, 1998, Paul Thompson, review of Microhistories, p. 769; April, 2000, Bernard Capp, review of Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750, p. 455.

Journal of Economic History, December, 1998, review of Microhistories, p. 1141.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 1998, Richard T. Vann, review of Microhistories, p. 105.

Journal of Social History, summer, 1998, David Levine, review of Microhistories, p. 990.

Listener, April 14, 1983, pp. 26-27.

Seventeenth-Century News, fall, 1984, pp. 37-38.

Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, spring, 2000, Charlie McAllister, review of Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750, p. 46.

Times Educational Supplement, April 8, 1983, p. 22.

Times Literary Supplement, September 16, 1983, p. 992; February 15, 1985, p. 182; June 7, 1985, p. 628; April 12, 1991, p. 24.*