Book Reviews

Contesting Culture

Next in her series of library indepth posts, cataloguer and book reviewer Jo takes a thoughtful look at the Culture and Identity section.

Working at the Centre, we’re often dipping into books and other publications as we go about our day-to-day duties, but it’s impossible not to, at some point, take a book out and read it thoroughly – the subjects are so interesting.

One I read recently from cover to cover was Isabel Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, an ethnographic study of the Eastern European Roma whom she lived among for several years as she travelled through Albania, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria (among other countries) in the early 1990s. The book traces their migratory patterns, the origins of their indomitable spirit and their ability to survive the dual impositions of being forbidden to settle at the same time as being forbidden to roam.

Bury me Standing

This book belongs to the Culture and Identity section, along with a vast range of publications that in their subject matter illustrate the diversity of the whole collection. Books about traditional festivals can be found alongside works on the psychodynamics of race. The subsection on Cultural Life and Experience includes titles like Islamophobia (Chris Allen), a book that demystifies some of the stereotypical views of Muslim society and religion, and specific studies such as The African-German Experience (Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay) or Roma and Gypsy Travellers in Europe (Angus Bancroft).

Under Religion and Theology, you can find such works as Slavery and the Catholic Church (John Francis Maxwell); Black and Mormon (Newell G. Bringhurst); and Rasta and Resistance (Horace Campbell). Race Theory and Philosophy looks at controversial subjects such as The Funding of Scientific Racism (William H.Tucker). Many of these titles evoke contested issues, inspire mixed responses, but I think most people would agree that such topics should be out in the open where they can be discussed, supported, disagreed with or debated, rather than hidden away from view.

culture section

It’s part of the nature of such a collection as this that there will be material which would now be considered outdated, yet which requires a place in our shared history. Experience has often shown us the dangers of censorship, of attempts to rewrite history. Likewise, history has taught us that multiple experiences make for a richer social fabric. Take for example, Rethinking Multiculturalism, or The Future of Multi-ethnic Britain (both by Bhikhu Parekh). Even the definitions, the terminology, are up for debate. The ‘correct’ language of one period of history can be utterly disrespectful in another.

One great advantage of the collection is that it is constantly evolving, so if it’s the latest thinking on culture you’re after, or any of the other subjects we cover, we have books published as recently as this year; whereas if you wish to trace the history of an idea or a certain perspective, older publications can often be found on the shelves too. Some of the rarer books in the collection are held in the archive but can be brought out for reference on request.

Aspects of culture permeate the whole collection, but it is in this section that it comes to the fore in all its infinite richness and diversity, books that inform, amaze and inspire their readership, opening doors on different worlds, from fashion, cultural theory, identity and transnationalism to spirituality, religion, myth and legend.

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

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